Though your baby may naturally stop needing regular nighttime feedings by the time they are three months old, it’s important not to expect – or insist – that such a young infant give them up all of a sudden. If your child is at least three months old, still nurses or requires a bottle at bedtime, and needs to eat multiple times during the night, these extra feedings might be causing extra wakings. In this case, you can help your baby sleep better by gradually reducing these nighttime feedings.

Understanding the Issue:

If your baby consumes a significant amount of food during the night – through extended breastfeeding sessions or bottles adding up to more than eight ounces – they have likely learned that certain times of the night are mealtimes. Abruptly eliminating these feedings wouldn’t be wise or kind. Drinking a substantial amount of milk or juice overnight (such as four full eight-ounce bottles) is considerable, even for an adult.

Solving the Problem:

If you’ve concluded that excessive and unnecessary feedings at night are disrupting your child’s sleep, you’ll be relieved to know that while such feedings can lead to severe sleep disturbances, this problem is also one of the easiest to fix. Here’s how:

  1. Reduce or Eliminate Nighttime Feedings: Gradually decrease the number of nighttime feedings, their size, or both. Don’t stop the feedings suddenly; instead, implement a program designed to allow new patterns to develop. This approach will be easier for your baby to follow.
  2. Teach New Sleep Associations: Help your child learn to fall asleep without being held, eating, or sucking on the breast or bottle. You can address both nighttime feedings and sleep associations simultaneously or tackle them one at a time.

Steps to Implement the Solution:

  1. Gradual Reduction: Start by gradually reducing the number of nighttime feedings and the amount consumed at each feeding. Aim to move your baby’s feelings of hunger from nighttime to daytime. Once only a single nighttime feeding remains, you can choose to stop it right away if you prefer, as the total amount of food consumed during the night will now be minimal.
  2. Establishing Independence: After each feeding, put your child back in bed immediately, even if they wake and begin to cry. If you nurse and co-sleep, move your baby off of you once the feeding is done so they can learn to fall asleep without using your breast as a pacifier. Your baby isn’t hungry after feeding – now you are changing their expectation of what happens as they fall asleep.
  3. Progressive Waiting: Within a week, if all goes well, you’ll have significantly reduced or even eliminated nighttime feedings. Continue applying the technique of progressive waiting for any night waking (except for the remaining feeding times) until the wakings stop. This process should not take more than a few more days.

By following these steps, you can help your baby develop healthier sleep habits and reduce unnecessary nighttime feedings, leading to better rest for both your child and you.