When Can I Night Wean?

by | Mar 20, 2020

When babies wake up crying in the middle of the night, it can be quite difficult to determine the underlying reason. Are they hungry? Are they uncomfortable? Are they sick? Or are they just looking for help falling back to sleep? Because our tiny humans can’t yet verbally articulate why they’re up at 2 a.m, it’s up to us as parents to differentiate their cries and determine what they’re looking for.

Whenever I do Q&As on my Instagram or Facebook pages one of the most common questions I get asked is when it’s okay to night wean. There are two ways to answer this question:

When is my baby old enough to night wean?

Let’s begin with the clinical one. If your child is six months or older, eating well during the day, gaining weight well, is otherwise healthy, and your pediatrician says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, chances are they are not waking and looking for a feed.

But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? Because that information is readily available in about a thousand different places. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.

Chances are, what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”

Let’s be honest, if you’d pulled his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying 8+ hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little one gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!

So, let’s discuss the real question:

Why does my baby wake up in the middle of the night if they aren’t hungry?

The reason is probably pretty simple.

That’s how they get themselves to sleep.

Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is the biggest sleep prop I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because of how natural and necessary it is. They tend to associate the term with pacifiers, rocking, or bouncing. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.

So, if you’re still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes.

My baby falls asleep independently and still wakes up at night

Now if you’re saying, “But I’m not! I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!” I hear you.

Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this as well. Your little one is staying awake for a nice full feed at bedtime and goes to sleep independently but is still waking up and crying until fed throughout the night.

Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry or in need of calories; hey, if I was offered my favorite snack when I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d probably gobble it up it too!

In order to break this habit, you’re going to have to make a change, and that will mean no more night feeds. That’s going to mean some protesting which won’t be fun for anyone. But the good news is that, since your baby has learned to sleep without props at bedtime, he’s clearly already got some strong sleep skills, and the protesting shouldn’t last more than a couple of nights.

But of course, weaning night feeds is easier said than done, so how do you get there? Make a plan and stick to it! The sooner your little one learns that days are for playing and eating but nights are for sleeping, the sooner they’ll be sleeping through the night. That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!

 

And, of course, if you are looking for some guidance and support around weaning nighttime feedings, you know where to find me. I’d love to help!

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If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!

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