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.
When is my baby old enough to night wean?
Most of the information available in a general sense says that if your child is six months or older, eating well during the day, gaining weight, is otherwise healthy, your baby can sleep through the night.
Every pediatrician is going to have different opinions though, so it is best to ask your pediatrician who knows your baby this question directly vs. rely on internet advice.
But here’s the real question I know parents are asking: “My baby still wakes for a feed, but do they really need it?”
That’s a whole different question entirely. First, you need to determine if your child is waking due to hunger or habit.
Use this blog post to help you decide.
Chances are, unless your child is a newborn, has a medical challenge, or is taking the bulk of their calories overnight (known as reverse cycling), then they are probably waking up more out of habit than out of true hunger.
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.
Feeding to sleep is the most common sleep prop I see. 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, they are waking up between sleep cycles and asking to be fed again in order to go back to sleep. Not because they are hungry, but because it’s their chosen strategy and the only way they know how.
If you are currently feeding your baby to sleep, your next step is to help them learn to fall asleep independently at bedtime. This is going to equip them with the tools and skills to connect sleep cycles and sleep all night long.
If you’re looking for some guidance and support through sleep training, I want to help you take the next step! Both Oh Baby Sleep Course & 1:1 Sleep Coaching will help you teach your child to fall asleep without nursing/the bottle and then sleep all night long!
My baby falls asleep independently and still wakes up at night
Now if you’re saying, “But I’m not! I put my child to bed while they’re still awake, and they fall asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But they still wake up three times a night and can only settle with a feed!” I hear you.
Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this as well. Your child 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! Especially if it was as calming as nursing/sucking on a bottle.
In order to break this habit, you’re going to have to make a change and stop offering night feeds. Because this will be new for your child, it’s likely going to be accompanied by some protest. This is normal, but make sure you have a plan for it!
The great news is that if your child already has independent sleep skills and is putting themselves to sleep independently at bedtime, it’s simply about changing your habits and their expectations in the middle of the night which should only take a couple of days if you can be consistent.
It is important that your child learn that feeding is for nourishment, not a tool they need to use to fall asleep. Once this happens, you can expect them to sleep through the night without waking and looking for a feed.