Night weaning is a question I often am asked by parents. It is easy to say just cut back but very hard to do at 2am with a crying baby who just wants to be fed. Before you start to cut back safely you need to know if your baby genuinely needs night feeds, are they filling up on milk during the night and eating very little during the day and if they are caught in a sucking to sleep habit.
I recommend starting with knowing how many night feeds are considered normal for a baby’s age. Here’s a quick look at night feedings by age: Newborn: Feeds every 2-3-4 hours on demand; 4 weeks to 8 weeks every 3-4 hours on demand; 8 weeks – 4 Months every 3- 6 hours on demand; 5-6 Months: 1-2 feed; 7 – 9 Months 1, maybe 2 feed; 10 – 12 months sometimes 1 feed; 12 + Months No Feeds.
Like all things parenting, the answer to the question of when a baby/child can go all night without needing milk varies, there is a variety of answers depending on who you ask! Some of opinions you may hear will range from no night feeds after 6 months, no night feeds after 3 or 4 months, others calculate based on the weight of your baby, others will say feeding until 9 months, others will say continue as long as your baby asks etc.
Babies certainly do vary. What is important to know is that it is not normal for a baby to need to eat every hour or two once apart from the very first few weeks of life. If this is happening, it is likely that your baby has a sleep association with a bottle or a breastfeed. Studies have shown us that this has nothing to do with solids, or nutrition (they are not needing milk) but is developmental. They can relearn this and rather than cry and fight sleep until they suck on a bottle or breast. By gently teaching your baby how to relax and fall asleep when they are tired is the best solution to this problem.
Usually I assume that a baby needs to eat at night 1 – 2 times up to about 9 months. Definitely over a year night feeds are generally not about nutrition. The other sign you are looking for is that when your baby wakes in the morning they should be very hungry. They demand a feed immediately. If you baby is happy to wait 30 mins or even an hour or more till they have their milk this is a good sign that they are having night feeds that they generally do not need. They are in fact filling up on milk during the night and not hungry when they first wake. Cutting down on night feeds will solve this problem. There are a few ways to night wean and they will be covered in next weeks article on “How to Night Wean”.