When Can I Night Wean?

I get asked this question a lot, and I have two answers for you about night weaning.

My first answer is going to be a clinical one. If your child’s six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, in my experience, then you are good to go. 

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

Because 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 eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!

(Don’t do that though. Moms hate that.)

So let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?

The reason is actually probably pretty simple. That’s how they get themselves to sleep.

Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is just about 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, mobiles, and lovies. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep. Night weaning some babies will do on their own, but many need some help and support from you. 

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

“But I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “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!”

Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime but is still feeding the baby to sleep when they wake up in the night. If they are taking in ⅓ of their calories at night, then they will continue to eat, out of both habit and hunger. Babies need 24-32 oz of milk in a given 24 hour period, so adjustments need to be made to when they eat, to get over the true hunger side of things. 

Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry, or in need of calories. They’ve just managed to disassociate bedtime sleep with waking in the night, and if Mom’s still willing to give up some milk in the night, well then, so much the better!

The bad news is that you’re going to have to break this association by night weaning so that the baby can sleep through the night. 

But the good news is that, since your baby’s learned to sleep without props at bedtime, that means they already have some strong sleep skills, and that is the foundation of all this. Sleep is a skill, and once kids sharpen that skill, provided you adjust feedings to daytime hours, they can and will sleep through the night. 

So what’s the strategy for this? The same as it is for quitting just about everything else. Cold turkey. Stop tonight and don’t start again. “You are crazy Courtney” may be what you are thinking right now. So, let me share a little more about getting there. 

  • Monitor milk intake for a complete 24 hours. Track how much and when the baby is taking their milk. Remember, you need to be at 24-32 oz. 
  • After you know when they take the milk, let’s say 6 oz is overnight, add in 1 oz to every feed, either more in the bottle or 1 oz from a bottle after nursing. This helps ensure you top off baby and shift milk from the overnight to daytime hours. 
  • Lessen engagement with props, so if they rely on patting to sleep, lessen that each night. 
  • Give them a chance to settle, provided they hit their goals in the daytime for milk, give them a chance to settle when they wake. Some kids just need a few minutes to process through the waking before going back to sleep. 
  • Setup time to talk, every family is different and equally complex and we can help guide you through it with gentle, effective support. 

The sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner he’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 a baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier child. Sleep amounts in babies ‘ changes quite a lot that the first year and they need more than many families realize. 

My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Based in Philadelphia, I work in-home and virtually to provide the support families around the globe that need to all be at their best. In addition, Rosie Hawley, the newest addition to the Tiny Transitions team is a New Jersey-based Sleep Consultant, supporting families locally and across the country too! Read more about us here & let’s chat!

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