when should i stop feeding my baby before bed

When Should I Stop Feeding My Baby Before Bed?

At approximately 12 months of age, you should get rid of the bedtime milk bottle from your child’s life. Whether your baby drinks milk or not remains to be seen, but this habit can’t last forever.

You can start weaning your baby off their bedtime bottle between 6 and 9 months.
Babies are good at self-regulating their feedings, so your baby may "tell" you when they're ready to drop that last bottle of the day by turning their head away or consistently not finishing it.

If your baby is premature, though, or has other health considerations such as digestive problems or failure to thrive, discuss their feeding schedule with their doctor before making any changes.

Prolonging this habit can affect your baby's ability to learn to fall asleep on their own. The longer you offer the bedtime bottle, the more attached your baby will become to it, and they won't be able to fall asleep without it.

And once your baby has teeth, bottles of milk that your baby takes to bed can lead to tooth decay. Milk tends to pool in the mouths of sleeping babies, creating ample time for the natural sugars in the milk to attack your baby's teeth.

Aim to get the bedtime bottle of milk completely out of your child's life by the time they're about 12 months old. It can be a tough habit to break, but rest easy knowing your baby doesn't need the calories in the milk.

By a year old, your baby is likely getting all their nutritional needs met with daytime meals and snacks. Try giving your baby other comfort objects at night, such as a favourite blanket or stuffed toy.

FAQs About Baby Bed

When the baby wakes up in the morning, top off their night with a “dream feed”. A full night of sleep will require waking him sufficiently so that he’s not completely asleep, and he shouldn’t be fed while he’s sleeping. He might be able to sleep for an additional hour or two even when he’s too tired to eat.

“Ideally, the feeding [should not be] the last thing that happens right before sleep,” While every baby and every family is different if your baby currently wakes between four and six times a night, Dr Menkes advises against going cold-turkey on all the nighttime feeds.

Some sleep experts believe that waking up a baby from sweet sleep is good. So if the baby takes a long nap before bedtime, remember that it's okay to wake her up after an hour or so, especially when it's her last nap.

It's dangerous to feed a baby while lying down or deeply asleep as they could choke. After the dream feed, take a few minutes to keep your baby resting upright so that any air can escape and their milk can go down properly.

An ideal bedtime for a three-month-old baby is between 7:30 – 9:30 pm. This is based on the developing circadian rhythm (or body clock) of a three-month-old and also fits in with the 9 – 11 hours of nighttime sleep needed.

When can I stop feeding at night?

There are a couple of questions to consider.

  • Is your child growing well? If the answer is no, your child may need those calories at night. If you are unsure how your child is growing, please talk to your pediatrician.
  • How old is your child? Bottle-fed infants typically can wean off night feeding by six months of age. Breastfed infants tend to take longer, up to a year of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with the addition of complementary foods continuing up to a year, or longer “as desired by mother and infant”. It’s important to note that night weaning can lead to weaning altogether. 
  • Do you want to continue night nursing? Some moms, especially those who work outside the home, value the closeness and extra time that night nursing provides. If that is the case, you don’t need to stop, provided that you are getting enough rest. If not, you may need to choose between getting better sleep and dealing with a dwindling milk supply.

How to stop bottle feeding at night

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So, your child is over six months of age, growing well, and still feeding frequently at night. If your child drinks milk (breast, cow, goat, or otherwise) or formula, this is relatively straightforward. There are two ways to wear this, and we have a strong preference for the first one.

  • Wean one ounce a night: Your child takes three 4 oz bottles a night. You take the last bottle and reduce it by an oz on night one. On night 2, you reduce bottle two by 1 oz. On night three, you reduce Bottle #1 by 1 oz. When a bottle gets down to 2 oz, substitute a water bottle. After this step, you get rid of the bottle. Whatever you do, don’t wake up your child if they sleep through a feeding– that is the goal. If they skip a feeding one night but wake up the following night for that feeding, it is OK to give them the scheduled bottle. Expert tip: write this schedule out beforehand. You won’t remember it in the middle of the night.
  • Here’s this example by night:
  • Night 1: 4 oz, 4 oz, 3 oz
  • Night 2: 4 oz, 3 oz, 3 oz
  • Night 3: 3 oz, 3 oz, 3oz
  • Night 4: 3 oz, 3 oz, 2 oz
  • Night 5: 3 oz, 2 oz, 2 oz
  • Night 6: 2 oz, 2 oz, 2 oz
  • Night 7: 2 oz, 2 oz, H20
  • Night 8: 2 oz, H20, H20
  • Night 9: H20, H20, H20.
  • Limit the water bottles to 2 oz to reduce the amount of urine produced and wet diapers to deal with. If your child doesn’t want the water, that is fine. But don’t give in and give the milk.
  • All other methods: The other ways to do this include increasing the time between feeds and reducing calories in each bottle. I don’t like the first way because you drag out the intervals when your child is potentially crying. I don’t like the second because a) it’s too complicated to figure out how to dilute the milk night tonight b) milk + water = gross.

Note that options 2 and 3 will be pretty difficult if you are bedsharing with your child. So you may want to move your child out of your bed first. (Here’s my post on stopping co-sleeping in the least painful way possible).

How Can You Wean Your Baby Off Night Feedings and When Should You Start

For months, you’ve dutifully woken up throughout the night to feed your baby. But now she’s getting (a little bit!) bigger and has maybe even started to take fewer night nibbles on her own. Is it time to start the process of night weaning?

Night weaning is transitioning your baby off waking to eat in the middle of the night. She’ll have her first nursing session or bottle in the morning after getting up, nurse several times or have several bottles during the day (just like before), and have her final breastfeeding session or bottle shortly before bed.

It’s normal for babies to move away from overnight feedings as they get older, and their tummies can hold more food. Do babies ever self-wean from night feeds? In some lucky cases, yes. But more often, you’ll have to give your little nosher a nudge in the right direction. 

Here’s how to wean your baby from those night feedings so you can all start getting some more sleep. 

When to start night weaning

From a developmental perspective, babies can sleep through the night — defined as a six- to eight-hour stretch — without eating when they're between 4 and 6 months old. 

In this age range, most babies reach the 12- to 13-pound mark, the weight where they no longer metabolically need nighttime feedings.

As your baby reaches the right age and weight, exactly when you decide to drop the night feeds.

Some parents begin when they feel it’s time to start reclaiming their sleep, while others look to their baby for cues — like shorter overnight feeds or waking less often. You should always get the green light from your pediatrician first before you start night weaning.

Know, too, that you don’t have tonight wean between 4 and 6 months. If you’d feel more comfortable waiting a little longer or just cutting down to one or two feeds per night, that’s okay. (In that case, it may be worth increasing the amount you offer during those feeds, so your baby is less likely to wake hungry again later.)

But it’s important to keep in mind that, by 5 or 6 months, a baby who is waking to eat overnight is probably not hungry (unless she isn't eating enough during the day) — she’s just used to the snacking and snuggles. And as your baby gets older, getting her to (happily) give those comforts up could prove more challenging.

Gradual vs. cold turkey weaning

While it’s possible to stop night feedings cold turkey, experts agree that you’re better off taking a gentler approach if you can. After months of midnight noshing, your baby has learned to expect that you’ll come to feed her when she wakes up. 

Gradually moving her away from that habit will ease the transition for everyone, and if you’re breastfeeding, it results in significantly less discomfort for you. 

One common way to do this is to stretch the time between each night feeding, tacking on an extra 15 to 30 minutes every other night. Hopefully, your baby will start to sleep longer and longer until eventually, she stops waking to eat altogether.

You can also try making each feeding shorter by cutting back the amount of time on each breast or putting fewer ounces in your baby’s bottle. Keep trimming things back bit by bit, and over a week or so, your baby will (hopefully) decide that waking up to eat is no longer worth it.

Night weaning for breastfed babies

Both breastfed, and bottle-fed babies can take some time to adjust to not eating during the night. But if you’re nursing, night weaning can also be an adjustment for your body and your milk supply. Here are some tips for making the transition as smooth as possible for breastfed babies:

Make sure your sweetie is eating enough during the day.

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The more calories your cutie takes in during the daytime hours, the less she’ll need overnight. Breastfed babies under six months who haven’t yet started solids should eat every two to three hours during the day, for a total of eight to 12 feedings over 24 hours. (After that, five to six feedings a day becomes the norm.) 

Go slowly.

Cutting off multiple overnight feedings in one fell swoop is a recipe for uncomfortable engorged breasts and an increased risk for mastitis. It can cause your milk supply to take a dip too.

Instead, focus on dropping just one feeding at a time, either by stretching out the time between feedings or shortening the feeding by a few minutes per night.

Pump for comfort.

Pumping milk at night can relieve some of the pressure if your breasts start to feel full before you’re ready to go to bed or in the middle of the night.

Night weaning for bottle-fed babies

The slow-and-steady approach to night weaning works well for bottle-fed babies too. The main key to success, again, is making sure that your little one is getting enough to eat during the day, so she’s less interested in snacking overnight.

Once your baby is old enough and weighs enough to night wean, she’s typically drinking about 24 to 32 ounces over 24 hours. After she starts solids, your little one may adjust her milk intake a bit. The more of these ounces she gets during waking hours, the less she’ll need to drink milk during the wee hours.

Night weaning tips for all babies

There are plenty more strategies for successful night weaning that apply, whether your baby is breast-fed or bottle-fed. Some tactics to try include: 

Give the baby a dream feed.

Topping off your little one’s tank with a final feeding right before you go to bed can increase the odds that she’ll sleep soundly for the rest of the night. 

You’ll need to rouse her enough so that she’s not completely asleep, but even if she’s drowsy, a few sips might be better than nothing.

On the other hand, if the dream feed revs her up and makes it harder for her to go back to sleep or gets her into the habit of waking up to be fed more often, skip it. 

Don’t rush in ASAP.

All babies wake up overnight, and a brief rousing doesn’t necessarily mean your little one is hungry. She might just be fussing, so give her a chance to settle back in before automatically running in to feed her.

Be consistent.

Night weaning is an adjustment for your baby, and she’ll get the message about the new normal faster if you have a plan and stick with it rather than offering a feeding some nights but not others. (Keep in mind, though, that even after your baby has dropped a feeding or is fully night weaned, she may need to eat overnight when she’s sick.)

Feed when you must, but keep interactions to a minimum.

On the other hand, if your baby isn’t falling back asleep and you sense that she does need to eat, feed her. But do it in a business-like fashion — keep the lights off (or dimmed), avoid much conversation or interaction, and don’t change her diaper unless it’s dirty or extremely wet.

Night weaning is often a process, and some babies go at a different pace than others. Gradually dropping feedings and keeping a consistent approach will help your little one learn the new system sooner, but if it seems she’s having a hard time adjusting, feel free to pause or slow the pace. 

And consult with your pediatrician whenever you have questions or concerns or just want to go over your baby's progress.

Even if it takes a little while, your baby will eventually move away from her nighttime feedings — and then everyone will start to get some more sleep.

 

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