A question you may have if you have an infant at home is: How to sleep train without dropping the night feeding. Your baby may be 4-6 months old, and at this age, a night feeding may still be needed.
The good news is you DON’T have to night wean when implementing a sleep training method. What typically happens in this situation, is baby can go down easily at bedtime each night and give you long stretches of sleep on either side of a night feeding.
So, what is considered a night feeding?
A night feeding as it relates to this article is any feeding that is done after your child is placed in bed for the night in preparation of 10-12 hours of sleep. Did you know your child has an ideal bedtime window based off their age? Check out this image to see where your baby’s bedtime should fall.
While sleep training aims to help babies develop healthy sleep habits, night feedings are essential for nourishment and growth. The question that many parents grapple with is whether it's possible to strike a balance between sleep training and keeping a night feeding schedule. Below we will explore the concepts of sleep training and night feedings, their importance, and provide practical tips on how to achieve a harmonious sleep routine without compromising the nutritional needs of your little one.
Consolidated Sleep will Help your Child Eat Better During the Day
Sleep is crucial for a child's development, growth, and overall well-being. Proper sleep allows the brain to recharge, enhances cognitive abilities, and strengthens the immune system. Have a picky eater? Toddler having lots of tantrums? Child constantly getting sick? In all those circumstances sleep can aid in fixing the problem or at the very least get them going towards the right direction. Typically, a rested child will eat better, have less tantrums and get sick less often. Yay for sleep!
What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training refers to a series of strategies used to help infants and young children establish independent sleep patterns while learning to self-soothe and connect their sleep cycles. While there are various sleep training methods, the goal with all the methods is to help babies learn to fall asleep independently and sleep for longer periods, providing benefits for both the child and the parents. In our book, it’s a win-win!
Does Your Baby Need a Night Feeding?
Night feedings play a vital role in a baby's growth and development, especially during the first few months of life. Infants have small stomachs that require frequent feedings to meet their nutritional needs. Breast milk or formula provides essential nutrients, antibodies, and hydration, supporting the baby's overall health. Night feedings are also essential for maintaining a healthy milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. Therefore, eliminating night feedings entirely may not be suitable for every child, and a balanced approach is often necessary. Be sure to contact your baby’s pediatrician for guidance on whether it’s time to drop the night time bottle.
Tips on Having an Independent Sleeper with a Night Feed
Baby's Age & Stage: The approach to sleep training and night feedings may vary based on the child's age and developmental stage. Newborns typically need to feed every two to three hours, and formal sleep training is not appropriate during this period. During this time, we encourage you to start a flexible routine with your baby. Read this article for more ideas on how to introduce a flexible bedtime routine for your baby, twins or toddler. Bedtime routines are very important and set the stage for how the night will go in terms of sleep.
How to Schedule a Middle of the Night Feed: If you want to keep a night feeding, we suggest holding your child to his or her personal best. Meaning, if your baby wakes typically around 2AM for a feeding, it’s okay to decide that baby eats only at that time or later. This way, your feeding will always be around the same time and lead to longer stretches of sleep during the night. Similarly, you can pick a time on the clock and work around that time instead. For example, no feedings before 1AM. Keep in mind that babies who feed overnight may have other night wakings. In our experience of working with hundreds of babies, those that have a feeding tend to wake more often throughout the night.
Feed Baby Every 2.5-3.5 Hours Per Day: Paying close attention to hunger cues is essential. Be sure to feed your baby every after each sleep period which amounts to five bottles per day including the bedtime feed. Feeding baby right after they wake up will ensure they have the energy to eat the full amount that is being offered and will sustain them throughout their wake window and next nap time. This will help to ensure they are taking in as many calories as possible throughout the daytime. Over time, as the baby starts eating more during the day and consuming solid foods (around 6 months or as advised by the pediatrician), night feedings may naturally reduce.
Practicing a Consistent Bedtime Routine each Night: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can aid in sleep training while supporting the night feeding schedule. A calming routine before bedtime can look like:
such as a warm bath
reading a story
putting on a sleep sack
These consistent sequence of events can signal to the baby that it's time to sleep, making the process smoother. It’s important to do the same sequence of events every single night.
Flexibility with Sleep Training: Every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Be flexible and willing to adapt your approach based on your child's needs and temperament. It's essential to prioritize the baby's well-being and comfort while aiming to achieve better sleep patterns.
More on Sleep Training without Night Weaning
It is indeed possible to strike a balance between sleep training and keeping a night feeding for your baby. Sleep training can help babies develop independent sleep habits and encourage self-soothing, but it doesn’t mean your baby must night wean. You may be feeling relieved that you can start sleep training but not feel stressed about how to drop the nighttime bottle or nursing session. One step at a time, seriously!
When you consider your child’s age and weight in addition to speaking to their pediatrician, you may be ready to employ an appropriate sleep training method.
To view our baby sleep training packages and enlist the help of our certified baby sleep consultants, visit this page.
Remember, every child is unique, and it's essential to be patient and understanding throughout this process. We are here to help you teach your children independent sleep skills whether you want to keep a night feeding, or you’d like to night wean. Book a free call with one of our baby sleep consultants and we can chat about your specific circumstances!
Stellina Ferri is the author of this article. Stellina is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and mom of three.
She supports families through the journey of better sleep as a consultant with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting. She lives in the Boston, MA area with her family. Learn more about Stellina!