How to night wean
Updated: Apr 3
Hey Mom, Hey Dad, I am happy you are here. You may be reading this because you’ve searched late at night on how to night wean your baby or maybe you aren’t there yet, but you just want to be prepared for when the time is right.
When is the right time to wean your baby of night feeds?
I say, whenever YOU are ready, AND you have the green light from your pediatrician. There will be some trackers they will look at like, weight curve and number of wet diapers and bowel movements throughout the day. It’s easy to ask. Ask at your next appointment or send them a quick message or email in your child’s chart. There are different thresholds of what is the right amount of ounces in 24 hours. Typically, with my clients, I like to at least see 24 ounces of formula or breastmilk during the day. This will include about 4 daytime feedings plus the bedtime routine feed. Again, ALWAYS check with your child’s pediatrician before night weaning.
Are night weaning and sleep training the same thing?
Nope, they aren’t. Sleep training and night weaning aren’t mutually exclusive. Which means, they can both exist. Sleep training is the path you take to independent sleep, such as going down for bedtime wide awake without feeding or rocking. When independent sleep is established, you will likely see longer stretches of sleep for your baby, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t wake to be fed. Sometimes, babies will naturally wean themselves. Cool right? They just start connecting all their sleep cycles and stop signaling during any wakings! But, wait. As a sleep consultant, I am here to tell you that that is not the majority of babies. MOST babies will need an active weaning approach from their parents. Going that route is okay too. So, what does that look like?
How to night wean a bottle fed baby
First, always start with an independent bedtime routine. Not sure that that looks like? Feed first in the bedtime routine, keeping baby awake for the full feed. Then, go through the rest of the bedtime routine steps like hygiene routine and ritual like book and a song. Lay baby down in bed wide awake. Allowing your baby to have full ownership of their falling asleep process will greatly reduce their night wakings and need for a feed/sleep association. Many times, babies who are eating overnight are not eating anything substantial. It’s more the act of bottle or breast in mouth as the avenue to more sleep. Not the calories themselves. Once an independent sleep routine is established at night, give it about 7 days to see where your little one is landing with the timing of the feed. Is it half-way through the night? Great! Hold them to their ‘personal best’. Any wakes outside of the feed time will be managed with the same method (or even more hands-off) as you did at bedtime. You’ll give them at least 10 minutes before entering the room, then assess that they are physically well before implementing a sleep training strategy until they are back asleep in their crib. IF it’s feed time, then you will go to them immediately upon any elevated crying, offer the feed, watch for long productive swallows to stop, then place baby back down in bed, ideally awake.
Reduces ounces overnight for a bottle fed baby
If you are ready to drop those middle of the night ounces, you gradually reduce ounces down to 3 or less ounces and then once you are there, you would use a sleep training method to help baby back to sleep without eating. Once down to 3 ounces or less, a cold turkey approach can be used. Keep in mind, if you have an independent sleeper at bedtime, these overnight wakes will go smoother. Check in on your baby periodically to help them soothe if they are upset. You can anticipate a few rough nights as baby gets themselves back to sleep without eating, but those calories should transfer to daytime and the feeding is now replaced with restorative sleep. Once night weaned, don't look back!
Does night weaning mean better sleep?
Most of the time, yes. In my experience as a sleep coach, when there are night feeds present, there are night wakings still present, as well. Babies cannot tell time, nor does their digestive system know that it is time to rest. They may have other wakeups they struggle with due to a night feed being present.
What if your child takes a SIGNIFICANT amount of calories/ounces overnight?
This is really stressful. It’s almost as if their digestion is reversed. What happens throughout the day has an important impact on nights. Start following an EAT/Wake/Sleep pattern, EWS. There are many benefits to eating directly after baby wakes, instead of right before baby sleeps. For one, it takes an incredible amount of energy to focus on the task of eating. If baby is eating near their next nap time and at the end of their wake period, their energy stores are super depleted. Baby will become drowsy and/or fall asleep half way through the bottle or breast and miss out on those calories they could have eaten if they were fully awake. The cycle with that will continue to repeat itself, and it will also sabotage your baby’s ability to take a long, restorative daytime nap. This process will allow your baby to then eat better during the day and less at night. If you have to cut ounces down overnight deliberately, that will help as well.
How to night wean a breastfed baby.
Jump into independent put down at bedtime first. Offer last nursing session about 30-45 minutes before your baby’s wake window is ending, and KEEP THEM AWAKE, then move to the next part of their bedtime routine, such as bath and a book. When night wakings are happening for feed time, take baby out of the crib and sit in an upright chair with a red light night light on. Allow baby to actively eat big, consistent swallows, then when those slow, unlatch baby who is ideally awake and place them back in bed. When you are actively weaning, you will have baby nurse for less and less minutes over the course of about a week. If after a week, they are still waking and signaling for a quick latch, you can feel confident to choose a sleep training method that fits your family dynamic.
How to wean a dream feed?
I am not a fan of the dream feed. We know that our BEST sleep is the first half of the night, so by disrupting that sleep for your baby, it may not be as effective as you think. Instead, try to split your baby’s night in half and then offer the middle of the night feed. This will make it much easier for them to handle those longer stretches when you are ready to fully wean. If you require a full night’s rest, 6-8 hours or more. Think about taking turns with your partner when it comes to feeding overnight.
Is night weaning your baby too overwhelming?
Try not to stress. There are people like me here to help. I work one on one with families to sleep train, night wean, nap train and overall help them feel LESS stressed about their child’s sleep and more rested overall.
Lindsay Loring is a sleep consultant with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting. She is a mom to twins and lives in the St. Louis, MO metro area. Lindsay helps families all over the world make sleep a priority. Book your free call here.