If your little one has a nurse-to-sleep association or learned hunger there is good new- you can solve this common but exhausting sleep problem!
Create an Independent Sleeper The step for addressing night feedings is to ensure your baby is going to bed tired but awake. When your little one goes down awake they are more likely to be able to fall back asleep on their out without the help of a feed (bottle, pacifier, breast, snuggles, etc). Move nursing or bottle-feeding to the VERY START of their bedtime routine.
If your baby is still waking every couple of hours, keep reading. . .
Is Your Baby Actually Hungry? Determine if night feeding is appropriate for your little ones age, and remember that it is common under 9 months. BUT, it is not likely that feedings every 2 hours means your little one is hungry. Chances are your baby has a nurse to sleep association. Your baby has become accustomed to frequent small meals throughout the night or now depends on the feeling of eating to fall asleep. Is your little one nutritive sucking (suck, suck, swallow) for a full feeding? This is a good sign that your wee one is not ready to drop the feed. However, if your little one is comfort sucking (shallow sucks with very few swallows) you may have a feed/sleep association.
Options for Eliminating Night Feeds I would start out by eliminating one feed at a time. We don't want to be depriving your little one of necessary feeds!! The exception is if your baby is over 10 months old (as long as your baby has been growing well and your practitioner agrees that it's okay to drop a feed). First start by cutting the early feeds, allowing your baby a longer stretch of restorative sleep during the first part of their sleep. You have a few options for dropping unnecessary night feedings:
Get Your Partner Involved Have dad or non-breastfeeding partner go in for the feedings before midnight and offer pumped breastmilk or a bottle. Sometimes baby will drop this feed if they aren’t getting snuggles with mommy/mommies breast. We drop the early feeds before midnight first because this time is restorative sleep for your little.
*Remember that if you have to do this for several nights it may still require you to pump to keep supply or if you are feeling engorged!
Reducing the volume. The method can take about a week to be effective, but can be adjusted according to your comfort leve, and babes response to the change.
If You Breastfeed At Night Reduce the amount of time your baby is nursing for each night feeding. Start with the first feeding of the night. For example: if your little one usually nurses for 15 minutes/feed, you will slowly cut that time by 1-2 minutes each night. Once you are only nursing for 3 minutes, you can drop that feed completely the next night. If you are dropping another feed, move onto that one once you have dropped the previous feed. But focus on one feed at a time to ensure your little one has time to adjust (and also to ensure they are actually ready to drop more than one feed). Your little one will often wake up as you remove them from the breast. Rock your little one while saying 'shhh' for a minute before placing them back into the crib.
If You Bottlefeed At Night Reduce the ounces in each bottle feeding, again starting with the first feeding of the night. For example, if you usually give your baby 4oz, you can slowly reduce that by ½ an ounce every other night or every third night. Once you get to 1 ounce, you can drop the feeding completely and move on to the next feeding.
Push feedings later Another option is to push the first feed of the night later by 15 minutes every other night. This will push the 2nd feeding into the morning hours, and will naturally drop it (as it will become the first morning feed of the day).
Go cold turkey This is one I would ONLY recommend if we were certain your baby isn’t taking much milk during the feed and if your paediatrician was in agreement that it's time to eliminate a feed. Dropping this type of feeding won’t impact overall calorie intake or your breastmilk supply as long as your little one is developmentally/physically ready. Again, this is really only appropriate for littles over 10 months that have met growth/development expectations of your practitioner!
If babe is gulping away the ounces from a bottle or you notice your breast empty a lot during night feedings, going cold turkey is like skipping a meal!!! Babe will be hungry and upset. Use a more gentle method to wean off each feeding slowly, as babies night feed needs change. Use your momtuition and these guidelines to help determine your babies feed needs. Babies go through growth and development, so we need to ensure we are evaluating needs as we move through the stages! And remember, if what you are doing is working for you and your babe, you don't need to change it!!
Get Help Night feeding can be difficult and frustrating for you and baby. If you need help managing the transition find a sleep consultant who has experience with lactation (like me) to help you both get more sleep, while protecting breastfeeding. Contact me for a complementary consultation.