Yay – your baby is here!! You’re breastfeeding (or formula feeding) and life is awesome. Then a few months go by … you love your squidgy bundle of joy, but you’re starting to feel it and you’re getting tired. Then maternity leave ends … now these middle of the night feedings are taking their toll. What’s a mother to do?
How to get your baby to sleep through the night
This is the story of how I eliminated nighttime feedings with my son. While I could’ve done this sooner, I got him sleeping through the night at 5 months old (I went back to work when he was 3 months old). I consulted my pediatrician and did a bunch of research (via books & internet) and this is what worked for us. Recognize that every baby is different, but in general – they are physically capable of sleeping through the night at anywhere from 3-5 months (it will come down to your emotional strength as a mother – you’ll see what I mean below).
General information, tips & advice (from articles I read and my personal experience):
- Per my pediatrician, when babies are 11-12 lbs their tummies are physically large enough to hold enough food for them to be content through the night. (It is important to note that “through the night” generally means your baby will sleep a solid 6-8+ hours). That is why you will often hear people say “mine started sleeping through the night at 2-3 months” (depending on the size of their baby). Your baby should be getting approximately 2 oz per every pound they weigh of milk (whether BM or formula) per day – so if you have a 20 lb baby, they should be getting roughly 40 oz of milk per day. This will decrease slightly as you introduce solid foods as nutrients will be consumed through the food; however your baby should consistently be getting approx. 24-32 oz per day even with food to maintain good bone/brain development. Lastly, babies of this age should be getting approx. 14 hours total sleep throughout the day/night.
- Babies often follow routines – either set by parents/daycare or they set them themselves. When trying to alter baby’s routine, you should make gradual changes and not try to change multiple things at once. A good example is – you may notice results following the recommended steps below; however perhaps on the weekend your baby’s schedule is different from the schedule he/she follows at daycare – during the weekend you may notice relapses in your progress. This is because you’ve tried to change too much all at once. While trying to get your baby to sleep through the night, try to keep the rest of his/her daily routine as on point as possible (i.e. if you’re planning a trip or an outing sometime soon, maybe wait until that has passed to try changing this aspect of his/her daily routine). Personally, we try to keep Bryce’s schedule at home on the weekend (in terms of feedings/naps) within a one hour window of when they do it at daycare – it keeps him happier and come Monday he doesn’t fuss at school when things are changed.
- If you’re breastfeeding, I found the following to be helpful as you try these steps: (1) baby needs to sleep in his/her own bed, in his/her own room – this is for multiple reasons, but the primary ones being (a) when you lactate in the middle of the night (i.e. leak) – baby can smell the milk and automatically assumes it’s time to wake up & eat and (b) most babies (of course every baby is different) are somewhat fitful sleepers – a baby’s REM cycle can be drastically different from an adults and they tend to sleep more towards semi-wakefulness than adults do; by limiting the amount of distractions by putting baby in his/her room (i.e. you won’t hear him/her roll over – he/she won’t hear you roll over) you increase the likelihood of baby enjoying uninterrupted, deeper sleep (and you too!) – not to mention, you’re able to increase intimate time with daddy (which is a pleasant perk) ;). (2) when trying the steps below (as much as it sucks) – get out of bed to feed baby, go into baby’s room and sit in the rocking chair or glider to feed the baby. Make sure baby stays awake for a complete feeding (15-30 minutes) and then put baby back to bed immediately and go back to your own bed. Personal experience: we would start Bryce out in his bed and when he woke up (2-3x a night depending) I would go get him, pop him on the boob and come back to bed; what I came to find as I followed the steps below was that he was just “topping of his tank” (i.e. taking a few large mouthfuls and going back to sleep) – he was nursing more for comfort than nutritional value (and because it had become part of his “routine” to wake up & eat at that time).
- If your baby is 6 months old and you haven’t established a baby food routine (i.e. your just experimenting here or there) – establish that first. Get baby consistently eating baby food for 3 meals a day, plus milk and then attempt to make the change. At 6 months – each meal should consist of roughly ¼ cup cereal/oatmeal (we did oatmeal), ½ tub of baby food and 4 oz bottle of milk (including whatever milk you stir into the food) (morning & afternoon snacks should be able half that amount of food, same amount of milk).
- Never wake baby up to eat, only respond to baby. Maintaining the cycle of nighttime feeding is counterproductive to getting baby to sleep through the night. Also, if you haven’t already – don’t change baby at night unless baby has gone poop or is excessively damp. An obvious tip – keep lighting very dim or none at all. The less you disturb baby, the better.
Ok – so now to the process, lol – if you follow the steps below you should be able to wean your baby of nighttime feedings within 1-2 weeks (depending on how you proceed):
Step 1: Observe routine: unless your baby already has a set routine of times they wake up, for the first day or two observe your baby: what times do they wake up, how many ounces do they eat at each nightly feeding (for breastfeeding: how long is baby “actively” nursing – not just suckling a mouthful here or there – yes, you’ll need to stay awake for this process). If baby is being sporadic (i.e. sleeping through the night and then randomly not) – it’s probably one of two things: (1) baby is going through a growth spurt (should last anywhere from 2-5 days) or (2) something else in baby’s routine has recently been changed and baby is still adjusting. If the wakefulness is sporadic (especially if it’s a growth spurt): respond to baby’s needs, but after a few nights make an effort to return to the routine of sleeping through the night so baby doesn’t get “used” to waking up to eat in the middle of the night again.
Step 2: Decrease ounces per feeding: Now that you know when you’re baby wakes up and how much he eats – it’s time to “wean” him off the nighttime feedings. IMPORTANT NOTE: per my tip above, baby should be getting anywhere from 24-40 oz of milk per day – if he’s already getting that much during the day, then you don’t need to be as observant about eliminating nighttime feedings; however if baby is a finicky eater during the day and tends to chow down at night, you will need to be hyper observant during the day (ask for reports from daycare if necessary) – baby’s ounce intake per feeding should increase during the day as you eliminate nighttime feedings (you’re “shifting” baby’s eating schedule). If your baby generally eats 4 oz per nighttime feeding, reduce the amount to 3 oz on the first night, then 2 oz on the second & third nights and then 1 oz on the fourth & fifth night (if you’re breastfeeding, reduce the number of minutes you feed – go from 20 min to 15 min to 10 min). As you decrease the number of ounces, the number of nighttime feedings should naturally decrease (i.e. if he’s waking up 2-3x a night, hopefully one nighttime feeding will automatically take care of itself).
Step 3: Eliminate feedings (this is the most difficult step): After you’ve gotten your baby down to approx. an ounce of milk for his/her nighttime feeding (or approx. 5-10 min on the breast), it’s time to eliminate the nighttime feedings altogether. If baby is still waking up 2-3x per night, eliminate one nighttime feeding at a time (usually eliminate this feeding for approx. 2 days then begin trying to eliminate another). If baby wakes up 3x per night, eliminate the first and last feedings first – then the feeding in the middle of the night. Here comes the hard part: baby will continue to wake up (remember, it’s still part of his/her routine) – you’ve already established he/she doesn’t really “need” anything (because you’ve gotten him/her down to hardly any milk); ignore baby for 5-10 minutes (if crying persists past 10 min, get up – feed baby the ounce you’ve gotten down to and try again the next night). This may last for 2-5 nights, but eventually baby will realize (a) he/she doesn’t need to wake up and (b) he/she doesn’t want to.
I won’t lie to you – this was, to date, the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a mother – ignore my crying child; however it is important for baby to get a good quality of sleep (and for mommy, lol) – so by getting through this, we’ve both been better for it. I haven’t researched if there’s any evidence of it, but I would tend the think the older baby gets, the more difficult it is to “shake up” their routine (like when moms try to wean babies from pacifiers or bottles). Also, when baby transitions to the 1 year old room at daycare, they only take one two hour nap a day, so it’s important to get baby sleeping through the night so he/she gets enough “overall” sleep throughout the day (they continue to need 10-12 hours a day at 1). Other moms have recommended a bedtime routine to help – I’m sure that works for some moms, honestly we have no routine (though we do try to eat dinner around the same time every night) and Bryce naturally puts himself to bed between 8-9 pm. We do actively play with him from the time we get home (6:30pm) until dinner (7:30-7:45pm) and then we calm down.
I wish you all the best of luck with this – know it won’t be easy, but you’ll both be better for it on the other side. Also, I hope what I wrote didn’t offend anybody – this is just the route our family went and it worked for us. Every baby (and every family) is different and has to find what works for them. If you have suggestions on how to get baby to sleep through the night - let me know below! Also, if you try this method, let me know how it works for you!
Main reason I had issues initially getting my son to sleep through the night (I went back to sleep too!)