At some point, the time will come for you to wean your baby. Whether you’ve been breastfeeding exclusively, only feeding formula, or giving a mix, they’ll need to transition to solid foods sooner or later. And you’ll probably be ready to sleep through the night, instead of waking up for night feedings.
Weaning is the process of gradually transitioning your child from the breast or bottle to solid foods. Night weaning, on the other hand, is phasing out nighttime feedings, but not necessarily daytime feedings.
Some moms want to night wean because they’re going back to work and need a full night’s sleep. The nice thing about night weaning alone is that you can continue to give them the breast during the day, if you want, but sleep uninterrupted at night.
Other moms are stopping with the breast or bottle all the time, and night weaning is part of convincing their baby that they don’t need to turn to that source for their nutrition.
Whatever your reasons for considering night weaning, if you’re ready to cut back or eliminate night feedings, here’s how to successfully go about doing it.
When Should I Night Wean My Baby?
A parent can start night weaning their baby between four and six months of age. At this point, your baby should be consuming enough calories during the day to last them for six hours of sleep.
Doing this any earlier than four to six months of age, and they might wake up hungry, turning an attempt to night wean into a frustrating and fruitless endeavor.
What If I’m Late To Do This?
There are no health downsides to night weaning at a later age, if that’s what you’re worried about.
But, after a long period of nighttime feedings, your child could simply become so attached to the breast or bottle as a means to soothe themselves back to sleep that they’ll fight night weaning even more.
So, if they’re showings sign of being ready to night wean, don’t put it off for later. Do it now.
In addition to an age range for night weaning, some experts give a weight range of 11 to 13 pounds. Any weight less than that, and a baby doesn’t weigh enough to be able to afford not having night feeds.
What Are The Signs That A Baby Is Ready To Stop Night Feedings?
Night weaning will go more successfully if both you and your baby are ready for it; so what are the signs that baby is ready? Here’s a list of some of the stuff you should look out for first.
Are they feeding less during the day but still waking up at night?
If they aren’t demanding a breast or bottle as much during the day, they’re probably not as hungry. Nighttime wakings to feed may just be out of habit or a desire to play, not because of true hunger.
Are they waking up at the same time during the night, or at random hours?
A baby waking up the same time each night to feed is probably hungry. Their six pm feeding has worn off and they wake up hungry every night four hours later.
If they’re waking up at random, inconsistent times, it’s probably not as much due to hunger.
Try soothing them back to sleep by rocking or singing to them first and see if that does it before resorting to feeding.
If they wake up to feed, are they staying awake for longer periods of time after feeding?
A baby who wakes up hungry will typically feed and then fall immediately back to sleep; sometimes even falling asleep while at the breast or with the bottle in their mouth!
If your baby is waking up, feeding, and then looking around, kicking his feet and staying awake for another five to ten minutes – it’s another sign that he’s not truly hungry.
If your baby has recently transitioned to solids, now might be the perfect time to also try night weaning.
Solid foods provide more calories in general, which translates to a baby that feels fuller and is less in need of a nighttime bottle.
How Can I Tell If My Baby Is NOT Ready To Be Night Weaned?
It’s never a good idea to force something on your child when they’re not ready for it yet, even if you’re dying to get six hours of uninterrupted sleep.
As responsible parents and caregivers, it’s our duty to do what’s best for our little ones, not what feels most comfortable for us to do.
If your baby isn’t exhibiting any of the signs above, then they’re probably not ready to night wean.
Also, if they’re not gaining weight properly or your pediatrician has concerns about their diet, cutting out night feedings probably isn’t a good idea – unless you’ve been given the go-ahead from your pediatrician to do so.
If your baby is sick, acting fussy lately, going through a growth spurt, or in the midst of life change such as a move, it’s probably not a good time to start night weaning. This will only add to your baby’s stress at the time, so it’s best to wait until normal circumstances are back.
How Can I Tell If Something’s Going Wrong?
If night weaning isn’t going too well, you’re probably already aware of that without needing much guidance from anyone.
Your baby might be fussing and refusing to go back to sleep without being fed. Or they’re not self-soothing or accepting other forms of comfort other than the breast or the bottle.
If they stop growing or, even worse, start losing weight, then they might not be getting enough nutrition and you should resume night feedings.
As with everything baby health related, talk to your doctor if you have any major concerns.
How Long Will It Take To Stop My Baby’s Night Feedings For Good?
Night weaning is a slow and gradual process.
It’s not denying your baby nighttime feedings cold turkey, that’s possibly one of the worst things you could put them through. Cutting out night feedings cold turkey is also bad for mom and her milk supply.
If you’ve been breastfeeding for a while, it could also lead to plugged ducts or a breast infection. Instead, you should be slowly cutting back on the ounces of formula, ounces of breast milk pumped or time at the breast.
It’s impossible to predict how long it will take to night wean your baby from start to finish, each experience is unique. Every baby is different.
If you’ve been trying for a few weeks and it doesn’t seem to be going too well, assess the situation.
Be honest with yourself; were they really exhibiting the signs that they were ready to night wean, or were you pushing it and trying to rush things for whatever reason? Have you tried all implementing all the possible tips you could read up on regarding what it takes to successfully night wean a child?
If the answer is ‘no,’ take a break for a week or two and then try again.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “If it’s going too fast for your baby, it’s always best to try again later.”
Why Is Night Weaning Important? What Happens If I Neglect Doing It?
Night weaning is important if you don’t want to be waking up two to three times a night with a toddler. There are no real health consequences if you don’t wean your baby yourself, and many babies self-wean if you don’t take an active role in it.
But if you’re struggling to function during the day due to lack of sleep, it could have a major negative impact on your life.
If night weaning would help you become a better parent during the day, it might be more important to you than it is to your baby. Just make sure you don’t rush this and only do it when they’re ready for it.
How Exactly Should I Wean Night Feedings?
It’s important to stress that you’ll need a plan before going forward. Doing this without much planning beforehand is basically setting yourself up for failure.
The time to decide how to wean, how much you’re going to give your baby to drink, or how you’ll soothe them instead of feeding, is not to be done at 3 a.m. when you’re sleep-deprived.
Discuss a plan with your partner and get on the same page before you begin night weaning. You might even want to consult with a specialist about this if you feel the need to.
Method #1: If You’ve Been Breastfeeding
If you’ve been breastfeeding, here are some steps to approach this the right way.
- Keep track of how often your baby normally wakes to feed.
- Time their normal nighttime feedings.
Once you have that data you can;
- Start by cutting out just one feeding per night. When they wake, try soothing them with methods other than the bottle (see below for tips).
- Shorten the amount of time they feed. If their normal feeding lasts for eight minutes, cut it down by two minutes a week until they no longer wake to feed at that time.
- Gradually cut out either nighttime feedings or cut down on time until that feeding is off their schedule.
For this to be successful, keep the rest of their bedtime routine exactly the same. If you’ve been giving them a warm bath before they go to bed, singing a song, rocking them and then putting them in their crib, keep their routine normal.
Try not to put your baby down when they’re already asleep; they could wake up disoriented and upset. Lay them in their crib when they’re drowsy and falling asleep.
And once they’re done with a feeding – they’re done. If you’ve successfully stopped the 2 a.m. nursing and they’re sick one night, don’t feed them again at that time. There’s no need for you to resort to that anymore. Instead, follow some of the other distraction and soothing tips mentioned below.
Method #2: If You’ve Been Formula Feeding
The principles of gradually reducing the amount of milk your baby receives at night are the same for bottle-fed babies as they are for breastfed ones.
- Gather the same information about nighttime feedings as above.
- Cut back on the number of ounces at each nighttime feeding. If baby has been getting six ounces, give her four.
Method #3: If Your Baby Has Been Getting Both Breastmilk And Formula Milk
Follow the same principles as above.
Cut back on one feeding a night, regardless of whether it’s the breast or bottle. Reduce the minutes you’re breastfeeding or the ounces in the bottle until the feeding drops off your schedule.
If You’re Having Difficulty, Try These Tips
If your baby is still waking up and insisting on getting a bottle or breast, or if they haven’t started waking up less frequently, you might be considering giving up at this point.
But, for the sake of consistency and everyone involved in this, please don’t throw in the towel just yet.
Think of what you can substitute for a feeding; affection or attention. Try out some of these tips first before you throw your hands in the air in frustration.
Don’t Feed More Solid Foods In The Evening
It may sound counter-intuitive, but avoid giving baby solid food in the evening. Why not? You ask, won’t she sleep sounder with a fuller belly?
Yes, but not a belly full of food.
Solid food is usually harder for babies to digest. Some babies wake up more at night if they’ve been fed solids closer to bedtime, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish with night weaning.
Do Nurse, And Often, Close To Bedtime
Instead of solid foods, give them the breast or bottle.
In the hours leading up to bedtime, nurse them often, and try to stick to one breast rather than alternating between both. That way, your baby is getting more of the filling, higher fat milk at those feedings.
If they wake up during the night, give them the other breast so that – again – they’re getting higher fat milk and might wake up less.
Nurse And Feed More During The Day
In general, give your baby the breast more often throughout the day. If you’ve been feeding her once every three hours, shorten that timeframe to once every two hours.
With that being said, avoid force feeding them.
Less Noise And Distractions During Daytime Feedings
Babies consume as much as 25% of their daily milk intake during the night feedings.
The theory is that noise, light, other children (basically any distractions) pull their attention away from feeding during the day. They might not nurse for as long because they’re eager to see what’s going on around them.
During their daytime feedings, take them into a quiet room and shut the door. Dim the lights (use a night light if you must), turn off any music, and minimize any and all distractions as much as possible.
This increases the likelihood that they’ll feed more, filling up their belly and not waking as much at night.
Make Your Partner Part Of The Game
If your baby has been breastfed, and you suspect that they’re nursing at night for comfort more than for food, send Dad into the nursery!
Your baby is more likely to accept other forms of soothing from him; rocking back to sleep, a gentle back-rub, singing a song, and not demand to be fed.
Give Extra Cuddles And Affection
Nursing isn’t just about food; it’s about comfort and closeness.
While you’re trying to wean, give them extra attention, cuddles and affection throughout the day. Stock up their ‘love tank’ before putting them down to sleep.
What To Avoid Doing When Trying To Night Wean Your Baby
Babies thrive on routine. That’s why it’s not a good idea to try night weaning if their routine has already been disrupted by a move or family vacation. As much as possible, stick to a schedule and routine when night weaning, and make sure you’re not trying to do this in unusual circumstances.
Try sending dad in for every other feeding. Do the same thing to soothe every time; pick up baby, bounce baby, or stroke baby’s back in the crib. You’re trying to wire their brain to associate that routine with going back to sleep.
If you’re doing something different every night without much planning beforehand and a routine to stick to, your baby might feel insecure and cling to the breast or bottle even more.
Last Word Of Advice
Like much of parenting, the right time and method to night wean your child will depend upon their readiness and development.
It will require that you pay attention to how they’re responding and keep closer track of nighttime feedings. And it will take time and patience.
If you’ve successfully night weaned, how long did it take you? Did you have any issues night weaning your little one? Make yourself heard and let us know about your experiences in the comments section!