For the first few months of life, babies are too little to go for very long without eating. Whether this means you are up at night nursing or preparing a bottle, get ready for several weeks (okay, months) of exhausted night feedings. However, by the time that little one is around six months old, she is ready to start sleeping through the night without eating.
Be forewarned, your little one is more than likely to disagree with this statement, especially if she is particularly fond of being awake and eating at night. However, there comes a time when you both need the sleep and she does not need those extra calories any more, which means the time has come for a little sleep training.
Start by checking with your pediatrician to make sure it is okay to stop feeding at night. Babies younger than five or six months are not physically ready and some babies are just too small at that age to proceed. However, once you get permission to move forward, get ready to transition into the next stage of life (i.e., sleep!).
There is no need to go cold turkey, especially since that will be hard on you and downright traumatic for a certain little someone who is used to a certain routine and does not know how to do anything else. Going slowly will help your baby (and your body, if you are nursing) transition slowly.
Start cutting down the time you nurse at night. For example, start by nursing a few minutes less on each side the first night and then decrease it slightly again the next night. Within a few nights, keep it to one side and then slowly reduce the amount of time you nurse until the magical night when you wake up and realize that your baby is sound asleep and didn’t wake up to eat as usual.
For bottle-fed infants, the same idea works by simply cutting back on the amount of time he gets to eat by a few minutes each night until that feeding is non-existent.
Be aware that while most babies transition to a snooze fest during the night in about a week or less, your little one might wake up a little earlier than usual to eat in the morning. Set a time that is officially “too early,” such as anything earlier than 5:00am and stick with that as the official time it is okay to wake up and eat. Anything earlier and you are simply moving that night feeding to later in the night instead of teaching her how to sleep until morning.
If you are nursing, remember that transitioning slowly out of the feeding is necessary for your body as well, so that you do not end up engorged and miserable at night. Cutting down gradually will prevent this problem. If it does happen, do not pump – your body reads this as a signal that you still need to have milk at night, so you will have too much milk the next night again.
Moreover, as with everything else related to parenting, be consistent. When you decide to night wean and the doctor endorses it, pick a date and go for it. You and your baby deserve a full night’s sleep!