Many sleep-deprived parents may explore ways for night weaning a toddler. Night weaning refers to gradually reducing the frequency of feedings during the night. However, it is essential to consider the baby’s age before you begin night weaning.
Read this post to learn more about how to identify the signs that indicate your toddler is ready for night weaning, things to consider before night weaning the baby, and when you should not attempt night weaning.
When To Start Night Weaning?
The exact time to start night weaning may vary from baby to baby, as each baby’s sleep patterns are different. A study conducted on 75 infants suggests that most babies start sleeping through the night between two to three months (1). So, this could be a good time to start night weaning your baby.
However, babies also hit a growth spurt at three months, which could cause sleep regression and frequent night wakings for feeding. This may last for a short period. Most babies start to sleep throughout the night by six months (2), but some babies may continue to wake up in the middle of the night throughout the first year. However, it may be for reasons other than hunger, such as feeling thirsty, having separation anxiety or any other physical or emotional needs.
Therefore, it is up to you to decide when to start night weaning your baby, as you would be able to assess their growth rate, night wakings, and their pace in meeting the milestones. However, before you start night weaning, it is best to consult your pediatrician to get their consent.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready For Night Weaning
Although the ideal time to start night weaning is when your baby starts to sleep throughout the night, it may not be the same for every baby. Some babies may take more time to night wean, which is normal.
To determine if your baby is ready to night wean, look for the following signs.
- They suck a little and fall back to sleep. This is because they are not really hungry but want to breastfeed for warmth and snuggles.
- If you have started offering solids to your baby, the food might provide better sustenance, and your baby might not feel hungry at night.
- Your baby meets their weight and growth milestones on time and shows no signs of nutritional deficiency.
Essential Things To Consider Before Night Weaning Your Baby
Before you start the process of night weaning, you need to take care of two important aspects.
- Stick to a proper daytime feeding schedule.
- Encourage your baby to self-soothe.
Let us understand in detail why these aspects are important.
As your baby starts to sleep throughout the night, they may miss one or two feeds. So, you need to make up for these feeds during the day. According to Stanford Children’s Health, you need to feed a three- to five-month-old baby five to six times a day (3).
If your baby can self-soothe themselves to sleep, they would generally be able to sleep without any interventions or the need for feeding during the middle of the night. Studies suggest that self-soothing behavior might start in some infants by the age of four to six months and increase in frequency by the time they reach one year (4).
If your baby is not a self-soother yet, you may want to read our post, “How to teach your baby to self-soothe?”
How To Start Night Weaning?
The first step to starting night weaning is to do it as gently as possible. Suddenly cutting off night feeds can be stressful for your baby. Here are a few steps you can take for a hassle-free night weaning.
- Talk to your pediatrician. You may be certain that your baby is ready for night weaning. However, talk to your pediatrician to ensure your baby meets their monthly goals in terms of nutritional requirements.
- Give them a large last feed. If you have a day time feeding schedule, make the last feed a relatively large one. You may also consider dream feeding your baby before you go to bed. This might keep their tummy full and avoid night wakings.
- Shorten the night feedings. Reduce the night feeding timings by a few minutes each time, and continue until they stop waking up for feeding during the night. For bottle-fed babies, reduce the amount of formula by 20–30ml every second night.
- Observe their sucking. This holds good for babies who wake up in the middle of the night not because of hunger but for the comfort of breastfeeding. As soon as you notice that your baby has stopped hunger feeding and started comfort sucking, unlatch them from the breast and set them in the crib. If your baby is bottle-feeding, do not let them go to sleep while feeding as it may cause tooth decay (5). Remove the bottle as soon as they start comfort sucking.
- Try different methods of comforting. If your baby continues to wake up in the middle of the night and fails to self soothe, give them 15–20 minutes to settle down on their own. If they still don’t fall back to sleep, gently rock or pat them or even feed them until they calm down.
- Break the association between food and sleep. The key to successfully night wean your baby is to break the dependency on feeding to sleep. Before four months, it is ok if your baby drifts to sleep while feeding, but beyond four months, you would want to feed your baby when they are awake and not asleep. This will help them develop self-soothing and not wait for a feed to fall back to sleep.
- Give them nutritious food during the daytime. One of the best ways to help your baby night wean as well as provide the necessary nutrients to help them meet their milestones is to give them nutritious food. If your baby has started solids, give them foods such as rice, cereals, and pureed vegetables.
- Seek help for comforting your baby. If your baby tends to cry not because of hunger but for the comfort of breastfeeding, ask your partner to soothe them back to sleep.
- If your baby is slightly old, offer them other forms of comfort, such as giving them a blanket or a stuffed animal.
Remember that night weaning cannot be accomplished in a day or two; it is a continuous process and needs patience and constant effort. Make the transition as gentle and comfortable as possible for your baby. If they resist your efforts and cry incessantly, it is ok to give in and feed them occasionally.
When Should You Not Night Wean?
Not all babies will be ready to night wean by the age of four to six months. It is best not to night wean if:
- The baby is going through a growth spurt or sleep regression.
- You will be away from them for longer periods (in this case, make sure you give them extra time during the day for cuddles so that they do not miss you and seek comfort during the middle of the night).
- Your baby is ill or not meeting their regular milestones.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do toddlers naturally wean at night?
Toddlers may naturally night wean as they grow older and start sleeping through the night. However, it may be different for each mother-baby pair (6).
2. Does night weaning improve a toddler’s sleep?
Though there are no direct correlations between night weaning and sleep, for babies aged six to 12 months, night feeds may not be necessary, and some babies may sleep for up to 12 hours at night (7).
Night weaning is important to teach your baby to sleep throughout the night and get your sleep schedule in line. Try to make the transition smooth for your baby by following the tips given above. Also, remember to be extra gentle with your baby as night weaning is a big change. Your baby might resist, but as a mother, you are the best person to assess if that resistance is due to hunger or discomfort.
- The right time to begin night weaning varies among babies due to different sleeping patterns.
- You can begin night weaning if your baby eats solid meals and is achieving their weight and height milestones with no evidence of nutritional deficiency.
- Before you begin night weaning, educate your baby on self-soothing techniques and adhere to a regular daytime feeding schedule.
- If your baby is unwell or going through a sleep regression, don’t start night weaning.
2. Jill Radtke Demirci, et al.; Breastfeeding and Short Sleep Duration in Mothers and 6 to 11 Month Old Infants; HHS author manuscript (2012)
3. Feeding Guide for the First Year; Stanford Children’s Health
4. Melissa M. Burnham, et al.; Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study; HHS author manuscript (2002)
5. Nilza M. E, et al.; Breastfeeding and early childhood caries: a critical review; Journal De Pediatria
6. Night weaning and phasing out night feeds: things to think about; Australian Government; Department of Social Sciences
7. Helping your baby to sleep; National Health Service, UK