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How to safely drop your older baby’s night feeds

I know that the issue of night feeding, especially night breastfeeding is a sensitive one for many people. I would always encourage parents to follow their instincts and values. However, how to safely drop your older baby’s night feeds is a common concern for many parents.

Many babies can sleep pretty much through the night by 6 months. One of the main reasons why lots of them don’t is because they develop a milk/sleep association. This usually happens if they are fed to sleep at the start of the night. It can also happen simply when they are used to the ritual of a feed when they wake up during the night. 

Feed and sleep association

Feeding and sleeping are very closely connected for babies – especially in the early weeks. You can feed them to sleep without having them develop feeding as a sleep association until they are around 3 months. After that, they become more conscious and begin to form habits and associations.

When your baby was younger, if they had a full tummy, it meant that they would sleep for longer. So feeding them to sleep when they are little was and is the right and natural thing to do.

When they are older, having a tummy that is very full of milk is less important. They need to be generally well nourished & hydrated during the day. They also need to be well-fed and satisfied when they go to sleep of course – but not stuffed full!

mother feeding her milk to her baby

The main things that determine the quality of their sleep now are:

  • The way that they fall asleep
  • Whether they are expecting any nighttime events to happen.

It’s okay to feed your baby during the night for as long as you want to, especially when you are breastfeeding, and you should never feel under pressure to stop if it is something that both you and your baby enjoy.

When you are ready to drop the night feeds

  • Wait until they are around 7kg. At this weight, it is okay for their bodies to rest for up to 12 hours at night.
  • If you haven’t already done it, introduce a familiar series of steps leading up to bedtime. Start your bedtime routine just before know your baby is tired and ready to sleep. 
  • Keep the bedroom light on for that bedtime feed, and don’t let your baby doze off. You may have to limit the duration if you’re breastfeeding or reduce the feed if they are on the bottle. Don’t worry – your older baby’s quality of sleep no longer depends upon how full their tummy is. 
  • Introduce a picture book or song after the feed and before they into the cot. This will help to discourage a milk/sleep association. When babies develop this association, they may feed when they wake up during the night when they are not hungry. They feed because it is their learned way of falling asleep. 
mother learning How to Safely Drop her Older Baby's Night Feeds
  • Turn the light off now and place your baby into the cot whilst they are clearly awake. 
  • Depending on their temperament and your parenting style, either stay with them, comforting them in the cot or pop in and out frequently but briefly to reassure them. 
  • Be patient and give them time. If your baby has been used to feeding to sleep, they may struggle at first with self-settling. There is no rush – it might take an hour or so but if you let them, they will eventually fall asleep without you feeding them. Try to remain calm and reassuring if your baby is upset. Remember that they are getting used to a change and although it won’t be easy for the first night or two, it will be worth it in the long run.

When they wake up

  • If your baby wakes in the night, go and check them but not give a feed. Comfort them in the cot as you did earlier if they are upset. Provided that they are well hydrated in the daytime and are not unwell, they shouldn’t need a drink. It’s fine, however, to offer some water if you feel they need it.
  • Although you can drop the night feeds all at once in healthy babies over the age of six months; if you’re nervous about doing this, it is OK to do it slowly. You can gradually dilute night formula feeds and/or to cut the duration of night breastfeeds. You need, for the sake of consistency to feed your baby a decreasing amount of milk at each waking. Feeding at some wakings and not at others will only confuse them.
  • Try not to confuse them by withholding or restricting night feeds and then giving a big, sleepy feed at dawn. They can’t tell the time yet, and as far as they are concerned, this is a night feed.

Just to say, that this is a guide. Each baby is different of course, and if you’re unsure, you should discuss your baby’s need for night feeds with your health visitor, doctor or other health care provider.

Dream Feeds

“Dream feeds” are night feeds given to babies when they are asleep. They are helpful in the early weeks when your baby needs regular night feeds. Giving a dream feed at 10 or 11 pm as you are going to bed yourself can help them to sleep a bit longer before waking up for their next feed.

A dream feed might not be needed after the first few months but it can be a helpful step towards dropping all the night feeds. Giving your baby a feed they are unaware of will not add to a feed/sleep association. Therefore it won’t disrupt their learning process. It may help to reassure you that your baby is not going for a whole night without food and allow you to give them a consistent response when they wake up. You may especially need this reassurance if your baby is under about 8 months, is light for their age or is used to having lots of night feeds. Also, if your confidence has been shaken by early feeding difficulties.

Once your baby is happily sleeping through the night without waking for night feeds, you can drop the dream feed.

Golden rules

dropping night feeds

In one of the boxes above, I’ve said that feeding a baby sometimes when they wake and sometimes not can cause confusion. This isn’t the case when they are younger but as they grow up their thinking develops. They can struggle to figure out why sometimes they get the feed response to their waking and other times they don’t. With this in mind, it’s best to drop them all at once if you can. Alternatively, feed them every time they ask for it but give smaller amounts. Or offer a dream feed as described above.

Here’s a guide if you want to feed them at each waking but gradually reduce the amount before stopping: 

guide to feed a baby

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t think that if you do decide to drop the night breastfeeds, you have to stop breastfeeding altogether. By 6 months your milk supply is well enough established for your body to make milk for the daytime, when it is most needed!

Further help

If you’re struggling with your baby’s night waking and night feeds, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace book Gengle sleep solutions

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Gentle Sleep Course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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