How to Wean Your Older Baby Off Night Feeds and Help Them to Better Sleep

By the time your baby reaches 6 months old, provided that they are healthy, gaining weight, and have started solid food, it is very probable that he or she no longer needs a night feed. 

Lots of babies will drop night feeds without help once they reach a certain weight and when their sleep skills have matured. Many others, as they get older, will still feed once or twice in the night, and then settle happily back to sleep. 

Some babies however, as they get older, start to feed much more rather than less in the night. Sometimes it can be every 1-2 hours or more and often the feeds are short. Having so many feeds in the night is rarely driven by hunger. 

The real reasons for older babies increasing their night feeds are that they need to feed as a sleep prompt and also; simple habit and ritual.

I need to say that many parents choose to continue to breast feed in the night until their baby is over a year or no longer asks for it and this is absolutely fine of course – especially if you feel confident about and in control of that decision. It is more than ok to carry on breast feeding in the night for as long as you like. 

I also need to say that it is ok to stop when you’ve had enough – especially if the disturbed nights are affecting your child’s mood, daytime feeding or your own mental and/or physical health. 

And just because you choose to drop the night feeds, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop breast feeding completely if you don’t want to.

Although breast feeding at night helps to ensure a healthy milk supply for the following day; by the time your baby is 6 months old, your breast feeding is well enough established that your body will still make milk for the day time feeds. 

Breast milk production is about supply and demand. When the night feeds are dropped, the day feeds will increase and feeding on demand in the day will keep your milk supply up. If you’re returning to work and not intending to express milk, your body will then simply make milk for the times when it is needed – even if that’s just for a morning and bed time feed.

As well as being not really necessary, very frequent night feeding can sometimes prevent babies developing essential self settling skills and can lead to daytime sleep problems too. 

So if you do feel its time to drop the night time milk – whether breast or formula, here is how to safely do it:

  1. Wait until they are over 7kg. At this weight, it is ok for their bodies to have a rest for up to 12 hours at night.
  1. If you haven’t already done it, introduce a familiar series of steps leading up to bed time [a bed time routine] timed to coincide with when you know your baby is tired and ready to sleep.
  1. Keep the bedroom light on for that bed time 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 having a formula feed. Don’t worry – your older baby does not need to be tanked full of milk to sleep through the night. 
  1. Introduce a little picture book or song after the feed and before your baby goes into the cot. This will help to lessen the milk/sleep connection responsible for babies’ waking later and needing another feed to go back to sleep.
  1. Turn the light off now and place you baby into the cot whilst they are clearly awake.
  1. Depending on their temperament and your own parenting style, either stay with them, comforting them in the cot until they go to sleep, or pop in and out frequently but briefly to reassure them.
  1. Be patient and give them time. If your baby has been used to feeding to sleep, they may really 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. 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 soon get much easier for them.
  1. If your baby wakes in the night, go and check them but do not give a feed. Comfort them in the cot or with a cuddle, 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, but its fine to offer some water if you feel they need it.
  1. Although it is fine to drop the night feeds all at once in healthy babies over the age of six months; if you’re nervous about doing this, it OK to gradually dilute night formula feeds and/or to cut the duration of night breast feeds. 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 cause confusion.
  1. 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.

Good luck!