Three months, 4 months, 6 months, 10 months, a year – what do all of these baby ages have in common? They’re all suggested by different sources as good times to cut out babies’ nighttime feedings so they can start sleeping through the night. Since having options is more helpful when you’re thinking about what you want for dinner than when you’re trying to figure out a major parenting decision on not enough sleep, this kind of variety can be frustrating. But there’s the reason for the confusion: babies grow and develop at different rates, and have different needs, and there’s no very clear way to figure out what the ‘best’ method is. However, there are some tips and guidelines you can follow along the way.
Just like with most parenting decisions, in the end, the right thing to do is going to be the right thing for Baby, and for your family, in particular. However, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to help figure out when she is ready to stop night feeding and start sleeping through the night.
- Try to avoid starting weaning at big transition points
As a general rule, times of major transitions, like when you or your partner is going back to work, might not be the ideal time to wean Baby off night feedings. This is because having several big transitions at once can be hard for young children, and because if Baby is feeling distanced from you or your partner, she is more likely to be reaching out for comfort or connection during nighttime feedings. There often isn’t any urgency involved with weaning from nighttime feedings, and if you don’t need to rush it, Baby might be happier if you don’t.
- Know who you’re dealing with
Think about your individual child and her temperament. Some doctors and experts believe it’s most important to pay attention to a child’s physical development, while others believe it’s important to wait until she&;s emotionally ready for night weaning. Think hard about when your child seems to be ready, and go from there. You may also want to consider anecdotal evidence that suggests formula-fed babies wean earlier than breastfed ones.
- Keep tabs on her diet
Before starting night weaning, it can be helpful to take a look at Baby’s eating patterns during the day. If she is used to having many small meals as the day goes on, instead of a few big ones and a couple of snacks, it makes sense that she would have a harder time transitioning to a whole night between feedings. So before you start trying to night wean, it can help to start to transition her to a more regular meal schedule during the day.
- Do it gradually
Night weaning often goes best as a gradual process, by slowly shortening feedings. This gives her time to transition to slowly eating more during the day, if she is still getting a significant amount of her nutrition from night feeds. Try popping Baby off the breast a little earlier each night, or offering smaller bottles by degrees each night. If Baby is a little older, and coming up on her first birthday, you can also try watering down formula or expressed breast milk a little bit at a time, until it’s just water, which Baby will feel far less excited to wake up for.
- Don’t go overboard
When you’re reducing Baby’s midnight snack, once you reach the point where you’re only nursing for around 5 minutes or bottle feeding around 3 ounces, it’s probably time to stop instead of reducing it down further. This is because, at this point, she won’t be expecting to get much of any nutrition out of her nighttime wakefulness.
- Keep the lights and voice low
Shushing Baby to sleep can help you out, but talking to her, even gently, can start to engage her brain, and wake her up further. Many researchers believe some children have troubles night weaning because all they want to do at night is be awake and play, so it’s best to avoid giving off a sense that it’s time for fun in the wee hours of night.
- Know if it’s too early
If Baby is having a hard enough time adjusting to night weaning that she is still crying inconsolably several days after you’ve started eliminating feedings, she just may not be ready to night wean yet. If that’s true, though, you’ve had a practice run at a difficult parenting moment, and you’ll only be more prepared when the time does come!