All babies need to wake at night and feed. This is because they can’t drink large amounts of milk at one time and their metabolism works quickly, emptying their stomach and digesting the milk. It’s not until around 6-7 months of age that many babies can sleep for longer, continuous periods without needing to wake and feed.
Some health professionals advise parents not to expect their baby to sleep longer at night until they’re eating solid foods. It’s true that for some babies, solids can make a difference, but remember, milk needs to be the main source of nutrition for the first 12 months.
Why is day and night feeding different?
Babies don’t develop their circadian rhythm until they’re close to six months of age. This is the awake/sleep pattern which as humans, means we’re alert through the day and sleep at night. Until then, a baby’s day and night sleeping patterns can be very similar. They don’t know how to sleep for longer at night and be more wakeful in the day.
Parents are often very keen to do what they can to encourage their baby to sleep for longer periods overnight.
How can I manage my baby’s night feeding differently?
The key with feeding overnight is to feed and resettle the baby in the shortest period of time. Many babies feed very well overnight, even if they tend to be fussy feeders during the day. At night they do what comes naturally and just get on with the job of sucking and not be distracted.
There’s less time to prepare for feeds, especially when a baby is bottle feeding. So be organised if you need to prepare and warm bottles of formula.
Keep the stimulation low and quiet. When your baby wakes for feed, try to feed them in the dark or with only a night light on.
Place your baby straight back into their cot when they’ve finished feeding. Avoid playing games, having little chats and stimulating them.
Expect your baby to fall back to sleep when you’re holding them and they’re feeding. Try to make sure they’ve fed actively and they’re not simply comfort feeding, this is common with overnight breastfeeds. Relaxed, sleepy feeds can mean the baby is less likely settle easily and may wake earlier for their next feed.
Use good quality disposable nappies on your baby overnight. Change them if they need it or you want them to wake up to feed effectively.
Although you may be tempted, avoid feeding your baby in your bed or co-sleeping with them. Bedsharing is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Check your baby is warm when they wake overnight for feeds. Make sure you dress them warmly when you first settle them at night. Babies tend to wake if they’re cold (or hot). Use a safe sleeping bag to keep your baby warm.
Don’t try for too long to get your baby to burp. Sleeping babies don’t bring up their wind so follow their lead, if they seem comfortable and relaxed, place them back into their cot.
Avoid looking at your phone or turning on the television when you’re feeding your baby overnight. The blue light emitted from the screen will stimulate your baby.
Written for Sudocrem by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse – April 2022