Sleep is a critical part of the development of a healthy, well-rested baby. Sleep directly impacts brain development, digestive systems, immune systems, developmental milestones and so much more! In addition, sleep training is the process where babies and children learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. Sleep training is SO helpful for babies and exhausted moms. It is a myth that you can’t night feed during sleep training- what’s false is that feedings will make your baby sleep longer. This is a common misconception, but today, we’re covering how to night feed during sleep training!
How to Night Feed During Sleep Training
What is sleep training?
In order to cover how to night feed during sleep training, it’s important to first understand what sleep training is. Sleep training can be a taboo subject for many people. Sleep training is simply teaching your child the very important, life-long skill of independent sleep — to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. To sleep train, it’s important to understand your child and their unique needs. Every sleep training journey is different! There are many sleep training methods that range from minimal parental involvement to lots of parental involvement.
We teach our children how to roll, sit, crawl, walk, eat, and speak; sleeping should not be any different. Sleep dependencies such as rocking, swaying, and feeding can lead to an inconsistent nap schedule, bedtime battles, late bedtimes, multiple night wakings, and disrupted, restless sleep. The sooner we can help our babies learn to fall back to sleep on their own without our assistance, the better. Sleep-trained babies can start sleeping through the night without a night feed or start sleeping longer stretches and wake up for age-appropriate overnight feeding.
Why do people sleep train?
There are many components of sleep training including setting an age-appropriate schedule, keeping an eye on wake times, creating a consistent bedtime routine, and addressing your child’s night wakings consistently. Sleep training is the best way to promote healthy sleep habits and help your baby learn to sleep through the night.
Sleep is nourishment for our brains and is just as important as eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. During sleep, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occurs, the blood supply to the muscles increases, and appetite is regulated.
Our immune system strengthens while we sleep. Sleep is vital for proper development in children. In fact, most of the brain’s actual growth occurs during the first three years of life, so proper rest for infants and toddlers is essential. When we are well rested, during the day we are attentive, happy, able to focus, and better at functioning physically. Sleep also enhances our learning and problem-solving skills.
Many parents believe that their child will sleep when they are tired, but in actuality when a baby gets to the point of being too tired or overtired, it becomes very difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. The child might even seem hyper with no signs of being ready for bed. Parents may believe their child needs less sleep than other children, but this is quite rare. Babies have sleep cycles that last for 30-45 minutes. Most babies who are not falling asleep on their own will wake up multiple times a night looking for a parent to help put them back to sleep.
If you want to keep a night feed or two during the night, here is what you need to do.
First Night Feed
Sleep in the first stretch of the night is the most restorative, so we will want to encourage you not to feed your baby during this time.
If your baby wakes before 11 p.m. you will use your chosen method to address that night waking. If your baby is crying before 11 p.m. and still crying at 11 p.m., you will need to wait for them to fall asleep and wake up again before feeding your baby. For the first night feed during sleep training, we want to avoid feeding after a long amount of time crying and perpetuating any feed-to-sleep association. It might sound cruel, but it’s important that you’re not sending a message that says, “If you cry long enough, I’ll feed you”. That will just encourage them to cry longer and harder next time.
Second Night Feed
The cutoff for a second night feed during sleep training will be no sooner than three hours after the first feeding. If your baby should wake prior to that three hours, you will use your chosen method to address that wakeup.
Any time children wake up in the middle of the night outside of feeding times should be addressed using your chosen method. Avoid any diaper changes at night unless they have had a bowel movement. Diaper changes are very stimulating.
If you are offering more than 2 feedings, you want to make sure you are waiting at least 3 hours between feeds to encourage longer stretches of sleep and that your baby waking is truly out of hunger. Any wakeups outside of these two night feeds you would address using a consistent response or sleep training methods.
How To Night Wean
Nutrition and sleep go hand-in-hand. Both are biological functions of the body. If you feed your baby to fall asleep with either a bottle/nursing and would like to wean that, here are some sleep tips.
There is no easy way to wean a child from the bottle or the breast. Weaning a child from the bottle or breastfeeding is much harder on the parent than on the child! Children typically do just fine with night weaning when you eliminate it either from their presleep routine and/or middle-of-the-night wakings.
My recommendation would be to eliminate presleep nursing cold turkey. If you are uncomfortable removing the pre-sleep feedings cold turkey, try a slower approach.
For Nursing Weaning →
To slowly wean the pre-sleep nursing sessions, you will want to pay attention to the clock and cut back your nursing session by one minute each day until you are no longer nursing and only offering comfort. Again, this can be harder than weaning cold turkey for some children, but it is certainly a place to start.
In the case that your child does not need nursing in the middle of the night, use another soothing method besides nursing sessions to put your baby to sleep. If they started leaking out of their diapers, I would recommend you cut off (or cut down on) liquids at least an hour before bedtime and go up one size in their diaper.
If you wish to continue nursing with your bedtime routine, you will need to be sure your child is fully awake when they go into their crib and not falling asleep eating.
For Bottle Weaning →
To slowly wean the pre-sleep bottles, you will want to pay attention to the number of ounces provided and cut back your ounces by .5-1 ounce per bottle until you are no longer offering bottles and only offering comfort. Again, this can be harder than weaning cold turkey for some children, but it is certainly a place to start.
If your child does not need bottles in the middle of the night, find another way to soothe your baby to replace any middle-of-the-night bottles. And if they start leaking out of their diapers, I would recommend you cut off (or cut down on) liquids at least an hour before bedtime and also go up one size in their diaper.
If you wish to continue bottles with your bedtime routine, you will need to be sure your child is fully awake when they go into their crib and not falling asleep eating.
Hopefully, this has helped you learn more about how to night feed during sleep training. Looking for more tips? Check out my 3-12 Month Feeding and Sleep Schedules Guide! If your child is experiencing sleep problems and you are feeding more overnight than you think they need, Sleep Shore offers 1:1 sleep coaching packages to help you feel well-rested again. Better sleep is ahead!