Sleep is a critical part of development for 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 fall asleep independently. It is a myth that you can’t keep night feeds while sleeping. What is false is that feedings will make your baby sleep longer. This is a common misconception but we will talk about how to keep night feeds while working on your baby’s sleep!
How To Night Feed During Sleep Training
What is sleep training?
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 his own. 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 inconsistent naps, bedtime battles, very late bedtimes, multiple night wakings, and disrupted, restless sleep. The sooner we can help our babies learn to fall asleep on their own without our assistance, the better. Babies who are sleep trained can start sleeping through the night without a night feed or start sleeping longer stretches and wake up for age appropriate night feeds.
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 is nourishment for our brains and just as important as eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. During sleep, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occurs, 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, 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 she is tired, but in actuality when a baby gets to the point of being too tired or overtired, it becomes very difficult for her 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 multiples times a night looking for 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 not to feed your baby during this time.
If your baby wakes prior to 11 p.m. you will use your chosen method to address that night waking. If your baby is crying prior to 11 p.m. and still crying at 11 p.m., you will need to wait for her to fall asleep and wake up again before feeding her. 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 her to cry longer and harder next time.
Second Night Feed
The cutoff for a second feeding 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.
All middle of the night wakings outside of feeding times should be addressed using your chosen method. Avoid any diaper changes at night unless she has 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 is waking 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 tips.
There is no easy way to wean a child from the bottle or the breast. Weaning a child from the bottle or breast is much harder on the parent than on the child! Children typically do just fine when you eliminate 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.
If your child does not need nursing in the middle of the night, use another soothing method to replace any middle of the night nursing sessions. If she should start leaking out of her 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 her diaper.
If you wish to continue nursing with your bedtime routine, you will need to be sure your child is fully awake when she goes into her 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, use another soothing method to replace any middle of the night bottles. And if she should start leaking out of her 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 her diaper.
If you wish to continue bottles with your bedtime routine, you will need to be sure your child is fully awake when she goes into her crib and not falling asleep eating.
If your child is experiencing sleep problems and you are feeding more overnight than you think she needs, consider my 1:1 sleep coaching packages.