Babies need a certain amount of calories during a 24-hour-period. It may fluctuate a little bit each day depending on their activity level, growth spurt, hydration needs, etc. As newborns, they are literally eating around the clock, but as they grow and take in larger feedings at a time, they can go longer through the night without eating than they do through the day. (Disclaimer: please refer to your pediatrician for their recommendations on night time feedings as they are the ones monitoring your child’s growth and development!)
Deciding to reduce night time feedings or night wean should be based on realistic expectations about their ability to sleep for longer stretches without feedings and how you personally feel about the night feedings. If feeding is working well for you and your baby, don’t feel pressured to take those away! You’ll know when the time is right.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “By six months of age, many infants no longer require night feedings, and the majority of sleep will now occur after dark, along with a couple of naps during the day.” One way that we can ensure enough calories are occurring in the day time is to avoid day time snacking!
“Snacking” (or grazing) would be where your child is eating very frequently during the day and only taking in small amounts of breastmilk or formula. Some babies develop a feeding pattern where they want to feed every hour or two during the day because they don’t take enough milk to enable them to go longer without feeding. It’s not that they are incapable of taking more, it’s that they don’t need to take more because they feed often. Snack feeding differs from underfeeding in that the baby consumes enough formula over a 24-hour period to maintain healthy growth.
Grazing can happen because we can misinterpret hunger cues and sleep/tired cues. When they’re offered a feeding when they’re actually tired this does one of two things: increases the snacking and taking small feedings that only sustain baby for an hour or two but also creates that feed to sleep association. Again, this isn’t a problem unless it’s a problem for you (potentially your baby if they have reflux and eat often to soothe the pain). Other reasons for “snacking” include:
- Work to break the feed to sleep association by not allowing your child to fall asleep during feedings. Do the feedings in a common area and keep them awake during the feeding by interacting, tickling, etc.
- Make sure their sleep schedule is age appropriate so they’re not overtired during the day
- Try to finish a feeding in 30 minutes but it’s okay to stop if your baby isn’t interested in feeding at that time!
- Work to extend the time between feedings. If they take a short nap, see if you can get them to go back to sleep instead of getting them up and feeding them immediately. Try to distract to go 5-10 minutes longer between feedings. As that pattern develops, baby will gradually take in more milk!
- Another way to avoid daytime snacking is to offer feedings in a quiet, distraction free environment. I know that if you have other children at home, it can be difficult to sneak away so that the baby gets a full feeding! You can try using a pacifier clip on your shirt with a toy attached to keep them engaged in the feeding, use white noise or a cover if external distractions are a problem!
Once your child is taking full feedings during the day, you can work toward reducing night time feedings when you’re ready. I would suggest reducing the amount of time or ounces at one feeding at a time in order to shift those calories to daytime before taking the feeding away altogether.