Getting a baby to sleep through the night could be a problem for some parents, especially in the first few months of infanthood. While most people believe that night feeding should stop after the baby’s six months of age, this is a general assumption as babies are unique individuals with different needs and habits. Although children will outgrow night waking, we don’t know when exactly is the right age for each baby to wean off night feeding.
Babies tend to wake up at night due to different reasons, but mainly because there is a physical hunger and thirst. Some other physical needs such as discomfort, itching, high temperature, sickness or pain can also keep the child awake at night. Night waking could also be due to emotional needs. As feeding, breastfeeding in particular, promotes bonding and intimacy between the child and the mother, some babies would stay awake at night to remain close with their mothers or simply because they are not getting enough attention during the day.
However, if a baby wakes up often in the night to nurse, it can take a toll on the parents’ especially on working mothers. Sleep deprivation and the loss of quality rest could be damaging to the family in the long run. Since babies and children grow and learn about the world through routine and forming habits, night weaning is possible through gentle and gradual changes to nursing and sleeping habits.
Increase frequency of feeding during the day
Toddlers and babies enjoy being breastfed but they may not be able to feed as much during the day due to the distractions around them. Toddlers may also be busy with other activities during the day such as attending preschool or going to grandparents’ house, which deprive them from breastfeeding and nursing. Infants or babies are also more sensitive to noise and sight which may startle or affect them when they are feeding during the day. As such, children tend to make up for feeding at night. To solve this problem, increase the frequency of feeding to keep the child full for a longer period of time. Instead of feeding once every 3-4 hours, feed once every 2-3 hours.
Feed before bedtime
This is to ensure that the child will not wake up an hour later asking to be fed. Instead of feeding in a small quantity, do a full feeding before bedtime so that the child will stay asleep for a longer stretch of time. Parents can also get a longer period of rest before the next time the child wakes up at night.
Start a new routine
For toddlers, waking up at night asking to be fed may be a habit more than a need. If they were often fed on the bed while lying down, they would associate the bed with feeding, which explains why some kids cannot break away from feeding in the night. You could slowly change the habit by inserting a new routine just before bedtime so that the child will not fall asleep at the breast every night. You could play some music, offer back rubs or read to the child- activities that will lead him or her to sleep.
Increase daytime contact
As mentioned, feeding especially breastfeeding can be an emotional activity for the child. Some kids do not get enough touch during the day, which makes them compensate for it during the night. When a child is undertaking a new development in life such as learning to walk or teething, he or she would tend to show an increase in the need for nursing and cuddling time due to the discomfort and insecurities that these new changes bring. Instead of forcing your child to be independent all the time, giving more contact and holding your child in the day would help your child feel emotionally connected to you even without having to feed on your breast.
Get your spouse involved
Night weaning without compromising on your child’s physical and emotional needs is possible with the father’s involvement. Fathers are able to give the emotional connection that is necessary and they are able to satisfy a hungry child using bottled milk so the child does not have to depend on the mother for milk at night. Getting a father to nurse the child at night is also a direct sign to the child that breastfeeding is not available.
Nonetheless, waking up at night is a child’s way of expressing a need and desire. Hence, don’t be too quick to dismiss and disengage your child. Observe and understand the main cause for night waking and patiently change the routine from there.