How to stop your baby’s night feeds

Mums and experts share practical tips on weaning your baby off the bottle or breast at night from age 6 months up

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Once your baby gets to around 6 or 7 months, and is still sleeping not through yet, you’ll try pretty much anything to get them to go from bedtime to morning without doing a night feed, right?

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So, when Fee0806 came to our Chat forum asking how to do just that, we recognised the desperation in her words (we’ve all been there) and figured this was the kind of question loads of us would like to know the answer to:

“My son is nearly 8 months and still wakes up every night for a bottle during the night. Does anyone have any tips for how I can help to get him out this routine?”

So, in an attempt to get the answer we’re all looking for, we asked the baby experts, as well as a whole load of mums who’d been there and worn the lost sleep T-shirt before us. And this is what they said…

Why your baby wakes in the night

Before the age of 6 months, most babies who wake in the night need a feed. But once your baby turns 6 months and moves on to solids, it may well be that he or she doesn’t actually need a feed in the night but is waking for other reasons – or simply out of habit.

“Babies [of this age] can wake for several reasons,” says a spokesperson from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). “It may be separation anxiety, certain developmental changes, teething or, yes, because they’re hungry.”

If you’re pretty sure your baby isn’t actually hungry, she says, you could think about providing comfort in other ways, such as:

  • offering a cup of milk instead of a bottle or breast
  • gradually replacing milk (if you’re bottle-feeding) with water 
  • introducing a settling-down ritual, such as a cuddle or singing softly

But how do I KNOW my baby’s not waking because of hunger?

Trust your instincts. Many of the experts we spoke to acknowledge that, as the parent, you’re probably the one who’s best placed to know whether or not your child’s really hungry.

But Mandy Gurney from Millpond Sleep Clinic also has this really helpful advice about the length of time your child is taking to feed at night:

“If your baby wakes in the night for small feeds of less than 4ozs or less than 4 minutes on the breast,” Mandy says, “this is unlikely to be a hunger feed but more of a sleep-association feed – and a sign they no longer need these night feeds.

“But if your baby is taking less milk or solids during the day than they were and their feeds are more than 4ozs or 4 minutes long, then they have developed a night-time hunger habit.” This means you’ll need to slowly wean them off these night feeds, rather than stopping suddenly all at once.

My baby wasn’t waking to feed in the night but now is: what’s going on?

It could well be a growth spurt: a sudden ‘milk frenzy’ that means your baby’s normal hunger patterns go right out the window for a while. Growth spurts generally only last a few days, so if your baby’s still waking in the night after a week or so, it may well now be out of habit, rather than hunger.

What our mums said about stopping the night feed

OK, so once you’re pretty confident it’s not hunger that’s waking your baby but habit or a need for comfort, here’s what some of the mums on our Facebook page and in our Chat forum have done to sort things out…

“I gave mine water if they woke in the night,” says Rebecca D. “Obviously, they didn’t need the milk – it was just habit – as they didn’t care when it was water instead. They just started sleeping through.”

VictoriaC agrees: “If you woke up in the night and asked for a cup of tea and someone went and made it for you, you’d have it right? The same applies to night feeds. As long as your baby is having enough milk and food during the day, and not having a growth spurt, you can drop that night time bottle.

“Offer water instead – he may look at you like you’re giving him poison, and it prob won’t work after just one night, but hang in there!).  Alternatively, if he has a dummy, pop that in?”

Becky F, though, went for gradually cutting down the milk. “I did controlled crying and found that making sure she had 4 bottles during the day meant she didn’t need 1 during the night. We also gradually – every 2 days – reduced the last milk bottle during the night.

“So if she was on 8oz, we reduced to 6oz after 2 days, and kept doing that until she was happy with nothing. She’s 2 now and a very good sleeper!”

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For some of you, though, it has to be said, waking for a night-time feed wasn’t too much of an issue. And you were happy enough to leave it to your child to decide when to stop.

“My daughter is 1 and still has the same odd bottle at night,” says Sarah P. “I’m letting her stop when she’s ready, not when I’m ready.”

And Katrina D agrees: “Personally I just went with the flow: they’ll stop when they are ready.”

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