Night Weaning Your Baby
Easing her off the breast or bottle and into dreamland
Night weaning is a goal that every new mom longs to achieve: fewer cries in the dark and more blissful slumber. But night weaning is a process that doesn't always come easily. Some babies are lower in weight and may need the extra calories a night bottle or nursing session can provide, while other infants are able to sleep for longer stretches on daytime feedings alone.
Some babies between 4 and 6 months of age are able to wean from that middle-of-the-night breast or bottle and sleep for several hours. "About 50 percent of 4-month-old babies will sleep 'through the night,' from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., but a good number will also have at least one feeding per night for most of the first year," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and the co-author of "Heading Home With Your Newborn."
Want a little more shut-eye? Here's what you need to know about night weaning your baby:
- Take It Slow
Gentle night weaning is the best approach because it gives both of you time to adjust. Your baby appreciates the chance to adapt to the new schedule and -- if you're breastfeeding -- your breasts can fine-tune the milk production without becoming overly full and causing pain. "If you wean slowly, there shouldn't be any uncomfortable engorgement," says Laurie Jones, M.D., a pediatrician in Phoenix and the founder of DrMilk.org.
- Consider the Timing
Try not to night wean when your schedule is in flux. For example, if you plan to go on vacation or are moving, wait until you're back home or settled in the new place. Returning to work after maternity leave is also a big change for moms and babies, which means night weaning can be tricky at this point, too. So even though you'll likely be tired in the office, put it off until your baby is used to the back-to-work arrangement.
For more on balancing work and breastfeeding, check out "How to Pump at Work Without Losing Your Job."
- Tank Up During the Day
Keep up the regular daytime feedings, making sure your baby gets a chance to finish her bottle or nurse on both sides, if she wants. "Wake your baby up if her daytime sleeping stretches to more than 4 or 5 hours at a time in order to batch the feedings during the day and consolidate sleep at night," recommends Dr. Shu. And since you'll be dropping a nighttime feeding, offer the breast or bottle more often in the early evening, and then one last time just before you turn in for the night.
- Ask for Dad's Help
Got tears? As you know, babies cry to communicate, so try not to fret if your baby wakes up crying in the middle of the night. Give her a moment before going in -- she may stop crying after a minute or two. And instead of picking her up yourself, ask your partner to give it a try. Because a baby often associates Mom with food, she may expect to be fed when you hold her. Dad can cuddle, sing and rock the baby, which reassures her and helps her to relax.
Setbacks can occur when attempting to establish a new schedule. "Typical growth spurts at 3 and 6 months, as well as the eruption of new teeth, can disrupt sleep and the new feeding plan you've put in place," says Dr. Jones. You might also try changing the way you give the night feeding. "Older babies can have breast milk or formula in a sippy cup or water in a bottle to make the night feeding less appealing," says Dr. Shu. But if your infant is crying very hard, go to her and then rethink the night weaning. It's fine to stop the process and add back the feeding you dropped -- after about a week, you can start again.
And check out The Facts About Weaning.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She's also the mom of two teen girls.
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