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There comes a time when you’re wondering “when will these night feeds end?” Luckily, night feedings don’t last forever. In fact, most babies are able to “night wean” by the time they are 12 weeks old, assuming there are no medical issues. When parents work towards this goal from birth, I’ve actually seen many newborns wean themselves by as early as 8-10 weeks.
Contrary to popular belief, how soon your baby can wean off their night feedings has almost nothing to do with your baby’s age or weight or if they are breastfed or bottle fed, and almost entirely to do with establishing good daytime routines and healthy sleep habits!
DISCLAIMER: All content and information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult with your pediatrician about your desire to night wean and defer to their directions if they differ from the general guidelines offered here.
Night weaning is the action of weaning your baby off their overnight feedings.
The goal is to get sleep – good sleep for both you and your baby. While this may be much earlier than you’ve been led to believe is possible, by 10-12 weeks good sleep can actually mean getting a full night of sleep and no longer having to wake up to feed a hungry baby!
Night weaning is therefore synonymous with “sleeping through the night,” which is when your baby is able to sleep an uninterrupted 11-12 hour stretch overnight.
There are a variety of techniques for weaning your baby off of night feedings, and which approach will work best will depend primarily on if your baby is actually taking in a lot of calories overnight, or is mostly using nighttime feedings for soothing or to go back to sleep.
It may surprise you to learn that the two foundational steps to night weaning actually don’t involve changing anything about your baby’s overnight feedings! One step is ensuring your baby has full feeds during the day, and the other step is teaching your baby to fall asleep without being fed to sleep.
Full feeds are essential to sleeping longer at night, and eventually night weaning, because they help your baby take in as many calories as possible during the day. This means they don’t need to wake up as much – or at all – overnight because their nutritional needs have already been met.
The definition of a full feed is based on maximizing the time between your baby’s feedings and caloric needs.
For example, from 2-3 months of age, most babies are capable of eating around 6-7 times in a 24-hour period. This would look like a 3-hour daytime feeding schedule, giving you 5 daytime feeds (with a possible 6th cluster feed in the evening, especially if breastfeeding), and then usually just one overnight feed which can be dropped around 12 weeks. And yes, this schedule is doable in most cases even if exclusively breastfeeding!
Babies need a minimum of approximately 2.5oz of breastmilk or formula per lb in a 24-hour period, and the average 2-month-old weighs 11.8 lbs. Let’s round up to get 2.5 x 12 = 30oz. This formula “maxes out” eventually, since babies typically should not take in more than around 32oz per day.
Therefore, for babies that are about 3 months old, the age at which they should be capable of weaning off their nighttime feeds, a full feed is around 4.5-6.5oz in a bottle, which typically translates to 15-20 minutes of active sucking if breastfeeding.
Here’s the math: 32oz divided by 6 or 7 is approximately 4.5-5.5oz. So this would be the amount your baby needs on average at each feed to have one overnight feeding. In order to night wean and drop that final overnight feeding (and have 5 or 6 feedings), your baby needs approximately 5.5-6.5oz at each feed.
Teaching your baby to fall asleep without being fed to sleep is the next step toward night weaning. When your baby has what is called a “feed to sleep association,” it means they don’t know how to fall asleep without the breast or bottle in their mouth. This can lead to your baby being old enough to night wean but still ending up waking frequently overnight “to eat” when they actually just need help falling back asleep.
If your baby can learn to fall asleep independently (without the breast or bottle in their mouth), then they may be able to night wean themselves as soon as they are getting enough calories during the day!
To break the feed to sleep association, it is recommended to follow an “Eat, Play, Sleep” routine during the day, and to move your baby’s bedtime feeding to the beginning of the bedtime routine. When feeding overnight, your baby will be going to sleep right after eating, so the goal is to always place your baby in their sleep space awake after they are done eating. You’ll want to encourage your baby to eat as much as they are hungry for and prevent them from falling asleep at the breast or bottle. If they still fall asleep, then you would need to change their diaper or do something to wake them up before laying them down.
As I mentioned above, many babies will actually night wean themselves if they are getting enough calories during the day and know how to fall asleep independently. This usually happens around 12 weeks old if you are working towards this from the beginning (and I’ve seen it happen many times as early as 8-10 weeks!).
My preferred method of getting your newborn to sleep through the night as early as they are able is the “gradual stretch” method. For this method, you will ideally start around 4 weeks old and gradually lengthen your baby’s first nighttime stretch by approximately one hour per week – assuming your baby is showing readiness to go to the next goal time. For example, at 4 weeks old, if your baby eats at 9 pm, then their goal time for their first overnight feed would be 1 am. At 5 weeks, the goal time would be 2 am, etc. Around 8 weeks, their bedtime feeding should shift closer to 7 pm, so the goal time would be 3 am. Continue stretching each week until your baby can go from 7 pm all the way to 7 am!
First, you’re going to wait until your baby is at a full cry when they wake during the night. Newborns are noisy sleepers, and grunting or fussing does not mean they are awake and ready to eat. Even at a full cry, I still recommend waiting just a minute or two to make sure they won’t go back to sleep on their own.
Next, you’re going to soothe your baby with whatever method is most comfortable for you. I do recommend soothing your baby without picking them up if possible, and just soothe until your baby is calm, but not asleep (so they are learning to fall asleep independently!). If your baby wakes up before your current goal time, you can try multiple attempts at soothing before feeding. Even if they wake after their goal time, still try soothing at least once before feeding.
The goal is to prevent your baby from learning that they automatically get fed any time they cry at night. Babies cry for reasons besides hunger, so we don’t want to teach them that they need food to be comforted or to fall back asleep. If you always at least try soothing without feeding, you can learn to feel confident when your baby is actually hungry and ready to eat as opposed to waking up for some other reason.
Even when not gradually set up to stretch overnight feedings as a newborn and to night wean themselves, most babies are still ready to go all night without food by 4-6 months. By this age or older, night feedings often persist mostly out of habit or a desire for comfort or help falling back asleep rather than true hunger.
What if you have followed the steps above to work on getting full feedings and shifting more of their calories to daytime, and you have made sure your baby knows how to fall asleep on their own after being put down awake, but they are still wanting to eat overnight? How do you actually wean your baby from those overnight feeds?
I recommend gradually weaning any remaining night feeds. First, be sure you are only offering a feeding if you genuinely believe your baby is hungry. If you know it hasn’t been that long since they ate or their signals are telling you they just want comfort, then don’t feed them. Give them an opportunity to fall back asleep or soothe them in other ways besides feeding.
Then, depending how quickly or slowly you want to progress, each night or every 2-3 nights you will reduce the number of oz offered in the bottle or reduce the number of minutes nursing. After a few days, you should notice your baby’s intake during the day is increasing, which will build your confidence to continue reducing what you offer overnight. Once you are giving less than 2 oz or only nursing 2-3 minutes, then you stop offering. Soothe however you are comfortable for another night or two without feeding until your baby has fully adjusted!
If working towards night weaning your newborn, make sure to have your baby on a good daytime schedule with them consistently taking full feedings and eating more and more calories during the day with each week that passes. Then you’ll be in a place to gradually stretch your baby’s overnight feedings and do so successfully.
If night weaning an older baby, make sure any overnight feedings are “all business”: try to keep the room as dark and as quiet as possible with minimal talking or eye contact, since this can be overly stimulating. Especially if you are working to break the feed to sleep association, older babies are so much more alert and wanting to interact that they may start to view these overnight wake-ups and subsequent feedings as being more about “hanging out” instead of eating, which can make it harder for them to settle to sleep after they are done eating.
If you are breastfeeding or pumping overnight, then night weaning your baby also means figuring out how to night wean yourself! It’s best to consult with a lactation consultant when you plan to wean yourself from overnight feedings or pumping to avoid causing clogged ducts, mastitis, etc., and learn if you need to adjust your daytime feeding or pumping schedule to prevent a drop in supply.
While most babies respond to night weaning in a similar manner, some health and medical concerns can cause babies to take longer to wean off their last middle-of-the-night feed. Even so, I’ve found that the most important thing to remember when preparing to wean your baby off of night feeding is to have a strategy in place.
I hope this post has given you confidence in your strategy and you are feeling ready to night wean! If you’re having a hard time weaning your baby off their last middle of-the-night feed on your own, feel free to check out my Sleeping Baby, Sane Momma program where motivated mommas who are ready to let go of their fears and guilt over what it means to “sleep train” can learn the tools they need to be successful in teaching their baby to sleep independently all through the night!