Should my child still need night feeds to help with sleep?

Some of the families’ that ask me for help are at their wits end as they are getting up in the night numerous times to feed their child, many are aged over 12 months of age. This article will outline general guidelines on babies’ needing night feeds and identifying if your child is using you, feeds or both as a sleep association.

Babies do vary in terms of milk feeds in the night depending on their age. Children who are 12 months old and over, should be weaning off their night feeds and contented after their evening milk until at least the early hours of the morning.  Some ‘experts’ feel that babies do not need night feeds from 4/6 months of age. Evidence suggests that with baby led weaning, babies need time to feel confident with food and it’s is not realistic to expect babies to just drop their milk feeds at six months of age. Some children are not eating three meals a day until around 9-12 months so consequently you wouldn’t expect babies to stop asking for night time feeds until around this age.

Below is a general guide to babies’ night feeds but this can vary from baby to baby and breast fed babies will feed more often.

• Newborns to 3 months old: Feedings every 2-3 hours or on demand

• 3-4 Months: -3/4hrly through the night/ on demand

• 5-6 Months: 2/3 feeds

• 7-9 Months: 1 to 2 feeds

• 10-12 Months: Sometimes 1 feed

• 12+ Months: Generally no feeds

Obviously, growth spurts are an exception and you should feed as needed during those episodes. Growth spurts are generally over within a week. Babies’ that are not eating or drinking well due to illness or eating difficulties will require more milk feeds at night.

Problems with sleep associations happen when babies are waking numerous times in the night for feeds but are not actually hungry or feeding.

How can I tell if my baby is not hungry but waking due to habit or a sleep association?

Signs that this may be happening are when older babies’ are waking frequently through the night and are happy to feed or nurse for short periods to help them get back to sleep. Other signs are when children are crying for you to go in and see them regularly through the night. As a health professional I would advise that this attachment is healthy as babies’ will eventually sleep at night when they they are emotionally ready.

Brain maturity in relation to night sleep can happen at different stages for each child. Infant sleep support is delivered when a child is receiving an inadequate amount of sleep for their age and it is impacting on other areas of health and development. Other reasons can relate to over feeding to sleep, anxiety that inhibits sleep or showing no signs of independent sleeping as they grow older. The emotional health of the family must also be taken into consideration as a happy less sleep deprived mum/dad may result in a happier, healthier baby.

Dream Sleepers only use a healthy and gentle approach to sleep support that is recommended by health.

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