What You Need to Know About Cutting Nighttime Feeds

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You love your baby and love caring for them. But let’s be honest: having to get up multiple times in the night to feed them can be, well...completely exhausting. For the first few months of a baby’s life, it’s common for babies to wake more than once per night—sometimes multiple times—to eat.

As your baby gets a little older, you might be wondering whether it’s okay to start feeding them a little less overnight, and how to go about paring down those feedings.

Here, experts share insights about how to decrease nighttime feeding, whether you are breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding.

When to Start Weaning Nighttime Feeds and Pumping Sessions

First, it’s important to note that every baby is different, and there isn’t one magic day when your baby suddenly becomes able to sleep for a longer period of time without feeding. “This decision is very individual within each family and with each baby,” says Deedee Franke RN, BSN, IBCLC at Mercy Medical Center.

Franke says the decision should be discussed with your child's pediatrician before beginning. “There are many factors that need to be assessed,” she says. “These include the age of the infant, the infant’s development stage, health and nutritional status of the baby, and how the baby is currently sleeping and eating throughout the day and night as well as how the family is functioning before a decision is made.”

It's a good idea to come up with a night weaning plan in consultation with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider, she adds. One sign that your child may be ready may be that they are naturally stretching out feedings at night, but still gaining weight well, she explains.

All that being said, most experts agree that you can start considering cutting out nighttime feeds at about the middle of their first year. “Babies are usually ready to sleep through the night around 6 to 9 months of age,” says Melissa St. Germain, MD, pediatrician, vice president, and medical director of Children’s Physicians and Urgent Care at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Dr. St. Germain also points out that the definition of “sleeping through the night” isn’t always what parents think it is. “It’s important to note that ‘through the night' at that age means around 6 hours [at a time],” she explains. She says that breastfeeding or bottle-feeding babies are still feeding about six to eight times a day at that age, so they still may need at least one feeding per night.

Like Franke, Dr. St. Germain encourages parents to make sure their baby is eating during the day and growing before cutting out nighttime feeds.

Types of Weaning

There are basically two ways to approach weaning: to do it gradually or to go cold turkey. Weaning gradually means dropping feeds slowly, over a few days or weeks. Going cold turkey means ending feed suddenly and all at once.

All the experts we connected with agreed that the best way to go about cutting out nighttime feeds is to do so gradually, except in extenuating circumstances, such as if you need to stop breastfeeding for a medical reason.

Gradual weaning is especially important if you are breastfeeding, so that you prevent situations like engorgement, clogged ducts, and decreased milk supply, says Franke. But it’s important for all babies and parents because it allows them to adjust emotionally as well, she says.

“Gradual weaning gives [you and your baby] time to slowly adjust to the changes and permits parents to change their minds if they decide the baby is not ready yet,” Franke says.

Nighttime Weaning for Breastfed Babies

Weaning from nighttime feeds can be challenging, especially since you need to make sure both your baby and your body are adjusting well. Our experts gave us tips on the best ways to approach cutting out nighttime feeds when breastfeeding.

Do It Gradually

Again, experts agree that it’s important to make night weaning while breastfeeding a slow, deliberate process. “It is recommended to gradually wean to prevent engorged breasts that can be painful and lead to clogged milk ducts,” Mykale Elbe, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, director of the MSN Nurse Practitioner Program at Maryville University.

For example, if you are feeding your baby two to three times per night, slowly decrease the number of feedings to once per night, Dr. Elbe suggests. You can do this by first working on shortening the feeding that is most important to eliminate. Shaving off a few minutes every few days will eventually help you dissolve the feeding while doing so gradually. Then approach the next feeding the same way.

Create a Bedtime Ritual That Encourages Independent Sleep

It’s normal for babies (like grown-ups!) to wake up a few times each night. But eventually, the goal is for them to learn how to get back to sleep by themselves, without feeding or help from their parent.

There are several ways to approach teaching your baby how to sleep more independently, says Dr. St. Germain. “Start when your baby is about 4 months old by putting the baby to bed drowsy but not completely asleep—let the baby get used to falling asleep on their own, in the crib,” she says. “That will make it easier for the baby to fall back asleep on their own when they wake up in the middle of the night.”

As your baby gets closer to the 6- to 9-month mark, it’s okay to give your baby a few minutes to try to settle back to sleep by themselves before going into the room to soothe them, Dr. St. Germain says. You can do this combined with gradually nursing them less often during the times that they wake up.

Prepare for Setbacks

Even after you’ve cut out some of those nighttime feeds, there might be times when your baby suddenly seems to need them again. That’s normal and okay, says Dr. St. Germain.

“Babies will sometimes go through a sleep regression around 4 months and around 9 months, so if your previously good sleeper suddenly wakes more frequently (without any other signs of illness), don’t fret,” she recommends. “Those good sleep habits you’ve been building should help them settle back into a better pattern soon.”

Understand That Each Baby Is Unique

There are many different ways to handle night weaning, says Franke, and it’s best to approach each situation based on the parent and child as one unit, addressing their individual needs. “There are so many things that need to be assessed prior to going through with this decision," she continues.

Franke says her approach is to suggest that a parent reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare provider to come up with an individualized plan for night weaning that suits that particular family.

Have Realistic Expectations

It’s also important to have realistic expectations about what your baby may be capable of when it comes to sleeping without waking or needing to eat. According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), while many babies are able to sleep through the night by 6 months, many simply aren’t ready yet.

As outlined in an AAP study published in Pediatrics, between 27 to 57% of 6- to 12-month-olds do not sleep through the night, according to the definition of six to eight hours per night of uninterrupted sleep.

Nighttime Weaning for Bottle-Fed Babies

Most of the same principles as above apply when you are considering night weaning a baby who bottle feeds (either pumped milk or formula). You want to do it gradually so that your baby can adjust, and if you are pumping, you want to taper off from the extra pumping slowly so you don’t get engorged. You also want to focus on gently encouraging more independent sleep, keeping in mind that there may be setbacks, and checking in with your child's pediatrician to address your baby’s unique needs.

Formula-fed babies tend to eat less frequently than breastfed babies in the first place, so it might be somewhat easier to stretch out their nighttime feeds. Dr. Elbe says that 6 months is usually the age that formula-fed babies can go longer stretches at night without feeding.

“Similar to breastfed infants, the recommendation is to start weaning night feedings around 6 months once the child is getting regular solid foods in their diet during the day,” she explains. “There are different methods to sleep training but once a child is on a regular solid food diet, they do not have the caloric need for nighttime feedings.”

A Word From Verywell

If you are desperate for a little more shut-eye as your baby gets older, you are not alone. The struggle is real! Ultimately, you know your baby best. If you think they are ready to start feeding less at night and you have your child's pediatrician’s sign-off, go for it. Just remember to take it gradually, and gently. If you run into challenges, know that that is normal as well, and you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for advice.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Pennestri M, Laganière C, Bouvette-Turcot A. Uninterrupted Infant Sleep, Development, and Maternal Mood. Pediatrics. 2018;142(6):e20174330. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-4330

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.