When a baby has been used to being fed at night [or multiple times per night] their body becomes accustomed to those nighttime calories. If a baby is getting the bulk of their calories at night, we call this ‘reverse cycling’. This is especially common with babies who require food to fall asleep. While this can happen very quickly and easily, luckily it can also be undone [by following the above and below steps!] One of these important steps is to try and increase consumption during the daytime. This might mean adding in an extra feed for a breastfed baby [not right before sleep times though! Make sure any milk feeds are separated from naps by at least 30 minutes + some sort of activity] or increasing ounces in baby’s bottles. Also, try to ensure that baby’s feeds are distraction-free. Try feeding baby right upon waking from sleep with the lights still off, white noise still on, sleepsack on, etc. If baby is bottlefed, make sure the nipple size is appropriate - oftentimes if baby starts to eat less or slower, it can mean you need to increase the nipple size. If your baby is eating solids, try incorporating some high-fat/high calorie foods such as avocado, heavy cream, butter, olive oil, fatty fish, beans, whole-fat yogurt, full-fat coconut milk, eggs, bananas, etc.
If you have any questions or concerns about how much your baby should be eating, please speak to your pediatrician.
Step 5: Look at how you respond
Perhaps one of the most important steps you can take to working on increasing those stretches of sleep at night is waiting it out. Babies are noisy sleepers, especially those new to independent sleep. They wake up, cry a bit, fall back asleep. For babies just new to independent sleep, this can occur after every single sleep cycle at the beginning of the night, as their transition is ‘sloppy’ and unrefined. This gets better with practice! We often mistake partial arousals as cries for hunger and in we go to offer a meal. Despite not really being hungry, baby likely obliges by eating - and a habit is born. While sometimes it’s not easy, especially in the middle of the night, establishing a wait time before entering baby’s room can be a game changer for nighttime sleep. I would start with whatever number you are comfortable with, even if it’s just 1 minute at first, and try to increase the wait time by 1 minute every night or every few nights until you are waiting 10 minutes. I would be waiting even if it is technically time to feed, as you always want to give baby a chance to self-settle before you intervene. Also, if we are rewarding every waking with instant gratification [food] we are really reinforcing that wakefulness and it’s more likely that baby will continue to wake at night even once he’s not hungry! Your baby might really surprise you if you give him that chance!
Step 6: Look at nighttime consumption
You’ve followed steps 1 through 5 but baby is still eating more at night than we’d like [come on baby!] which means we move to the final 2 steps which are the more ‘active’ nightweaning steps. The first step is the slow wean, which means that we will be slowly reducing the amount of calories baby is eating at the nightfeed(s) that we are trying to eliminate.
If you are nursing, time the nighttime feeds for 2 nights and take the average. On the 3rd night, reduce the minutes you are nursing by 3 minutes. Every 3rd night, reduce the feed(s) by another 3 minutes until you are only nursing for around 5 minutes.
If you are bottlefeeding, you will want to reduce the number of ounces in the bottle(s) by half an ounce every 3rd night until you are only offering 2 ounces.
If your baby is 9 months or under and you’re keeping 1-2 feeds/night, you can feed baby as much as he wants at the remaining feed(s).
You should plan to reduce the earliest feedings first. For example, if your baby is 5 months old and eating at 10:30pm, 1:30am, and 5:00am, plan to cut out the 10:30pm feeding. That first stretch of sleep is the most important stretch of the night as not only does it set the tone for the rest of the night [i.e. if we feed too early at the first waking, the rest of the night is likely to be fragmented] but it also contains the deepest, most restorative sleep and is when growth hormones are secreted, memories are formed, and baby’s learning ability and overall alertness for the next day is affected.
Once you are down to 5 minutes of nursing/2 ounces in the bottles, we can move onto the next step:
Step 7: The final step
We made it! If you’re at this step, that means that your baby has an age-appropriate daytime schedule and bedtime. He falls asleep 100% independently without any props and you feed at the beginning of the bedtime routine. He eats well during the day and you have been waiting him out at night [if your baby is 6-9 months of age, I would try increasing the wait time to 15 minutes before this final step to see if that encourages him to skip the feed. If your baby is 10+ months of age, I would try waiting 20 minutes]. You’ve reduced ounces/minutes at night but he’s STILL waking. The last step is to eliminate the feed entirely which is possible now that you’ve really set the stage. You would use your chosen sleep training method [or if you’re a lucky duck and haven’t had to sleep train, read up and find a method that you are comfortable with] and when baby wakes at night and is still awake after your 10 minutes, you’d encourage him to fall back asleep on his own [perhaps by using timed checks, sitting next to the crib, or leaving him to settle on his own]. If you’ve followed all of the above steps, it should not take more than 3-5 nights until baby is sleeping through that waking. If baby is really protesting and you’re losing your resolve, try rocking your baby to sleep instead of feeding [obviously best case scenario is baby falls back asleep on his own but rocking to sleep is better than feeding to sleep!]
If your baby, in this process, has dropped all nighttime feeds and maintains that full night of sleep for 7 nights in a row, your baby has now learned how to sleep through the night successfully and if he were to wake at night, I would not be offering a feed anymore [checking in on him or comforting him is okay of course, but a feed would not be offered]. Once a baby learns to sleep all the way through, sleep generally overrides hunger, which means that hunger isn’t likely to wake him out of a deep sleep and wakings at night are more likely attributed to something else [overtiredness, teething, illness, milestones, etc.]