Snuggling up for a nighttime feeding is a wonderful opportunity for you and your baby to bond in the first few months of her life. After awhile, however, midnight feedings can become a bad habit. Waking during the night to nurse or bottle feed is detrimental to your baby for a number of reasons. Nighttime feedings mean wet diapers which may wake your child too early in the morning. Additionally, feedings stimulate your little one's digestive system which may make it difficult for her to sleep soundly. Finally, snacks at night may keep your child from getting proper nutrition during the day.
Determine whether you baby is old enough for night weaning. Newborns need to nurse or bottle feed around-the-clock to support their rapid growth. By the time your child is 4 to 6 months old, however, he'll be much more efficient at eating and should be able to make it through the night without a meal or snack.
Monitor your baby's day time feedings. Write down the time, duration and number of ounces consumed at each feeding for at least a week. Show the schedule to your pediatrician and discuss whether your baby is getting adequate nutrition during the day. It may be that your child has gotten into the habit of snacking and is playing catch-up at night.
Assess whether it is the right time to start night weaning. Babies love to be held and snuggled at all hours of the day. Chances are, your little one will protest when you begin the process of eliminating his midnight meal even though he has no nutritional need for food. Consequently, it's best to start night weaning when your child is healthy and when you and your partner can handle a few sleepless nights. Don't wean when your child is teething, sick or working on a developmental milestone such as crawling.
Cluster or dream feed in the evenings to fill your baby's tummy. Cluster feeding means several nursing or bottle-feeding sessions within a few hours. To dream feed, offer the breast or bottle after the baby is asleep and right before you go to bed. Most babies will suckle without waking fully.
Reduce either the amount of time you spend nursing or the number of ounces you offer your baby, gradually. For instance, if your baby typically nurses for 20 minutes, stop the feeding at 18 minutes. The next night, reduce the nursing time to 16 minutes. Alternately, offer one less ounce of formula each night. Eliminate the midnight feeding completely when you are down to a few minutes or a few ounces.
Allow her to nurse as long as she is actively feeding and put her down while she is still awake. Don't allow your child to fall asleep or play during her midnight feeding. It's important for your infant to learn to self-soothe if she has not done so already.
Ask your partner to comfort your little one when she wakes during the night. It may take a little while for your child to adjust to the new schedule. If she smells milk, it will be a source of frustration.
Be consistent. Older babies often have an emotional attachment to the breast or bottle. It should only take a few nights with minimal crying to night wean, but if you stop and start the process, it will be much more difficult.
Consult your pediatrician before night weaning, particularly if your child was born prematurely or has health problems.