I get asked this question a lot, and I have two answers for you.
First of all, the clinical one. If your child’s six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end nighttime feeds, then go ahead and give it a shot.
But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? Because that information is readily available on about a thousand different websites. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.
Chances are, what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up his night feeds?”
Because if you’d pulled his night feeds and he just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground, telling all the other moms how easily your little guy gave up night feeds, and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!
(Don’t do that though. Moms hate that.)
So let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?
The reason is actually probably pretty simple. That’s how they get themselves to sleep.
Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is just about the biggest sleep prop I see as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because of how natural and necessary it is. They tend to associate the term with pacifiers, mobiles and crib aquariums. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.
So if you’re still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes.
“But I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”
Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mom is doing everything right at bedtime, but is still feeding baby to sleep when they wake up in the night.
Some babies are just habitual nighttime eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry, or in need of calories. They’ve just managed to disassociate bedtime sleep with waking in the night, and if Mom’s still willing to give up some breast milk in the night, well then, so much the better!
The bad news is that you’re going to have to break this association by giving up night feeds. That’s going to mean some protesting, which won’t be fun for anyone.
But the good news is that, since your baby’s learned to sleep without props at bedtime, that means he’s already got some strong sleep skills, and the protesting should be over within a couple of nights. So what’s the strategy for this? The same as it is for quitting just about everything else. Cold turkey. Stop tonight and don’t start again. The sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner he’ll be sleeping through the night.
That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!
If you're ready to night wean, this can be a really good time to make sure you have a baby monitor that fits your needs. Most parents like to keep a careful eye on baby during the first few nights of night weaning. I've found this baby monitor review fantastic! Check it out and see which one is right for you. www.reviews.com/baby-monitor/
Do you have questions about night weaning? I'd love to hear your comments below!
One of my biggest rules for parents who are sleep training is to remain consistent. Whether it’s the bedtime routine, where baby sleeps, or what the consequences are for leaving their room in the night, consistency is absolutely essential to regular nights of quality sleep.
However, there’s this crazy little thing called life that tends to get involved and throw the occasional curve ball into your routine. Special occasions, family functions, and the occasional emergency can all call for an exception to me made and for your little one to stay up past their scheduled bedtime or miss a nap.
So when can you make exceptions? Well, I would say, “As rarely as possible, but as often as is absolutely necessary.”
The truth is, is you’re visiting family or friends, and you let your little one stay up late in order to extend their visit, they’re probably going to be a bit of a handful the next day. So ask yourself, is it worth it to have a grouchy baby on my hands tomorrow in exchange for a couple of hours of fun tonight?
Another important thing to consider is how well your baby adapts to a change in routine. Some kids are quite good at dealing with a slight change in the schedule, whereas others can get thrown for a loop for the next couple of days if they so much as go down late for a nap.
But I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning parents and kids to a lifetime of repetition. It’s important to have some new experiences and to enjoy life, so yes, exceptions should be made. Just make sure that you evaluate the costs and benefits and prepare as best as you can for the situation.
In addition, I would advise against making any changes too early into the program. If you just started sleep training a week ago, don’t pick this moment to go on a trip or stay overnight at someone else’s house. Once you’ve had a month or two of really solid, quality nights, then you can start playing around with the rules on occasion.
The other piece of advice I would offer when it comes to breaking the rules is, “Try to bend them instead.”
If you’re going to be at a friend’s place when baby’s supposed to be taking a nap, consider bringing along a Pack and Play or a stroller so that they have somewhere to lay down when it’s time for a snooze, or if you have a bit of a drive involved, try to plan so that baby can sleep in the car when they would normally be going down for a nap. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than skipping a nap altogether.
This may all sound a little authoritative, but over-tiredness is an absolute monster when it comes to bedtime. Kids who are overtired will have a harder time falling asleep, which leads to a bad night, which leads to more over-tiredness, and so on. It’s a cycle you really don’t want to get into.
So you’re ultimately the only one who can decide when it’s okay to break the rules. If you feel your little one can handle it, give it a try. If not, I suggest you play it safe. As they get older, you’ll find they’ll be more accepting of changes in the schedule, but developing them into champion sleepers in these early years will go a long way towards that goal.
P.S. When is it ok for you to break the "sleep rules" in your home? I'd love to hear from you!
Tis' the season! There are some nasty bugs going around this time of year.
One of the most aggravating situations I see parents running into when they’re sleep training is the sudden onset of a minor illness when they’re finally seeing some progress.
After months of sleep issues, they finally decide to take the initiative and get serious about getting their baby onto a schedule, baby starts getting the hang of it, the whole family is starting to see longer periods of consolidated sleep, and everyone’s getting ready to break out the champagne...
And then BAM! Baby gets a cold, or an ear infection, or a bout of diarrhea, or one of the other seven thousand illnesses that babies are prone to, and the whole thing goes off the rails.
And given how often babies get sick, it’s hardly a surprise. I’m always telling my clients to plan on starting the program when they have a couple of weeks that they can really devote to the training, but you can’t schedule around an illness. So when it happens, it can really take the wind out of everyone’s sails.
So today, I have a few suggestions for you in case this happens. Hopefully they can help you push through this trying situation and get you motivated to get back on track.
First off, resist the temptation to bring baby into your bed. If you’re really concerned and want to be in the same room as them through the night, I suggest you bring an inflatable mattress or a camping pad into their room and sleep on the floor. Keeping them in their own room with familiar sleeping conditions will be much less disruptive than moving them into your room, and you don’t run the risk of them getting used to sleeping in your bed.
Second, do NOT give in to the temptation to start offering any sleep props that you might have recently taken away. I know it’s tough, because obviously you want to offer them any kind of comfort you can while they’re feeling miserable, but you really don’t want to reintroduce those things they were dependent on prior to starting sleep training. It can be really confusing and is often even more difficult to break the association the second time around.
Now, let me just point out that I’m not saying that you can’t offer more night time comfort to your baby while they’re sick. On the contrary, I completely recommend it. You should absolutely feel free to go in and check on them more often, take care of any needs they might have, and even give them a little cuddle or a rocking session in order to comfort them.
Just be vigilant and be sure to put them back into bed before they fall back to sleep. Otherwise you run the risk of them developing those associations where falling asleep requires a rocking session or a cuddle, and then you’re back to square one.
This can be a really good time to make sure you have a baby monitor that fits your needs so you can keep a careful watch on your baby when they're not feeling well. I found this review of baby monitors really helpful. Check it out and see which one is right for you! www.reviews.com/baby-monitor/
You may notice a slight regression when the illness has passed, but not to worry. Your baby has learned some great sleep skills at this point and will probably only need a slight reminder of how things go before they’ll be back into their routine and sleeping soundly through the night again. Just get back to the program, reintroduce the old bedtime routine, and you’ll be seeing those same wonderful results in no time.
P.S. Do you enjoy my blog? I'd love to hear your comments below.
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!