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Is it time to night wean?

A baby is drinking milk from a bottle

When it comes to night weaning, there is actually no right or proper age to do it. It depends on a number of factors and both you and your little one need to be ready. If you are still feeding your toddler overnight, and they are eating well during the day and receiving solid sleep overnight, then there is no need to night wean if you don’t want to!

Some of the factors that can help determine if it’s the right time to night wean are:

  • Your little one's weight is tracking well and development is on track

  • They are feeding well during the day

  • They are well-established on 3 solid meals a day and consume plenty of protein

One of the big challenges I see around frequent wakeups overnight is parents feeding each time their little ones wake in order to resettle them. I get it and have been there myself! It feels far easier to pop your little one on the breast or give them a bottle if they are waking so often overnight, even when we know it's not likely hunger. In the moment, it can feel like a much faster and less fuss turnaround - a quick feed then we crawl back into bed hoping to have brought ourselves another solid stretch of sleep! However, unnecessary feeds can reinforce night wakes!

If there are multiple feeds happening overnight for your little one currently and you are ready to night wean, then this can be a good guideline:

  • From 3-4 months we are aiming for 1-2 feeds overnight

  • From 5-8 months we are aiming for 1-0 feeds overnight

  • From 8-9 months onwards, it’s likely no feeds are necessary overnight providing weight and solids are going well.

If you need some help with a daily routine, check out my Ultimate Guide of Sleep Routines, which covers Newborn to 3 years of age, and every stage in between!

If you have found yourself questioning if your little one’s night wakes are due to hunger, or if they are simply waking out of habit, then these are the signs for you:

Here are some typical signs they are waking due to hunger overnight:

  • They take a full, long feed when they do wake overnight

  • They have had a long stretch of sleep prior to waking

  • They start the day with a full feed

  • They settle quickly after a night feed and then sleep another solid stretch

Baby is night weaning and sleeping at night

Here are some typical signs it may be habit wakes over hunger:

  • They take a quick short feed when they wake overnight or take a much smaller bottle then they would typically

  • They use the feed more to calm and then fall back to sleep

  • They start the day uninterested in drinking and eating much when they wake

  • They are quite wakeful after the feed overnight and harder to settle

  • There are frequent wakes sometimes 2-3 hourly

The key indicator you may want to look at when night weaning is how well they are taking their morning milk feed. If your little one is starting the day off on the back foot and not hungry enough to start their day with a good solid feed, then this can be indicative that feeds overnight are impacting their daytime consumption. We call this reverse cycling. Their little bodies have adjusted to not needing to eat well during the day because they tank up overnight! We want to see their appetite improve during the day and we need them to start the day with a good full feed.

* Disclaimer: Yes, night feeds are normal, especially with newborns! But it’s important to be aware that there is such a thing as too many nighttime feeds especially if it’s impacting daytime consumption.

Before deciding to night wean it can be helpful if your baby or toddler doesn’t have a feed-to-sleep association at bedtime. If feeding to sleep at bedtime is all they know then there is a high chance the only way they know how to return back to sleep overnight when they wake is by having the feed! It is much easier on your little one to start teaching them how to self-settle at bedtime and reduce night feeds gradually. You may like to either reduce the time at the breast or mls in their bottle or use a resettling method for those wakes when you know they aren’t due a feed. If your little one isn’t reliant on feeding as a way to fall asleep, the weaning process is much easier on them.

As always, speak to your child’s health practitioner about night weaning if you are unsure if they are ready. If you need help with night weaning and teaching self-settling then book in a consult and we can do this together.

Contact details for Cherie Richards, Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant

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