When baby is at least six months of age and developing well, you can start reducing the night-time feeds as these are no longer essential to health and growth.
If baby is used to a 1.00 am feeding, his stomach will hunger for food at that time every night. One of the best techniques for helping your baby to sleep through the night is to reset his ‘stomach clock.’ The aim is to reduce baby’s night time food intake without letting him go hungry. Regardless of the age of the baby, he will generally take in the same amount of calories per 24 hours. If you gradually reduce the night time feeding, baby will just eat more during the day to make it up. This is called calorie shifting.
If you have decided it’s the right time to start reducing the night-time feeds here’s what to do if you’re bottle feeding: Start by reducing the volume of milk or formula in the bottle by one or two ounces (30-60 mls) each feeding. You could start with just the bedtime feed and move onto the other night-time feeds or you could attempt them all at once. Keep reducing the volume of milk/formula by one ounce (30 mls) per night over the course of the next week, until there are no more feeds.
An alternative way to accomplish this is to dilute the bottle with water. Quite soon, baby will be taking enough calories during the day and decide that waking up for this new type of bottle is really not worth it! Here’s what to do: Choose your least favourite night feeding time and make the formula for that feeding ¾ of the strength. If baby is satisfied with this bottle, gradually decrease the strength by 1/8th each night until you are giving him only water. Repeat the process for all the night-time feedings and by the end of the process, your baby won’t be hungry at all during the night and he will be taking in more calories during the day to compensate (Lavin, Glaser 2007).
If your breast-feeding here’s the process you can take to gradually reduce the time spent feeding over 5-7 nights:
- Make a note of the length of time of baby’s usual night-time feed.
- Reduce the time spent feeding by two to five minutes every other night. So for example, if baby usually feeds for 17 minutes, cut the feed to fifteen minutes for two nights, then thirteen minutes for the next two nights, then eleven for the next two, and so on.
- Re-settle your baby after each reduced feed with the calming techniques of your choice. Consider playing baby’s lullaby CD as a quick and easy comforter.
- Once baby is feeding for five minutes or less, stop the feed altogether. Once feedings have stopped, try sending in someone besides Mum to tend to baby. The scent of breast milk can re-activate the baby’s desire to be fed.