Each baby is different. But in general, as babies grow, they need to breastfeed less often. Young babies need to be fed every 1–3 hours to get enough nutrients to support their growth. After the first 4–6 weeks, the time between feedings begins to stretch out, and babies sleep for longer periods.
Reasons your baby stops breastfeeding at night. A few factors may influence when your baby stops waking at night to eat:
- Starting at about age 6 months, your baby is ready to eat foods other than breast milk. Once that happens, nighttime feedings become less of a nutritional necessity.
- Over time, your baby’s stomach and ability to breastfeed grow. He consumes more milk at a feeding, and he’s likely to consolidate feedings. You might find that nighttime feedings become less common as a result.
- Some working mothers find that when their maternity leave ends and they return to work, their babies choose to do “reverse cycle feeding.” This means babies sleep more during the day (when they are with their child care provider) and feed more often in the evening and at night (when Mom is available to breastfeed).
Tips for night-weaning your child
Once your child is a toddler, he’ll rarely awake at night because he’s hungry. Toddlers don’t have the same around-the-clock nutritional needs as babies. Rather, a toddler may wake to breastfeed for many other reasons—she may be thirsty, lonely, or just in need of cuddling.
If you’re ready to night-wean, here are a few strategies to help:
- Breastfeed well during the day. Busy toddlers often forget to stop what they’re doing to breastfeed. At night, close to their mother, they want to make up for missed daytime feedings. If this seems to be true of your toddler, finding more time to breastfeed during the day can help.
- Increase cuddle time. This reinforces your child’s sense that separation from the breast will not mean separation from you. Hugs and kisses throughout the day will let your baby know that your love and affection go on in the absence of nighttime feedings.
- Breastfeed before you go to bed. A full feeding when you turn in for the night might tide your toddler over for a longer stretch, ensuring you both get the sleep you need.
- Enlist your partner’s help. Let your partner take the lead in putting your child to bed during this transition time and responding to her during the night when she wakes. He can explain that it’s nighttime and time for sleep, provide a small drink of water, and coax her to sleep by giving the comfort she seeks. Patting or rubbing her back, singing, and rocking might help your child adjust to this new routine.
- Use age-appropriate messages. Children respond well to structure. A simple message like, “When the sun is up, you can nurse” is easy to understand. You may need to repeat it many times. Saying it encourages your toddler to observe the world around him and recognize new routines.
Weaning is a gradual process
Weaning can occur over a period of days, weeks, months, or years. Nighttime feedings are a good place to begin the weaning process. (Daytime feedings will typically be the next ones to end, while before-bed and first-in-the-morning feedings are usually the last to go.)
Start when both you and your baby are ready. You’ll know your baby is ready when she’s waking to feed at night from habit rather than from hunger. With patience and perseverance, you’ll be able to wean your toddler from nighttime feedings while maintaining the closeness that comes with breastfeeding during the day.