We all know that newborn babies need regular feeds overnight. Their tummies are little so they can only take on a small amount of milk at a time, they need frequent feeds to grow and thrive. Frequent feeding early on for breastfed babies also helps to encourage more milk production, supply and demand working beautifully together. But once babies are a little older and coming out of the newborn phase, frequent night feeds can start to become more of a habit rather than a biological need. By 12 weeks their circadian rhythm is developed or developing, and this is what tells their bodies that it’s time to wake up and is controlled by hormones. These hormones are set by light, food and social interaction (otherwise known as zeitgebers).
The issue with frequent feeding overnight past when it’s necessary for baby’s growth is that it teaches the circadian rhythm that it’s time to wake for food. So, whether baby needs the feed or not, they are waking out of habit because the circadian rhythm says it’s time to eat now. When babies drink milk, their bodies release insulin, which blocks the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. When this happens, it becomes harder for baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. On top of all this, increased night feeds stimulate the hormone ghrelin which is the hunger hormone. When babies sleep for longer overnight without a feed, the levels of ghrelin decrease, resulting in less hunger. We often find too that babies who are feeding frequently overnight are having extra wake ups due to soaking wet nappies. They may also struggle to take good feeds during the day after feeding all night, then they wake hungry overnight again, and the cycle continues.
How do we avoid all this? By reducing night feeds IF baby is growing well and IF there are no concerns around feeding. Of course, we won’t drop night feeds for a baby who is still very young, or who is needing to gain weight. But a baby who is thriving and is only waking out of habit doesn’t need to be fed 5 times overnight and it’s safe to drop some of those feeds gradually. If you are wanting to drop night feeds but are concerned that baby is genuinely hungry, you can offer more feeds during the day to help with the transition, as well as making sure that baby feeds when they wake rather than when they are going to sleep. This means they are more likely to take a full feed, rather than a lesser feed because they are sleepy and may fall asleep feeding.
If you need help with reducing excessive night feeds for your baby in an age-appropriate way then get in touch and I’ll show you how. Sleep Packages