How to plan for middle of the night feedings and weaning - Ruth Health

How to plan for middle of the night feedings and weaning

Fast facts:

  • Middle of the night feedings are critical for a young baby’s growth and development — and for your milk supply, if you’ve chosen to breastfeed.
  • If you are breastfeeding, familiarize yourself with the side-lying and laid-back positions to make night feeds as easy as possible.
  • Other ways to prepare for nighttime feedings include co-sleeping, keeping essentials by your bed, and feeding your baby in a dark, quiet space.
  • Different babies are ready to night wean at different ages. It may be a cue if your baby can feed during the day for longer amounts of time.
  • Most experts recommend gradual weaning, if possible, to make the transition comfortable for both you and your baby. 

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, it will likely be at least a couple months before your baby sleeps through the night without waking up for night feeds.

Babies typically need to eat every two to four hours during their first months since their stomachs cannot hold much food.

This blur of sleep-deprived nights won’t last forever. The timeline for night weaning varies, like so many other development milestones. As always, you are the expert on your own needs.

Below, our lactation experts offer advice for middle of the night feedings and how to start night weaning.

How to plan for middle of the night feedings

Middle of the night feedings are critical for your baby’s growth and development. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed, they will also help you establish and maintain a steady milk supply.

Although these nighttime feeds are important, the adjustment period can be difficult. There are some ways to prepare and ease the transition.

1. If breastfeeding, choose a comfortable position.

Waking up in the middle of the night to feed your baby may be inevitable, but getting out of bed isn’t. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed, familiarize yourself with the side-lying position to make middle of the night feedings easier. (It’s also a great position to use during c section recovery!)

How to breastfeed in a side-lying position:

  • Lie on your side. Use a pillow or two to support your head. You can also put a pillow between your knees for extra comfort.
  • Have your baby lie on their side with their nose opposite your nipple.
  • Use one hand to draw your baby closer to your breast and let them find their way to your nipple.

Another option is the laid-back breastfeeding position:

  • Lie reclined on your bed with pillows supporting your back and neck, if you’d like.
  • Place your baby so that their stomach touches yours and their head reaches your breasts.
  • Let them find their way to your nipple.

2. Consider co-sleeping.

Keeping your baby in close proximity by co-sleeping typically makes nighttime feeds easier. Bedsharing may be a safe option for breastfeeding parents who don’t smoke and aren’t taking any medications that interfere with their awareness or alertness.

When bedsharing, it’s important that you and baby sleep on a safe surface. This typically means a firm mattress without extra pillows or heavy covers. Pack any cracks with rolled towels or baby blankets.

3. Keep the lights off.

Feed your baby in a dark, quiet space to help them go back to sleep. If you need to look at your baby’s latch, a night light or flashlight is better than a brightly lit room.

4. Have the essentials nearby.

Keep everything you need — diapers, water, snacks, etc. — nearby to avoid getting up. If breastfeeding, put a towel underneath you and your baby in case your breasts leak or your baby spits up. Have extra towels on hand, too.

5. Experiment with breast compression for faster feedings.

If your baby is feeding in many short spurts throughout the night — also referred to as cluster feeding — breast compression can help increase the amount of milk consumed during each feeding. You will squeeze your breast while your baby sucks, similar to hand expression.

When should I start night weaning?

Each baby is unique. There’s no universal rule about when a baby is ready to night wean. Some babies can sleep for six to eight hours without interruption around three months of age but then have a growth spurt that requires more frequent nourishment.

Some babies sleep through the night by about six months while others continue to wake for night feeds through the first year and beyond. The decision to start night weaning is a personal one. There’s no single right way to approach it.

There are some cues that your baby may be ready to night wean. For example, if they can feed during the day for longer amounts of time, consuming more calories in a single session, they may no longer require night feeds.

How can I make night weaning a successful transition?

Most experts recommend gradual weaning if possible. This can help make the experience more comfortable for your baby as well as prevent engorgement, mastitis, and other related breastfeeding challenges if you are breastfeeding.

Here are some tips for gradual night weaning:

  • Drop one feeding at a time, if possible, waiting three to four days before dropping another.
  • You can shorten a feed before dropping it altogether.
  • Increase daytime feedings to ensure that your baby is well fed.
  • Offer your baby a pacifier to help them self-soothe.
  • Feed your baby right before bedtime. This ensures that breastfeeding individuals go to bed without milk in their breasts, and that baby falls asleep with a full stomach.

If gradual night weaning isn’t an option, consider the following to avoid breastfeeding challenges:

  • As you start night weaning, your breasts will be fuller than normal since they won’t be emptied as frequently. Too much pressure on full breasts can increase your chances of clogged milk ducts or mastitis. Wear a comfortable, well-fitting bra to prevent these breastfeeding issues.
  • Try hand expression if you are experiencing intense discomfort and need to remove some milk. However, be sure not to fully empty your breasts, as this will increase your milk supply. Paying attention to how your breasts feel should give you a sense of how full they are.

A lactation consultant can help you navigate this transition and recommend strategies for decreasing milk production.

Any amount of weaning can trigger hormonal changes and bring intense emotions to the surface. Be mindful of the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety and contact a trusted health professional right away if you have any concerns about your mental health.

Lactation support from Ruth Health

Ruth Health offers nearly 24/7 virtual lactation support from Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) to provide individualized care throughout your breastfeeding journey.

Learn how we can support you through middle of the night feedings and the night weaning process. Don’t forget to sign up below to join our community!

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