Let me start off by saying that I do reference a few video lessons from the Lovebug app in this blog post. We offer a free trial, and all of the referenced lessons are available in your free trial of the Lovebug Essentials subscription. You can watch the full video lesson series on how to wean night feeds here.
Many parents start to see a lot of night sleeping success when they wean night feeds. But before you wean night feeds, I really would like your baby to be able to put themselves to sleep unassisted. That means they fall asleep at bedtime and naps within 15 minutes on their own. If your baby is not yet falling asleep unassisted, please start by watching this video lesson series on connecting sleep cycles. I want you to focus on that first because I don’t want your baby to be hungry while learning how to fall asleep on their own. Then, talk to your pediatrician about if it’s appropriate to wean your night feeds.
I’ve seen many parents nervous about weaning night feeds because their baby doesn’t eat a lot during the day, and they are worried that they will be hungry. The great news is that you will easily be able to increase their daytime calories. When you are feeding your baby during the night regularly, they tend not to eat during the day. We want to reverse that pattern.
So there are mainly two ways to wean night feeds. You can either go “cold turkey” or gradually reduce the amount of milk or formula over a couple of nights.
I prefer to gradually reduce the amount of milk each night - especially if you are currently feeding on demand or your baby eats a lot at night. Also, if you are using sleep training techniques that have you in the room during the night, like the chair method or the interval method, you’ll want to do this because it will be the least confusing to your baby. I like this approach because it takes about four days, and your baby will end up crying far less at night than if you were to wean cold turkey.
For now, I’m going to cover how to wean night feeds gradually.
✅ Step 1) Baseline your feeds.
If you are not already tracking your feeds or you are feeding on demand throughout the night, then I want you first to go and watch the night feeds lesson, please. Because I want you to start a feeding schedule for the middle of the night, this will help you baseline your feeds.
Before you start to wean night feeds, you will need to baseline your feeds. By baseline, I mean I want us to understand where we are starting from and what your baby is already eating at night. If you are already tracking your feeds in the Lovebug app, awesome! Then you should already have a good understanding of where you are starting. When you are on a two-night feed schedule, you will continue your two-night feeds. If you are a single-night-feed family, you will continue to feed once a night.
I want you to baseline over three nights. If you are breastfeeding, this baseline is the number of minutes you spend breastfeeding at each feed. If you use a bottle, this is the number of oz or ml you fill the bottle with for each feed. Once we know our baseline, we will start to lower the amount of calories your baby is getting at night little by little each night until we can make the final jump to no feeds.
Our feed tracker in the Lovebug app can be a helpful tool in finding your baseline.
✅Step 2) Lowering the night calories.
Once you have your baseline, you will decrease the amount of calories your baby gets at each feed a little each night.
For the breastfeeding parents, I recommend decreasing the number of minutes you are breastfeeding by 2 minutes at each feed. So if you are a two-night feed family, this is -2 minutes for each feed.
If you use a bottle, decrease the amount of oz you feed at each feed by 1-2 oz. If you are a two-night feed family, it’s the same thing, and it’s minus 1-2 oz at each feed.
You will keep decreasing the amount given until you are at 2 oz at each feed or 3 minutes if you are breastfeeding. Then you make the final jump (covered next).
Before we move on, I want to call out that I want you to trust your gut with how quickly or slowly wean feeds. You will know your baby better than I ever will, and you’ll know if they want a night at the same amount as last night. Some parents spend a couple of days on the lowest amount before making the final jump so that their baby can adjust to getting more calories during the day. Some babies are just ready to sleep through the night once they get to the lowest amount. You’ll know what’s right, and I hope you trust your instincts.
✅Step 3) The final jump.
Once you have made it to the lowest amount of calories per night feed, you are ready to make the full jump to no night feeding. Three things can happen when you make the final jump, so let’s talk through them and have a reaction plan if each happens.
Option A) is that your baby sleeps through the night and wakes at your chosen wake time. Success. Then you party - simple!
Option B) Your baby sleeps a good long stretch but then starts to wake up on and off again at 4-5 am. By “on and off again,” I mean they are up, then go back to sleep, then up and crying for an hour, and then back to sleep, and so on. In this case, it’s up to you. You can either not feed them until your chosen wake time or feed them as soon as they start to cry. If you don’t feed them until your chosen wake time, then your baby’s body will adjust the quickest, and you should see success in a night or two. If you decide to feed your baby, your baby might start waking early night after night in anticipation of their breakfast appointment. You can watch the early morning wakings lesson to help them sleep later when this happens.
Option C) your baby wakes up at regular feed times and starts to cry. Now. Your baby is getting so few calories at this point that it’s unlikely that they are hungry. It’s more likely that they are still practicing connecting their sleep cycles. So the first plan of attack is to resort to your family's chosen technique from Baby Sleep 103 in your Lovebug app. But, let’s say that they start to cry loudly and you think they are hungry. No problem, but the best thing to do is wait until they stop crying and fall asleep. Then, the next time they wake up and are crying, rush to feed them within five minutes. I want them to be crying the next time they wake up because if they are fussing, it’s more likely that they are having trouble connecting their sleep cycles than that they are hungry. Once they start crying again, feed them immediately. If this happens, we can try again tomorrow!
Remember that it’s ALWAYS allowed to go backward and then make a leap forwards. You might be in the final jump and then just decide that tonight is not the night. Maybe your baby is sick. Perhaps they are teething. Perhaps someone on your care team fed baby a whole bottle by accident. That’s ok! Most times, it’s one step back, and then you’re prepared for two steps forward!