We are all willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that our babies are properly nourished. Anyone who’s been through this journey of parenting will tell you, kids are clever. They will find ways to get what they want and they will repeat them relentlessly. Which is not their fault, obviously. They’re just working off of instinct. They know what they like, and at a young age, they like mum.
I’m talking all mum, all the time. Too much is never enough. Given the fact that they really only have one method of communicating, if mum’s not around and they don’t think that’s cool, they fire up the lungs and they cry.
Obviously they don’t only cry because they want mum. They cry because they’re uncomfortable, or because they’ve got a dirty nappy, or because they’re too hot or too cold. They also cry because they’re hungry.
So when they wake up in the middle of the night and they start crying, it’s tough to determine whether it’s because they need to eat or because they just want to see mum back in the room.
I’m not trying to tell you that you shouldn’t respond to your baby’s crying. You know your baby better than anyone and I imagine you can tell when something needs to be addressed based on the type of crying. Having said that, if your baby is waking up seven or eight times a night and insisting that you come in and rock her back to sleep, that can have a serious impact on everybody’s sleep, including hers.
First things first, here are some things to consider when you’re trying to determine what is a hunger related waking and what’s not.
Up until six-months, babies typically need at least one night time feed. Their tummies are small, they haven’t started solid food yet, and formula and breast milk digest fairly quickly, so there’s a good chance they’re going to get a case of the munchies during the night.
This isn’t the case for all babies, obviously. Some infants sleep through the night without a feed from a very early age and then take more during the day, but generally speaking, you can expect to be waking for a night time feed up until baby is about six months.
Once baby’s capable of sleeping through the night without a feed, you need to make sure they’re getting the calories they need during their daytime hours. The best way I’ve found to make this switch is to throw in an extra feed during the day, or by adding an ounce or two to each bottle throughout the day. This is also a great time to think about introducing solid foods. The good news here is that baby’s body will typically adjust over a night or two to start taking in those additional calories during the daytime once they’re no longer getting them at night.
Just a quick but SUPER IMPORTANT reminder... Before you attempt to make any changes to your baby’s feeding schedule, talk to your paediatrician or GP. Night time sleep is awesome but calories are essential. If your little one is under weight or not growing as fast as they should be, it might not be a good time to wean out night feedings, so again, chat with your doctor.
I’m sure you know this scenario. Baby starts crying 45 minutes after you put her down, you go in and offer a feed which she accepts, she takes about three quarters of an ounce, then promptly passes out in the middle of things.
If this is happening frequently, it’s a good sign that your little one’s feeding for comfort instead of hunger. Babies who are genuinely hungry will usually eat until they’re full, whereas those who are feeding for comfort tend to drift off pretty quickly once they’ve gotten what they’re looking for.
If baby does take a full feed at night, she should be able to sleep for around 3-4 hours afterwards. An average sleep cycle for babies around the 6-month mark is somewhere in the 45minute - 1 hour range, so if they’re waking up around that long after they eat, it’s likely that they’re dependent on the sucking and soothing actions of your feeding routine to get to sleep.
Falling asleep while you are hungry is tough, regardless of your age. Your brain recognises hunger as a priority and will stay alert until the need is met, or until you’re exhausted enough that the need to sleep overrides the need to eat. So if your baby really is hungry, they usually won’t go back to sleep very easily until they’ve been fed. If they nod off after five or ten minutes of crying, that’s a pretty reliable sign that they were just looking for some help getting back to sleep and not actually in need of a feed.
If you can put your baby down in her crib while she’s still awake, leave the room, and have baby fall asleep without any help from you, without a pacifier, or any other kind of outside assistance, then those night time cries are far more likely to mean that she genuinely needs a hand with something when she wakes up crying at night.
Determining whether your baby is hungry at night is obviously a complicated situation. Calories are vital but so is sleep, so we typically end up paralysed trying to balance the importance of the two. This can be easier to understand once you’ve taught your baby the skills they need to fall asleep on their own. Once the habit of feeding to sleep is changed, you can feel much more confident that the requests for a night time feed are out of necessity.
If you’re looking for some help teaching your little one those essential sleep skills, don’t hesitate to get in touch.