When Do Babies Stop Eating at Night?

Knowing When to Let a Sleeping Baby Lie

During those first hazy months of parenthood, you might have to wrestle with a few major Catch-22 situations, especially related to your baby's sleep. You'd like her to sleep more at night, but once she stays asleep for longer, you worry that she needs to eat. If you do wake your baby, she might have little interest in eating and even less interest in going back to sleep. After the newborn phase passes, your baby probably won't need to be woken up at night to eat. That doesn't mean she'll be ready to sleep through the night, though. It's common for babies to need overnight feedings for at least the first several months of life.

Night Feeding, Month to Month

breastfeeding. mother feeding a baby breast in bed dark night

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Middle-of-the-night feedings are essential when your baby's a newborn. He'll probably lose weight during his first days of life, so it will take a week or more just for him to get back to his birth weight. And from there, he still has tons of growing to do. Babies need plenty of nutrients to develop normally, and their stomachs are so tiny at this point that they need to eat every two to three hours. If your baby doesn't wake up on his own, you'll have to rouse him for a feeding.

Once babies surpass their birth weight and are gaining at a pace that their pediatricians deem normal, they won't have to eat quite that frequently. But all that means is that you won't have to wake your baby up every three hours, and between 4 and 12 weeks old, he might still wake up that frequently on his own and want to eat. Or he might wake every four hours, or every five hours. Some babies have a completely different sleeping and feeding schedule from night to night. The same is true for breastfed babies and formula-fed babies.

By 3 months, many babies are able to sleep for at least five hours straight every night without needing to eat. Many can sleep for even longer periods at this age, so you might get lucky and enjoy seven or eight hours of uninterrupted rest yourself.

Nighttime Cluster Feeding

If your baby is prone to cluster feeding—wanting multiple feedings within a short period of time—it can work to your advantage in your quest to get her to sleep through the night. Offer her the breast or bottle several times in the hours before you put her to bed. She'll drink only what she wants, but if she's hungry enough to eat a lot, she'll go to bed full and sleep longer than she would on an empty stomach.

If she's currently prone to cluster feeding overnight, find comfort in the fact that she'll likely drop this habit by the time she's 3 months old or so. As your baby's daytime calorie intake increases, she won't need to take in so much overnight.

Dream Feeding and Night Weaning

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Some moms swear by the dream feed, in which a baby nurses without fully waking up. Dream feeding allows you to control when your baby eats and, you hope, keep him from waking up at all overnight, without sacrificing his nutritional needs. It might work when your baby is a newborn and sleeps heavily, but your baby might also wake up when you lift him out of bed or place a nipple at his mouth. If your baby's eating instincts kick in even when he's still dozing, great. Just be sure to hold him upright against your chest, and rub his back for a few minutes to release any gas that has built up.

Eventually you might want to attempt night weaning, in which you cease overnight feeds altogether. Night weaning isn't appropriate for young infants who wake up hungry during the night. But if your baby is approaching toddlerhood and wants to nurse during the night for comfort, try rubbing his back or humming a lullaby to reassure him that you're there and close without providing milk.

If you're at all concerned about how much your child wants to eat overnight or whether it's appropriate for you to wean him, consult your pediatrician. Every baby is unique, and your baby's specific medical history and growth pattern will affect how much he needs to eat during the night.

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