Night weaning 101: How and when to night wean
We know that being a new parent comes with its fair share of sleepless nights. Everyone warned you about it, but nothing can truly prepare you for the exhaustion that comes with round-the-clock feedings, diaper changes, and midnight "parties" in the crib. Trust us, we've been there too!
Thankfully, babies won’t always need feedings overnight and eventually will night wean. In this article, we'll cover when babies typically wean at night, and we'll give you some expert tips on how to encourage fewer night feedings. We'll even share advice on how to continue feeding your baby after they stop waking up to eat at night.
So, let's dive in and explore the wonderful world of night weaning!
IN THIS ARTICLE:
What is night weaning?
Night weaning can mean different things to different people. Some may consider their baby to have night weaned when their baby meets the technical definition of sleeping through the night (which is defined as sleeping 6 to 8 hours straight , even though babies may need a total of 10 to 12 hours of nighttime sleep).
Others consider their baby to have night weaned if their baby no longer wakes for breast or bottle feedings on their own but still receives a dream feeding. And many don’t consider their child to be truly night-weaned until they have eliminated all feedings between bedtime and the first feeding of the day.
For our purposes, we’ll consider a kiddo to be night weaned when they have eliminated all feedings between bedtime and the first feeding of the day.
Night feeding patterns by age
Feeding needs are as unique as your child. As you visit the pediatrician, you'll see your child's doctor keeping an eye out for signs that your little one is meeting age-appropriate milestones like rolling over, sitting up, or crawling. Just like these milestones, the ability to go longer without feedings overnight also varies from baby to baby.
It’s helpful to have realistic expectations for what is considered normal when it comes to night feedings. Attempting to drop night feedings too quickly or before your baby is ready can be frustrating and lead to other issues, including early waking.
Parents of newborns should expect plenty of feedings overnight. Most babies between 0 - 2 months require frequent feedings, including during the night, and may need to eat every 2 - 4 hours overnight. If your baby has a 10:00 PM bedtime and wakes around 7:00 AM they will likely need to feed at least 2 - 3 times overnight. So don't worry if your nights are filled with feedings at this stage - it's encouraged!
3 and 4 month olds:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics , most formula-fed babies no longer need night feedings between 2 - 4 months of age. However, we find that as babies get closer to 4 months old, some are ready to consolidate but not give up night feedings without sacrificing sleep. Many 4 month old babies still need 2 - 3 night feedings to comfortably sleep for 10 - 12 hours at night.
Part of the reason many babies continue to need night feedings is because nights are “longer” than they were as a newborn. Because newborns nap so often their overall night sleep is not as long as older babies. By 4 months babies are going to bed earlier and therefore sleeping longer overnight. Another reason many babies this age still sleep better with night feedings is that they are becoming more mobile and active!
While a small percentage of babies under 5 months are ready to night wean, it is uncommon for babies younger than 6 months to go all night without a feeding . Babies gradually give up night feedings as they begin solids, take in more milk during the day, and reach developmental milestones that help them sleep more like adults.
5 months and older:
After 5 months many babies can go one 5 - 6 hour stretch without a night feed if they haven’t night weaned already. Once the “seal is broken” so to speak you can expect a shorter (e.g. 2 - 3 hour stretch) before your baby will be ready for another overnight feeding. Between 7 - 8 months the majority of babies need just one feeding overnight (if any). And by 9 months, many babies have bid farewell to night feedings entirely. Remember, every baby is unique, so embrace their sleep journey.
When to start night weaning
Around 6 to 7 months, as your baby begins eating solids and their growth rate slows down, you can start moving towards night weaning if it hasn’t happened already. This might mean that you consolidate to 1 - 2 feedings first, before night weaning altogether. It's important to remember that every baby is different, and they will be physically ready to night wean at their own pace. If you’re unsure whether your baby is ready, please consult with your medical provider.
Babies become physically ready to fully night wean at their own pace. There is a wide range of normal when it comes to how old babies are when they can go all night without feeding. If your child is over 1 year old and struggling to night wean be sure to discuss this with a professional.
5 tips and tricks to night wean your child
Once your little one has shown a consistent pattern of age-appropriate weight gain and is outside the newborn stage, here are some tips you can take to help your baby consolidate night feedings.
Tip #1: Keep your baby well-fed throughout the day!
Spacing out daytime feedings won't magically make your baby sleep longer at night. So go ahead and feed them throughout the day to ensure they're getting all the nourishment they need. Cluster feeding in the hours leading to bedtime may also help top off your little one’s “tank.”
Tip #2: Find soothing alternatives.
Just because your baby is waking up at night does not mean they are hungry. Explore other soothing techniques like gentle rocking, singing lullabies, or offering a pacifier. Sometimes they need a little extra comfort to drift back to dreamland.
Tip #3: Gradually reduce nighttime feedings.
Aim to reduce feedings each night. This can help your baby start eating less at night and transfer those calories to the day. If bottle feeding, slowly decrease how many ounces your baby drinks at the first overnight feeding. If breastfeeding, try shortening the duration of nighttime feedings by 1 - 2 minutes each night until it’s more of a snack than a full meal.
Tip #4: Delay night feedings.
Lengthening the time between feedings can help reduce the total number of night feeds. If you're feeding multiple times during the night, you can work on increasing the time between feedings until the last feeding merges with the morning feeding. For instance, if your baby usually wakes up every 2 hours to eat, you can start by lengthening the interval to 2.5 hours the first night and then 3 hours the next night and so on.
If your baby wakes up before it is time to feed them, try to soothe them in other ways until it is time to feed them or they go back to sleep. This should help their body adjust to longer periods in between feedings. If you can't settle your baby, go ahead and feed them after 30 minutes. You can then try again the next night to have the feedings further apart.
Tip #5: Encourage independent sleep.
While there’s nothing wrong with feeding your baby to sleep, it can create a feed-to-sleep association which can disrupt night sleep. That means that when your baby wakes during the night, they’ll be more likely to want to be fed back to sleep  instead of falling back to sleep on their own. Helping your baby learn to fall asleep at bedtime without assistance can reduce night wakings and night feedings caused by sleep associations. Note that we would not expect wakings due to hunger to be reduced.
Bonus tip for breastfeeding parents: As you gradually consolidate night feedings, give your body time to adjust and continue offering plenty of daytime feedings to meet your baby's needs. If you're breastfeeding, you might find it helpful to pump or express milk before bed, during the night, or after the first feed of the day to help regulate your milk supply.
Night weaning is a gradual process, and it's all about finding what works best for you and your baby. Every child is different, and they'll reach their own milestones at their own pace. So take it slow, follow your baby's cues, and let them guide you on this journey to better sleep.
Remember, you're doing an amazing job as a parent, and soon those sleepless nights will become a distant memory. Cherish these precious moments with your little one, and rest assured that better sleep is on the horizon.
Night weaning FAQ
Q: What is the appropriate age for night weaning?
This depends on your individual child’s needs. It’s common to see partial night weaning begin after the newborn period or around 4 months. The average age for night weaning is 6 - 8 months . Very few babies continue to need night feedings after 12 months.
Q: Is night weaning gradual or cold turkey?
Night weaning can be encouraged by gradually spacing out or reducing night feedings. Dropping night feedings cold turkey is more challenging than gradually consolidating feedings, and may lead to long periods of crying.
Q: Does weaning a baby help them sleep through the night?
When night feedings are excessive or occur more often than what is age-appropriate, night weaning can help babies sleep through the night. Oftentimes babies need assistance shifting nighttime calories to the daytime and will benefit from more frequent daytime feedings.
Q: How does night weaning work?
Night weaning can be initiated by parents who wish to encourage fewer nighttime feedings. It is important to keep any nighttime feedings that may be necessary for a baby’s growth and to set realistic expectations for how long babies can go without eating overnight.
Q: Is it OK to breastfeed 1 year old at night?
Although most breastfed babies are physically ready to be night weaned by 1 year old breastfeeding mothers may choose to continue nursing overnight to support their personal breastfeeding goals.
Q: Can I give my baby water instead of milk at night?
Babies should not drink anything other than breast milk or formula until at least 6 months old  unless directed by a medical provider. After 6 months old babies can begin receiving sips of water during the daytime and with meals. Water is not an appropriate replacement for breast milk or formula.
Q: What is the core night method?
A baby’s core night refers to the period of sleep in which your baby tends to sleep the longest without waking. For many babies, their core sleep occurs during the first few hours after falling asleep at bedtime. The core night method focuses on consolidating feedings during the first half of the night (or during the baby’s core night sleep) before tackling early morning feedings.
Q: Does comfort nursing count as feeding?
Whether your baby is waking to comfort nurse or for a full feeding overnight, both are considered true night feedings when it comes to night weaning. Even with eyes closed babies can gulp down plenty of milk. It is only in the absence of visible or audible swallowing that a baby is said to be comfort nursing.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.
Stanford Medicine (2023). Infant Sleep. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237
American Academy of Pediatrics (2022). Amount and Schedule of Baby Formula Feedings. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/formula-feeding/Pages/amount-and-schedule-of-formula-feedings.aspx
Nationwide Children's (2023). Nightwakings. https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/sleep-disorder-center/nightwakings
Goodlin-Jones, B. L., Burnham, M. M., Gaylor, E. E., & Anders, T. F. (2001). Night waking, sleep-wake organization, and self-soothing in the first year of life. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1201414/
American Academy of Pediatrics (2022). Recommended Drinks for Children Age 5 & Younger. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Recommended-Drinks-for-Young-Children-Ages-0-5.aspx