Breastfeeding a newborn at night

My baby is feeding a lot at night (night feeding)

There are many common questions asked about night feeding. Is it normal that my baby is feeding at night? How long will it take before my baby starts to sleep longer? 

There are many parenting books on the market which are very regimented regarding all aspects of the care of babies and particularly around the issue of night feeding.

Unfortunately, this idea that you need to get your baby into a ‘good routine’ isn’t based on substantial evidence.

Many of these books may even suggest that your baby should be sleeping much longer stretches by six months, or even as young as three or four months.

This can cause a great deal of anxiety in many mothers. Indeed, many of us have had these ideas entrenched in our minds for years, and we have tried desperately to get our babies to sleep longer, thinking that something is wrong if they awake to feed.

A mum breastfeeding her baby at night

So first of all, it’s vital to know that lots of recent research helps us now to understand the sleeping cycles and patterns of babies a lot better, and we now know that it’s quite normal for young babies and older babies, and even toddlers to be waking up at night.

Please bear in mind that health professionals over the years have taught mothers lots of different techniques for helping babies to sleep longer – controlled crying techniques, and crying it out methods.

We know that a lot of these strategies are not based on good solid evidence around sleep patterns. 

Leaving babies to cry increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which isn’t a good thing for babies, and this is new evidence that we certainly didn’t have many years ago.

It’s also important to know that when you are breastfeeding, night feedings can help to maintain your supply, and can also cause your baby to get as much as a quarter of his intake of milk.

If you and your baby can relax into the night time situation rather than trying to fight against it, this can be a positive thing. 

Every baby is different. Some breastfeeding mothers say that their babies have started sleeping for longer stretches at night after only a few weeks of age, while others may find that their baby has taken a few months to do this.

Other mothers say that even their toddler is still waking up at night. In lactation circles, five hours is considered to be a full night’s sleep!

There is also something else to consider when we talk about breastfeeding at night.

There is a term called reverse cycling, which describes how babies start to feed more at night to make up their milk intake.

Your baby may have got to the age when he is beginning to get very distractible in the day.

That usually happens around about three to four months old, sometimes a bit earlier.

Babies around this age often tend to do frequent, distracted little feeds in the day, while making up their supply at night when it’s boring and quiet!

If you are working during the week, you may find that your baby feeds more at night (reverse cycling) to make up the supply, as many babies often take a lot less milk from the person who is looking after them.

Also, note that night feeding is not just about your baby getting nutrition from the breast. Babies come to the breast for warmth, comfort, and to hang out.

There is a lot of psychology involved, as well, showing this is normal behavior! 

We also learn from research, that as you respond to your baby for all of his needs, this helps him develop a feeling of security and confidence, and research also shows that this can help a baby to have positive relationships in the future.

It’s also important to know that your baby may wake up for lots of other reasons as well, such as when your baby starts to teeth, even weeks before a tooth comes through.

Mum trying to comfort a crying baby

Some babies become very unsettled at this time and may wake up more for extra comfort.

Another reason for your baby waking could be due to an illness e.g., a cold, or perhaps an ear infection.

Any illness can cause your baby to be awake at night and want and need extra comfort at the breast.

It may be that your baby is going through a developmental spurt, perhaps just learning to roll over or some other developmental change, which can be another reason why babies suddenly start waking more at night. 

Also, there are growth spurts which can last two to four days and nights, where you may find that your baby feeds very frequently, and a lot more than usual.

It’s also important to look at the information relating to safe sleeping when you breastfeed so that you can make an informed choice about these matters.

It’s to be appreciated that sleep deprivation comes with frequent night feeding and can take its toll on many mothers However, it is a short season, and things move forward, and your baby will fall into his developmental readiness for sleeping.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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