Surviving night-time feeds

by | Jul 10, 2018

No one likes to get up in the middle of the night to feed a hungry baby, but the physiological fact of the matter is that babies do need food around the clock. Lactation consultant Erica Neser
gives you pointers to make night-time feeding as seamless as possible.

Babies need to be fed around the clock, for a considerable amount of time – that is a biological reality. Unfortunately, in modern western culture, there is a lot of pressure on parents to not feed their babies at night, as soon as possible. This leads to a lot of stress for parents and babies. Here are a few tips to help you survive those dreaded night feeds.

Prepare before your baby arrives
Expectant parents are often told to “sleep while you still can!” This may create the expectation that you’ll get almost no sleep when your baby is born, but then, if you “do it right”, they’ll stop having night feeds after a few months.The reality, however, is quite different, so it helps to know that:

  • Newborns sleep a lot, but also need to be fed (and held) a lot, day and night.
  • Babies two to four months may sleep longer stretches at night, feed very briefly and go straight back to sleep.
  • “Sleep regressions” strike at around four months, and again somewhere between seven and 11 months. Your baby may need a lot more night feeding than before.
  • Babies (especially if breastfed) may continue to drink milk at night well after their first birthday.
  • The night feeds will gradually decrease in your baby’s second year, mostly without any intervention.
  • Toddlers still need a lot of parental love, closeness and reassurance at night.
  • Most people get thirsty at least once a night – babies, children and adults.
  • True “sleeping through” (no feeding or reassurance needed most nights) usually happens when your child is three to four years of age.

See your maternity leave as a time for resting and nesting, rather than planning a whole lot of other projects to be ticked off your to-do list.

Tips & trick

  • When the sun sets, think of everything that you will need for the next 12 hours and get it all together.
  • The recommendation is that babies sleep within arm’s reach of their mother for the first six months at least, so keep everything you need close to your bed.
  • Nappy changing: Your baby will probably have a dirty nappy with every feed for the first six weeks or more, so be ready. Have your changing mat, dry nappies, wipes, bum cream and a spare set of clothes (in case of leaks) handy, so you don’t need to go looking for things. (When your baby stops pooing at night, you might be able to skip one nappy change, if the nappy is not very wet.)
  • You don’t need much for breastfeeding at night, but the following may be useful: burp cloths, extra breast pads, breastfeeding pillow, nipple cream. Learn to “breast sleep” – feed your baby while lying down and snooze while baby feeds. This is not safe to do on a couch or feeding chair. It is better to fall asleep in your bed than on a couch. (Please read up about safe bed sharing guidelines first.)
  • Bottle feeding at night requires a bit more planning:
    • Before bed, measure the required amount of formula powder for each feed and keep in specially designed sealed containers.
    • You can boil the kettle before bed and keep the water in a flask for the first bottle.
    • Ideally, formula powder should be mixed with freshly boiled water (70ºC, to kill bacteria present in the powder), then cooled down to body temperature (37ºC).
    • Keep a bowl of cold water nearby to cool the bottle to body temperature.
    • Your baby will need to wait a little for the temperature to be perfect. Always ensure that it’s not too hot before giving it to your baby.
  • If your baby has fallen fast asleep after the feed, don’t worry too much about burping him. You can keep him upright, but if nothing comes up in a few minutes, both of you can go back to sleep. If a bubble of air starts bothering him later, he’ll let you know.
  • Nights can be long and draining, and you will also get hungry and thirsty. Have a snack (healthy, if possible!) and water (or even a flask of tea) next to your bed, to help keep up your strength.

Survive and thrive

  • Accept and make peace with the fact that night feeds are part of your new normal. You will adjust to it. See this as a season in your life that will eventually pass.
  • Remember: you don’t need to teach or train your child to sleep. They have an inbuilt blueprint that regulates their sleep according to their age. Like a pre-installed app on your new smart phone, it’s already there and will self-activate, in stages, as nature intended!
  • Where possible, partners can share the load:
    • Partners of breastfeeding mothers can help burp and change the baby, and help baby to fall asleep after the feed. Let mom lie in a bit when baby wakes early and has finished breastfeeding.
    • If baby is bottle fed, parents can take turns to feed.
    • Give your partner a chance to nap during weekends while you entertain the kids. Take turns and give each other the gift of sleep.
  • Some parents feel very lonely at night when they are feeding, but you are not alone. Think of all the thousands of parents who are all awake at this moment, all over the world.
  • Hold tight: baby’s first year is a wild rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs. Knowing that night feeding is normal and your baby is not being naughty or spoilt, can help you stay sane.
  • Be aware: a lot of health professionals still give outdated advice for trying to force babies to sleep through at unnaturally early ages. Listen to your baby and listen to your heart. Do not ignore your baby’s cries, whether for hunger or for closeness. These are basic needs that your tiny roommate cannot help but have.
  • Your worth as a parent is definitely not measured by how early your baby starts sleeping through.