A baby waking up at night time can be challenging. When they are newborns, we know they need food. We need to feed them.
At the same time, if you are a Babywise fan like me, you are cognizant of the fact that you want to refrain from night feedings becoming a sleep prop.
You want to find the balance of feeding your baby when they are truly hungry, but challenging them to sleep longer at night.
We don’t want our babies relying on eating in order to get back to sleep at night.
And so, there are methods on how to handle a baby waking in the middle of the night.
With our first child, I was very focused on not letting her become reliant on nursing to go back to sleep.
I wrote over and over on my blog what I recommended, and what we had done, to address night wakings.
This was my advice for baby #1…
What to do if baby wakes at night:
1. Start by rocking/shushing/holding/etc –
Try to get baby back to sleep.
- If you are able to get them back to sleep, repeat this process 2 more times if they wake again
- If you are unable to get them back to sleep move on to step 2
2. Check basic things such as if baby is cold/hot/needs to be reswaddled/etc –
…and try to get baby back to sleep if you suspect and fix one of those issues
3. Change diaper-
Try to get baby back to sleep after the diaper change
4. Feed baby!
If you go through all of the above steps, and your baby is still crying, then go ahead and feed them. I always went through this checklist so that baby didn’t get reliant on eating in order to sleep.
The above steps worked for us. Caroline dropped down to one feeding a little before 2 months of age.
Then she went back up to two feedings briefly, and then back down to one in the third month.
In month 4 we did cry it out to drop the last feeding, and she dropped it with ease. I was very happy with our nighttime progress with her.
There was one problem, however, that I was not about to repeat with William.
Caroline was WIDE awake in the middle of the night. We had also made the mistake of rocking her to sleep- and that she was reliant on.
So, by the time I got around to feeding her (after going through the above steps), she was wide awake and did not go to sleep easily.
That meant that I was up for a couple of hours with her. It was so frustrating.
Our method worked, don’t get me wrong, but I had a different idea this next time around. I think it came out of laziness and tiredness quite honestly, but I swear by it now because it works SO well.
This time around, we have done two things differently for night wakings:
1- We do not rock William to sleep.
We hold him for a bit to get him sleepy, but then we set him down wide awake.
He has to put himself to sleep. We provide assistance. We pat his chest, we give him the pacifier if need be, but he’s in his crib falling asleep for naps and night.
There’s no pacing back and forth until he falls asleep in our arms.
And, now that he’s 3 months old, we let him cry or fuss it out for 5 minutes. And guess what!? He puts himself to sleep in 5 minutes. No pacifier needed!
2- We’ve handled middle of the night wakings completely differently!
Yes that’s right. My advice for when a baby wakes in the middle of the night has completely changed!
Books I recommend for sleep training
My new advice for handling a baby waking up at night…
6 Step Method for Handling Middle of the Night Wakings with Baby:
1- Feed Your Hungry Newborn
No matter what, just feed your newborn. It’s ok. Newborns are hungry. Don’t stress.
2- Get Your Newborn On a 3 Hour Schedule
Get your baby on a 3 hour schedule during the day. They can do this easily.
If your baby can go three hours during the day between feedings, they can go 3 hours at night. Challenge them to do so, by stalling them with a pacifier or putting them back to sleep however you can.
If this doesn’t work, however… feed your baby. Don’t let your baby wake up too much.
3- Do Not Change Your Baby’s Diaper Unless You Have To
William liked his diaper changed when he was a newborn. So, we kept the routine of diaper change, followed by a feeding.
Every once in awhile I’d test out the waters and not change it. If he was upset, I knew I’d need to change it. If not, I ran with it.
You obviously want to change the diaper before feeding if you are going to change it. That way your baby is nice and relaxed after the feeding and ready to sleep.
Once William was no longer bothered by the lack of a diaper change, I kept it going. We no longer change his diaper at night.
This way, he stays sleepy. Which gets to my next point…
4- Keep Your Baby Sleepy
If it’s been a normal cycle length that you do during the day (around 3 hours), just feed your baby.
Get in and out.
You stay sleepy and so does baby.
Everyone will go back to sleep more easily. That’s a huge win and helps to establish day from night.
5- Challenge Your Baby
Once your baby shows you that they can go longer stretches, don’t accept less!
If they wake earlier than they’ve shown you they can handle, go in and give a pacifier.
You are basically stalling the feeding. You are pushing it out as much as you can.
Give the pacifier once. Pat your baby if they need the help.
When they wake a second time, go ahead and feed.
Do this until your baby drops feeds.
Then challenge them on the next one, and so on.
6- Cap Feedings
The other thing I do, is cap the feeding times.
In the early stages, I fed until he was full. I wanted to get as many hours out of him as I could.
The reality, however, is that it didn’t gain me any time. He still woke at the same time each night no matter what.
I now give a snack feeding. William eats for no more than 5 minutes on each side. I unlatch him and tell him when feeding time at night is over.
He’s been perfectly fine with that, and goes back to sleep quickly.
Now that we are down to 1 middle of the night feeding, I am going to start decreasing this time until he no longer needs it at all.
Our Experience with Nighttime Wakings
William was a preemie, so we were instructed to wake him every 3 hours for the first full month of his life.
Once we got the green light, we let him sleep as long as he could.
He kept that 3 hour schedule at night for a tiny bit longer, and eventually started stretching his sleep to 4 hours, and only waking 3 times a night.
By the way, I consider anything after bedtime at 7 pm, and before wake time at 6:30 am a nighttime feed.
We also do not do dream feeds. These have never worked well for us.
Once I saw he could, I challenged him and we got it down to two feedings pretty quickly.
He’s now 3 months old and does one feeding a night pretty consistently (around 3 am).
Nights have been amazing with him! He’s sleepy, and requires no assistance getting back to sleep.
I feed him 5 minutes on each side, lay him down, and I’m back to sleep about 15 minutes after he initially woke me.
I keep him swaddled, and keep him sleepy. (We love this Swaddle Up on Amazon)
Items we loved in week 12:
He has naturally stretched his night sleep on his own.
I also challenge him and do not feed him the first time he asks. I give him a pacifier the first time.
If he wakes again, I then feed him. It’s been working great.
I love that he’s naturally progressing, and that he’s not wide awake at night requiring hours of my time.
I am hardly interrupted at night with the feedings, and it’s been a great experience this time.
Key Things to Consider to Reduce Night Wakings
Make sure you are setting your baby up for success in other ways as well.
- Establish Day from Night
- Get Your Baby on a Schedule so they are sleeping optimal amounts during the day
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Teach Your Baby to Put Themselves to Sleep
If you establish the difference between day and night, your baby will be sleeping at night much better.
If you get your baby sleeping the right amounts during the day, they will sleep the right amount at night.
There is only so much sleep to be had in a 24 hour period, so your baby shouldn’t be using the bulk of it during the day!
A bedtime routine signals to your baby that it’s time for sleep. It helps them to mentally prepare.
And, if your baby learns to put themselves to sleep…if and when they do wake in the middle of the night, they’ll be much better prepared to put themselves back to sleep without waking you up!
- Always feed your newborn baby (they need food in the middle of the night- it's ok).
- Get your newborn baby on a 3 hour feeding schedule during the day.
- Do not change baby's diaper in the middle of the night unless you have to.
- Keep your baby as sleepy as you can for feedings.
- Challenge your baby to go longer stretches. Do this by giving a pacifier and stalling the feeding as long as you can (without baby waking too much).
- Cap feedings. Keep lessening the amount until your baby no longer needs the feeding.
To drop the very last feeding, once you've done the above steps consistently, I've found that ONE night of cry it out drops the feeding immediately.
Both of my babies cried for maybe 20 minutes the first night, and then slept through the night from then on.
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