It is a commonly held misconception that you must stop overnight feedings with your baby if you plan to begin sleep training with them. Many babies require a night feeding well into their first year, and this should not prevent you from helping your baby learn proper sleep hygiene and habits as early as possible. It is absolutely possible to continue night feedings while training your baby to sleep, as long as you clearly designate night feedings as feeding and not a part of falling asleep.
What Is Sleep Training for Your Baby?
Sleep training for your baby is helping them learn to fall asleep on their own, without the assistance of any sleep aids. A sleep aid is anything that you use to help put your baby to sleep that then goes away once they are asleep. Some common examples of sleep aids are feeding your baby, rocking your baby, or giving your baby a pacifier.
Why Sleep Aids Are Bad for Your Baby
As a part of our natural sleep cycle, humans wake up four to five times a night between sleep cycles. Your baby’s sleep schedule starts a similar cycle once they reach four months old. During these light wake-ups, our brain scans our environment to see if anything has changed since we fell asleep. This is a natural process that is built to protect us and impossible to avoid.
If you use a sleep aid to help your baby fall asleep, alarms may start to go off during their mid-cycle wake-up since the aid, like you rocking them, is now gone. They are expecting you to be there, holding them, but suddenly they are alone in their crib with none of their soothing sleep aids. Your baby is now in full panic mode and unable to get themselves back to sleep on their own because they don’t know how.
Why Removing Sleep Aids Helps Your Baby Sleep
Removing sleep aids helps teach your baby the skills it needs to fall asleep on its own. If your baby is not accustomed to falling asleep with a sleep aid, these small wakeups between cycles are easy to stay calm through because nothing in their environment has changed since they fell asleep. Your baby can easily fall back asleep on their own and learn to connect each of their sleep cycles.
Establishing the Difference Between a Feeding and a Sleep Aid
So, how do you continue overnight feedings without allowing them to become a sleep aid that your baby learns to depend on to fall asleep? The first step is to stop feeding them to sleep if this is something you’re currently doing. Once this association is broken, a majority of babies will only wake up during the night if they are truly hungry and need to eat.
If you are sleep training your baby and you find that they are waking up once or twice to feed, this is absolutely normal. If your baby is hungry, you should feed them. However, you may be having trouble breaking the feeding sleep aid association if your baby is waking up more than once or twice a night or if they are not eating a full meal when they do wake. If this is the case for you, try the following:
- Wait at least five minutes before entering the room to feed. Just because your baby is awake, does not necessarily mean they need to feed. If you are being consistent in your sleep training, allow your baby the time to self-soothe and fall back asleep on their own. This can sometimes take up to ten minutes so don’t rush in the second you hear your baby.
- When you are doing a night feeding, don’t let them fall asleep. This will only strengthen the feeding-to-sleep aid. If you notice them start to fall asleep while you are feeding, wake them up to burp them, stop feeding, and put them back to sleep.