It's 3 a.m., do you know where you baby is? Of course you do, he's right there, attached to your lap. Meanwhile, you're not sure what day it is, where your pants are, or if you remembered to turn on the coffee pot before going to bed. You're exhausted and you kind of want to poke your partner in the back for having the ability to sleep through these feedings. But really, when should a baby stop night feedings? Because you can't possibly live through this forever.
This is one of those subjects that tends to get pediatricians' backs up. Between Ferber, Weissbluth, and Sears, it's hard to get a straight answer as to when your baby can and should stop waking in the middle of the night for a feeding. Doctors like Ferber argue that the earlier you get your child to sleep through the night, the happier they'll be, whereas Weissbluth basically allows for night feedings for almost the entirety of the first year. The differences are mind boggling.
Expert on sleep and pediatrician Dr. Craig Canapari of Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital has a nice, middle of the ground guideline for parents that doesn't set you up for failure. He wrote that "after six to nine months, most children don’t need calories at night. If you are feeding your child multiple times at night, you need to stop it so both you and she can sleep better."
The one thing most pediatricians seem to agree upon is that formula fed babies and breastfed babies will stop eating at night at different rates. North River Pediatrics advised that "most formula-fed babies give up night feedings by 4 months of age." However, they noted that breastfed babies might take longer to wean off the night feedings. They suggested that a way to move this process along is to "make middle-of-the-night feedings brief and boring compared to daytime feedings. Don't turn on the lights or talk to your child. Feed him rather quickly."
When my son was still waking several times per night at 8 months, my pediatrician suggested the same thing. She called it "express line nursing." No extra coos or cuddles. No 3 a.m. Mommy and me bonding. Just boob out, mouth on, burp, and goodnight. Thankfully, it seemed to work. My son went from nursing every three hours around the clock, to every two or two and a half hours during the day, and sleeping the whole night through. Believe me when I tell you we were both much better for it. Not only that, but it seemed to improve my milk supply during the day, leaving my baby happier and more satisfied after each feeding.
For the most part, babies make their own rules when it comes to the night feeding game. As to when should a baby stop night feedings, Jennifer Shu, M.D told Care.com in an interview that babies are on no one's schedule, and unless you're planning to sleep train your little one, be prepared. Forewarned is forearmed. She said, "About 50 percent of 4-month-old babies will sleep 'through the night,' from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., but a good number will also have at least one feeding per night for most of the first year."
A year does feel like a long time, but remember, it's not going to be around the clock like it was in the beginning. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in their book Sleep that "in any case, a nourished baby does not need night feeding after the first four months." That doesn't mean you won't feed your baby at 10 p.m. and again at 5 a.m., it's just eliminating those middle of the night trips.
If you find yourself utterly exhausted and ready for a good night's rest, talk to your pediatrician and discuss dropping those late night trips to the crib. It might be the best thing for both you and your baby.