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Night feeding

7-minute read

Key facts

  • It’s common for babies to wake overnight for feeds and comforting in their first year of life.
  • Breastfed babies often need to feed overnight until they are around 12 months of age.
  • Bottle-fed babies may stop night feeding from around 6 months of age.
  • Calm, stimulation-free feeds overnight can help babies to resettle more quickly to sleep.

What is night feeding?

Night feeding is the term used for when babies feed at night. It’s common for babies to wake overnight in their first year of life. Sometimes they wake to feed, but they can also wake as they transition between sleep cycles and need some comfort and support to go back to sleep.

How often will my baby need to be fed during the night?

Every baby is an individual and their waking and feeding behaviour will be unique to them. Most newborns spend a lot of time sleeping in short bursts of 2-3 hours between both day and night feeds. Young babies don’t know the difference between night and day, and because their stomach is small, they digest milk quickly and need to feed frequently to grow and thrive.

Babies aged between 0-3 months of age tend to wake and feed at night in the same way as they do during the day. By 3 months of age, many babies then settle into a pattern of longer wake times in the day and longer sleeps overnight. This longer, 4-5-hour continuous sleep at night can be a welcome change for sleep deprived parents.

What is the best way to night feed?

It can help to keep night feeds calm and free of stimulation and play. This can support babies to settle more quickly after feeding and go back to sleep. Babies often respond well to the same order of care, no matter what time of the day or night. It’s important to be flexible and follow your baby’s cues for feeding and sleep. This more sensitive and responsive approach will help to support a strong emotional connection.

You may not need to change your baby’s nappy at night unless they seem uncomfortable, or have done a poo. Try using a good quality, disposable nappy on your baby at night-time. Breastfed babies will often poo when they start feeding, so it can make practical sense to wait to change their nappy until it’s needed.

You may choose to feed your baby in the same place or room as you do during the day. What is often helpful is to keep the lights down low by using a lamp or dimmer switch. Give your baby the opportunity to burp if you think they need it, but avoid trying for too long. Sleeping babies tend not to burp so again, follow your baby’s lead around what they seem to need.

How do I establish a night-time feeding routine?

It can be very helpful to follow a predictable, pre-settling routine at night. This helps to calm and soothe babies so they are ready for sleep. A bath, massage, story, quiet time and feed can help babies to learn that it’s sleep time. It’s normal for breastfed babies to go to sleep when they’re feeding, especially at night-time.

It’s important to always follow the safe sleeping guidelines whatever time of the day, or night, your baby is going to sleep. Dress your baby comfortably for the weather and use a safe sleeping bag which is the correct size.

Should I always feed my baby if they wake during the night?

Sometimes babies will only settle when they feed — this is known as a sleep association. Feeding overnight is only a problem if parents would prefer their baby learns other, more independent ways of settling to sleep.

It’s important to ensure that your baby is old enough before expecting them to sleep longer at night and not require feeding. For most babies, especially when they’re breastfed, it’s not until after 6 months of age that they sleep for longer, continuous periods overnight without waking and needing a feed.

You could try soothing and reassuring your baby when they wake to see if they will resettle without feeding. This can be useful when a baby has fed not long before and parents are confident their baby is unlikely to be hungry.

Should I feed my baby to sleep?

If it works for you both, it’s fine to keep feeding your baby to sleep. However, if you find your baby will only settle when they’re being fed and they’re older than 6 months, it may be time to support them towards more independent settling. Responsive settling is centred around responding to a baby’s tired cues and helping them to settle to sleep.

It can be a good idea to feed a young baby after they’ve woken, instead of feeding them when they’re tired.

When can I stop night feeding?

Breastfed babies often need night-time feeding until they’re around 1 year of age. Bottle-fed babies tend to drop their night feeds earlier, anywhere from around 6 months of age. There is no hurry to phase out night feeds and it’s important you do what’s right for you and your child.

Signs my baby is ready to stop night feeding

Your baby might start not waking as frequently overnight and sleep for longer periods. They may also be feeding for a shorter time, or take less volume of milk if they’re bottle feeding. They may be getting more nutrition through the day from around 6 months, when it’s recommended solids are introduced.

How do I wean my baby off night feeding?

Make sure your baby is well fed before they settle for the night. Older babies, beyond the newborn period, may be waking overnight because of hunger.

If your baby is breastfeeding, you could try offering both breasts during day time feeds.

With formula-fed babies, make sure they are getting enough formula during the day and that it's made as recommended.

Overnight, instead of feeding them straight away, try other soothing and resettling techniques to get them back to sleep.

Tips for tired parents

  • If you have a partner, take turns getting up for overnight bottle feeds of formula or expressed breastmilk.
  • Ask a family member or close friend for help to settle the baby overnight. They may also offer to care for the baby through the day, so parents can have more energy to attend to their baby’s night-time care.
  • Make some gentle changes to the baby’s daytime settling so they learn some different ways to settle.

Resources and support

For guidance on age-appropriate strategies for managing your baby’s night feeds, you can:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2024

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