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Ask the expert: Is my baby waking from habit or hunger?

Ask the expert: Is my baby waking from habit or hunger?

While newborns need to be fed every couple of hours, starting around 4-months-old babies can usually go longer between feedings. More time between feedings sets the stage for longer stretches of sleep at night.

But if too many middle-of-the-night wake up calls are sticking around, it can be hard to tell if your little one is waking due to real hunger, plain old habit or…something else. Knowing why your baby is waking up is the first step to being able to help her build the right associations with sleeping and teaching her to self-soothe—so she can get the best night’s sleep.

Maggie Moore - Moore Sleep

Meet our expert

Maggie Moore

Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Founder & Head Sleeper of Moore Sleep

How to rule out hunger

If your little one is under 16-weeks adjusted age, it’s normal for infants to wake several times a night—those are most likely hunger cries, which means you should respond to by feeding your baby.  

After 16-weeks adjusted age, if your baby is meeting the proper age/weight milestones determined by your pediatrician, your baby’s tummy will stay fuller for longer, which means night-time feeds can become fewer. Here’s the number of night feeds you should expect, according to your baby’s age:

Age

Number of night feeds

0-3 months

3+ 

Normal for baby to wake every 2-3 hours 

4-7 months

1-2

Normal for baby to wake every 3-5 hours

8-9 months

0-1

Normal for baby to wake every 4-6 hours, but some babies can make it through the night without a feed

10+ months

0

Most babies are ready to be sleeping through the night without a feed

Other causes for night waking

The best way to determine if your baby is waking due to a feed-to-sleep association, is by ruling out other common sleep struggles:

  • The basics: make sure a wet diaper, gassiness, a minor cold, etc. isn’t the culprit. Make sure you’re putting on a fresh diaper before bed, burping after feeds, and keeping an eye out for other symptoms.
  • Teething: can start as early as 3 months old but is most common around 6 months. Try these teething tips.
  • Sleep Regression: The 4 month sleep regression usually hits just when your baby is ready to start weaning night feedings—between 3- and 4-months-old. Get advice from other parents.
  • Overtiredness: getting enough sleep during the day sets the stage for good nighttime sleep. Get your baby on the right schedule.
  • Inability to self-soothe: believe it or not, babies need to learn how to fall asleep, and stay asleep, on their own—without help from rocking, swinging, bouncing, feeding, etc. Lightly weighted Zen Sleepwear™ can help teach them.  

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Tips to reduce waking out of habit

Establishing a routine, setting a schedule, and teaching your baby to sleep independently will help minimize night waking.

1. Establish a routine

Not every day and night are going to be perfect when it comes to your little one’s sleep but consistency is key. Having a solid routine is an important piece of independent sleep, as it will become your baby’s signal that it’s time to sleep.

I recommend feeding, bath, diaper, jammies, Zen Sleepwear, story time, and bed. If you have been feeding your little one to sleep, be sure to move the feeding to the beginning of the bedtime routine.

2. Set a schedule

Any child can learn to fall asleep unassisted but if they’re not on the right schedule, nighttime sleep can still be a disaster.

Making sure your child is getting the right number of naps, maximizing daily sleep and setting the correct bedtime can limit the night waking’s your little one experiences. Use my nap guide to make sure your little one is on the right schedule, and make sure you’re finishing up naps at the right time.

  • If your baby is on a 3 to 4 naps per day schedule all naps for the day should end by 5pm
  • If your baby is on a 2 naps per day schedule all naps for the day should end by 4pm
  • If your baby is only taking one nap per day, all naps for the day should end by 3pm

3. Start teaching independent sleep

If you’re assisting your baby in falling asleep—with rocking, walking, bouncing, feeding, etc.—then when they wake up in the middle of the night, they will need your help again. Thus, the cycle repeats itself. All. Night. Long.  

To get your little one to go to sleep unassisted I recommend using a gentle sleep training method to teach your little one how to fall asleep on their own.

Remember, sleep training is not about getting your little one to sleep through the night, but instead about getting your little one to fall asleep independently.

My Sleep Training Guide will walk you through how to approach sleep training step-by-step. Zen Sleepwear is also a great tool for sleep training—it’s gently weighted to mimic your touch and help teach your baby to self-soothe.

You should only begin sleep training once your baby reaches 16-weeks adjusted age and with the OK from your pediatrician.

The feed-to-sleep association is one of the strongest, which means it will take time and patience to overcome. Be sure to give yourself plenty of patience and grace as you work towards better sleep for your little one.

 

You might also like

When do babies sleep through the night—and what might be preventing it?

Surviving Sleep Regressions

What is sleep training?

Baby sleep simplified: Newborn sleep schedules + patterns 

More about Maggie

Maggie Moore is the Founder and Head Sleeper at Moore Sleep. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant through the Family Sleep Institute, which means her sole focus and objective is getting your baby on a healthy sleep schedule so the whole family can get the sleep they need.

Like many parents, Maggie and her husband struggled with getting their son on a healthy sleep schedule and he was unable to fall asleep independently. As a result, her family was losing precious sleep every night. Maggie became a firm believer when, shortly after hiring a certified pediatric sleep consultant, her son began sleeping independently at bed and nap times.Maggie knew right away she wanted to become a certified consultant herself so she could help other families struggling to get the sleep they need.

Maggie and her family reside in Southern Indiana (near Louisville, KY). She received her bachelors in Journalism and a second concentration in Communications & Culture from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Follow Maggie on Facebook and Instagram.

Christina Alario

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