Where my snackers and grazers at?! I know lots of grazers who are rather proud of their grazing tendencies.
When it comes to babies however, some parents get stuck in a snacking/grazing feeding pattern with their littles, and not on purpose. This can often happen for good reason... during the first 4 months of life, we are truly feeding on demand, 8-12 times a day. That's a lot. We worry about our baby getting enough food, gaining weight. We don't want them to be hungry overnight.
However, once a **healthy** baby is about 3-4 months, we can slow our roll with the very frequent feedings. Your 4+ month old baby is ready to be on a more consistent schedule, feeding about 6 times/day (plus maybe once overnight depending on baby's age and needs), which is about every 3 hours. Why? It not only helps with healthy eating habits, gets your baby hungry enough to be interested in solids and take in the nutrition they need, but also it can affect their overnight sleep. Check it out...
3 Reasons Babies Who Snack Often Wake More Overnight
So why does snacking affect overnight sleep?
1. Babies who snack can eat less overall
Babies who eat frequently during the day often only have enough time between feeds to get just a little hungry. They get just a little hungry, have a snack, get just a little full, repeat. This leads to small feedings which can sometimes end with a baby eating less during the daytime. Naturally, if your baby eats less during the day, he or she will need to eat more overnight. However, if we adjust daytime eating into about 6 total feeds per day, your baby will need less (or no) food overnight.
2. Babies who snack get used to feeling just a tad hungry before eating
Ok, so if your baby eats every 1-2 hours during the day, he or she only has time to get a little hungry before eating. We've established this, right? If she gets used to satisfying the feeling of a twinge of hunger, she will expect to eat any time she feels that little twinge of hunger, day or night.
It's like me coming off of the holiday season. Over the Christmas/New Years holiday weeks, I get used to eating lots of food frequently (ha, I know I'm not alone in this!). The first week of January, my normal breakfast no longer satisfies me, I am hungry an hour later, I feel like I need a snack 1.5 hours after my lunch. I have to remind my brain that it is ok to feel a tiny bit hungry without feeding myself. It's ok for me to wait until I need to eat a full meal before eating again. I am not suggesting that our adult eating patterns are the same as our babies. We certainly have different needs. However, I can certainly relate to a baby feeling like she needs to satisfy a little twinge of hunger during the first week of January. Okay, back to babies.
Once a baby is 4+ months, they can go about every 3 hours (with a little cluster feeding in the AM and PM ) during the day without eating. Putting more time between a baby's feeds allows him or her to get fully hungry, eat a good meal, get fully full. Then wait another 3 hours and repeat.
So, overnight. If your baby is used to eating when just a little hungry during the day, he or she will also expect to eat when just a little hungry overnight. Makes sense, right? Your baby wakes up for whatever reason, feels a little hungry similar to during the day, is used to satisfying that little twinge of hunger, and feels she needs that feeling in order to fall back to sleep. If your baby is used to not eating until fully hungry... NOT starving... just fully hungry... she won't need to eat until fully hungry overnight.
3 - Babies who eat to help fall asleep/soothe will also want this overnight
Some babies who eat frequently during the day do so because it is how they fall asleep or calm down when fussy. Is this your baby? If so, your baby is not the only baby. This is most babies I work with.
If your baby needs to eat to fall asleep during the day or at bedtime, I would expect them to need the same overnight. Same with helping calm down when frustrated. If a baby wakes for whatever reason, wants to fall back to sleep and is frustrated that she can't... and practices calming down when frustrated during the day by nursing... I would expect that she would need to nurse overnight to relax or fall back to sleep as well.
So when she wakes overnight, as all babies do, she can't roll over and fall back to sleep on her own. She doesn't know how without your help.
How to Fix This?
Okay so what do we do about this?
Consistent Feeding Schedule
Once your baby is 4 months, she is ready for a more consistent feeding schedule. 4+ month olds should eat about 6 total times a day, which is about every 3 hours. However, babies often like to cluster feed a bit in the morning and evening.
Here is an example of what that could look like...
Sample Eating Schedule
Wake up – 7AM
Eat – 7AM (milk)
Eat – 9/930AM (milk + solids)
Eat – 12/1230PM (milk + solids)
Eat – 330PM (milk)
Eat – 630PM (milk + solids)
Bedtime – 730PM (milk)
Combine Solid Foods with Milk
If your baby is eating solids, offer solid foods to your regular eating times instead of creating a separate feeding time for solids. For example, if you are giving solids at lunch time, put your kiddo in the high chair to eat at 12PM, offer solids, wipe her down when finished, and move right onto offering milk. If you offer solids, then wait an hour, she might not be all that hungry, will likely just want a bit of milk, and the cycle begins.
I often get asked if it is best to give milk first or solids first? The answer is, it depends. If you have a baby who eats well, is interested in solids, loves her milk, growing fine... it doesn't matter. You can offer milk or solids first. If you have a baby who drinks just enough milk, or your pediatrician is concerned about too little weight gain... .offer milk first. Until 1 year, breastmilk/formula are still the primary source of nutrition and we need to prioritize this. However If you have a baby who isn't all that interested in solids, but drinks milk just fine... offer solids first, so she is most hungry and therefore most likely to be interested in solids when you offer them.
Teach Your Baby to Fall Asleep Without Eating
I realize this is a big ask for some babies. But if your baby needs to fall asleep to eat for naps or bedtime, he or she will certainly need that overnight as well. Teaching some babies to fall asleep without eating can feel impossible, but it is possible. And often, less challenging than you think. Feel confident your baby is eating enough during the day. Set some age/developmentally appropriate boundaries. Stick to your boundaries, And gradually teach your baby to fall asleep with less and less help from you.
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Coach
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Coach for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as founder and coach for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 7), and Veronica (age 5). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.
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