Feeding babies at night is OK, regardless of what doctors might say!

Someone recently asked about the nighttime breastfeeding needs of their 8-month old... their doctor let them know that at 8 months, feeding at night isn't needed and not nutritious. Even though we know better, this messaging is still coming from medical professionals.. I'd be very curious to know where that info came from; certainly not med school. Most likely, collected opinions and values over decades of their own parenting and influences. 

Anyhow, thought I'd share my response:

"This is a tough question, that I answer in a 3 hour class! ... sleep is the infamous, the interrupted, the missing. At 8 months I'd expect most babies to be eating somewhere around 1-4 times between bedtime and waking, and for some it's much more... but typically they wake and eat and go right back to sleep. I wouldn't expect them to have night wakings that keep them up for hours, every night... maybe some nights! Just up, eat, and then back to sleep.

I believe this is why many families move to bedsharing around this age. If you don't have to wake up to feed, many don't feel so tired by the morning!

As long as you would like your milk supply to maintain and be enough for her, feed on demand. Once you begin to decide for her, when she should eat, you are intentionally removing demand. And in a supply and demand system, that means you are also intentionally reducing milk supply. Just be aware of that. So maybe some 8 months old will survive without feeding overnight, or no longer need to, but others may not do as well and do need to. Your baby is the ONLY one that knows.

Your milk is nutrition. It's stress reduction. It's her way to learn self-regulation; the pinnacle self soothing so many books talk about is a learned response that through parenting to sleep, babies learn over time. By around the 2nd year of life, when the prefrontal cortex is developing, true "self-soothing" or regulation can begin occur. Until around the second or third year of life, babies always need outside support to reduce stress/distress. Then from 2-8 years they learn to do it better on their own.

Basic line? Your baby is normal, needs the milk she asks for for many reasons, and outdated behaviouralist approaches to night time parenting are no longer the message we want professionals to be giving.

Sick kids infant mental health promotion team does good work in this area, as do many developmental psychologists. All of them will suggest that nursing at night is the human norm for many years, and that the secure attachments your responsive parenting creates with your child are worth it. If YOU need more sleep, there are so many ways to manage this without having to change your infants biological norms.


Ashley Pickett