Hungry at night

Question: Our 10-month old still does not sleep through the night. He goes down for bed at around 8:30 pm and wake up starving at 1 am. He will drink the entire 6 oz bottle in about 5-10 minutes. How can we coax him to sleep throught the night? Nicole

Answer: Your goal is to try to change your current nighttime routine so your son gets out of the habit of calling for you in the middle-of-the-night. One “trick” is to wake up your son for a feeding before you go to sleep (that is, if you stay up to 11:00 or 11:30). That way you can be assured that he can wait till morning for the next feeding. Check with your pediatrician about the amount your son is eating. Many pediatricians agree that middle-of-the-night feedings are more of a habit than a necessity of hunger.

Middle-of-the-night waking is the #1 parenting dilemma for this stage of development, roughly for babies 9 to 12 months old (and longer depending on the parent’s response). Babies, at this age, awaken more often because of enormous cognitive growth (and, of course, teething). Frequently, once-a-night disturbances escalate to every few hours at this age. Ferber’s book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems gives an excellent explanation of middle-of-the-night wakings based on REM sleep cycles. At this age, babies are setting habits based on repeated experiences. For example, if over the last month I wake up for a 1:00am bottle, my brain and my body are now expecting a 1:00am bottle. The good news is your son is also making all kinds of daytime “connections” and building a mental picture of his world. The bad news is these new skills change his nighttime experience as well.

You can also try watering down the formula in the bottle. Instead of 6 ounces of formula, give your son a bottle with 5 ounces of formula and 1 ounce of water. Each night add an ounce to the amount of water and an ounce less to the amount of formula. On the sixth night, you’ll be giving him a bottle of water. If all goes as planned (remember, the babies don’t always read the parenting books!), your son won’t think it’s worth it to get up for a bottle of water. Think of this adult analogy: It only takes a few days to program myself to “want” chocolate chip cookies and milk every night at 10:00. But if I then substitute carrots and celery for my bedtime snack, I quickly forget that I was “hungry” at all.

Finally, a baby’s temperament may be the difference between a baby who readily accepts changes in his nighttime routine and a baby who intensely protests the changes. You know your baby best. Prepare yourself before beginning any changes in the nighttime routine. Will you be starting something that may disrupt your sleep for a few weeks as your son “learns” the new routine? If so, start at a realistic time for you (possibly a Friday night or a less stressful work week). Take time to resolve your questions and uncertainties. Nighttime changes work best when you are clear about what you want to do and you are confidant about your plan. Take a deep breathe – there is daylight at end of the tunnel!

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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