Thinking your baby is hungry in the night?
We are all willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that our babies are properly nourished, but as anyone who’s been through this glorious journey of motherhood will tell you, kids are shrewd. They’re unimaginably clever. They will find ways to get what they want and they will repeat them relentlessly.
It’s not their fault, obviously. They’re just working off instinct. They know what they like, and at a young age, they like Mum.
Given the fact that they really only have one method of communicating, if Mum’s not around and they don’t think that’s cool, they fire up the lungs and they cry.
However, obviously they don’t only cry because they want Mum. Mostly, they cry because they’re uncomfortable; because they’ve got a dirty nappy; they’re too hot or too cold; or because they’re hungry.
So when they wake up in the middle of the night and they start crying, it’s tough to determine whether baby is hungry or because of another reason.
I’m not trying to tell you that you shouldn’t respond to your baby’s crying. You know your baby better than anyone. I imagine you can tell when something needs to be addressed based on the decibel level, intensity, pitch, and duration.
Having said that, if your baby is waking up seven or eight times a night and insisting that you come in and rock her back to sleep, that can have a serious impact on everybody’s sleep, including hers.
A lot of babies develop a dependency on nursing, rocking, sucking, and so on, in order to get to sleep. It’s not something they can overcome in 15 or 20 minutes. Solving that issue takes some real work and a firm commitment from you.
Here are a few things to consider when you’re trying to determine this oh-so-prevalent parental riddle, is my baby waking due to hunger?
IS BABY UNDER SIX MONTHS OLD?
Up until about the six month mark, babies typically need at least one night time feed. Their tummies are small, they usually haven’t started solid food yet, and formula and breast milk digest fairly quickly. There’s a good chance they’re going to get a case of the munchies during the night.
This isn’t the case for all babies of course. Some infants sleep through the night without a feed from a very early age, and then pig out during the day. However, generally speaking, you can expect to be summoned for a night time feed up until baby hits about six months.
IS BABY EATING ENOUGH DURING THE DAY?
Once a baby is capable of sleeping through the night without a feed, you need to make sure they’re getting the calories they need during their daytime hours. The best way I’ve found to make this switch (so for the few days surrounding the disappearance of the night feed) is to throw in an extra feed during the day, or by adding some extra mls to each bottle throughout the day.
The good news here is that baby’s body will typically adjust over a night or two. Bub will start taking in those additional calories during the daytime once she is no longer getting them at night.
Just a quick but SUPER IMPORTANT reminder… Night time sleep is awesome but calories are essential. If your little one is underweight or not growing as fast as they should be, it might not be a good time to stop night feedings. Chat with your Doctor or Pediatrician before you make any changes.
IS BABY FALLING ASLEEP QUICKLY WHEN YOU FEED THEM?
I’m sure you know this scenario: Baby starts crying 45 minutes after you put her down. You go in and offer a feed because your left wondering if baby is hungry, which she eagerly accepts. She takes a few chugs, then promptly passes out.
If this is happening frequently, it’s a good sign that your little one’s feeding for comfort instead of hunger.
Babies who are genuinely hungry will usually eat until they’re full. Babies who are feeding for comfort tend to drift off pretty quickly once they’ve gotten what they’re looking for.
DOES BABY SLEEP FOR A GOOD STRETCH AFTER FEEDING?
If a baby takes a full feed at night, she should be able to sleep for around 3+ hours afterwards. An average sleep cycle for babies around the 6 months + mark, is somewhere in the 45minute – 1 hour range. When a waking occurs around 45 minutes after a feed, it’s likely that baby is dependent on the sucking and soothing actions of your feeding routine to get to sleep.
WILL THEY GO BACK TO SLEEP WITHOUT A FEED?
Falling asleep while you’re hungry is tough, regardless of your age. Our brains recognise hunger as a priority and will stay alert until the need is met. Or until we are exhausted enough that the need to sleep overrides the need to eat.
If a baby is hungry, they won’t go back to sleep very easily until they’ve been fed. If they nod off after five or ten minutes of crying, that’s a pretty reliable sign that they were just looking for some help getting back to sleep and not actually in need of a feed. So you can wipe the thought that perhaps your baby is hungry, out of your mind.
DOES BABY FALL ASLEEP INDEPENDENTLY?
Here lies the linchpin. The cornerstone of the whole equation. This right here..
Can your baby fall asleep on their own?
If you can put your baby down in her cot while she’s still awake, leave the room, and have baby fall asleep without any help from you, or a dummy, or any other kind of outside assistance, then those night time cries are far more likely to mean that she genuinely needs something, such as a feed.
Determining whether your baby is hungry at night is obviously a complicated situation. Calories are vital but so is sleep.
We can end up paralysed trying to balance the importance of the two.
This tightrope is immeasurably easier to walk once you’ve taught your baby the skills they need to fall asleep on their own.
Once the habit of feeding to sleep is broken, you can feel much more confident that wakings in the night are not hunger related.