It goes without saying that when you have a baby, you’re going to be up in the night – likely several times a night – feeding them. But how do you know a baby is waking out of hunger? We all know someone with the ‘miracle baby’ who slept 6-8 hours a night from the moment they came home from the hospital. These stories often leave you wondering whether your baby is really waking from hunger.

Most babies will need to eat during the night until they are 15lbs and/or over 6 months. I have worked with many babies who drop feeds before 6 months, and some who need to feed in the night a little past the 6 month mark. So how do you know? Here are a few things you can watch for

1. Is baby under six months?

Until the six-month mark, babies typically need at least one nighttime feed. Their tummies are small and formula and breast milk digest quickly. Some infants sleep through the night without a feed from an early age and then pig out during the day. But generally speaking, you can expect a nighttime feed until six months.

2. Is baby eating enough during the day?

You want to encourage your baby to get their feeds during the day. So offering feeds every 3-4 hours is a great way to help. You also want to offer feeds upon waking instead of feeding to sleep. This will help ensure baby is having a nice full feed. This applies to naps and bedtime.

3. Is baby falling asleep quickly when fed?

If baby starts crying and demanding a feed 45 minutes after you put them down during the night, and then eats less than an ounce or only nurses a few minutes and promptly passes out, it’s a sign that baby’s feeding for comfort. Babies who are hungry usually eat until they’re full, whereas those feeding for comfort drift off once they’ve gotten what they want.

4. Does baby sleep for a good stretch after feeding?

If baby does take a full feed at night, they should be able to sleep for three to four hours. An average sleep cycle for babies around the six-month mark is close to an hour. If they wake up that soon after they eat, they’re likely dependent on sucking and soothing to get to sleep.

5. Will they go back to sleep without a feed?

Falling asleep while hungry is tough, regardless of age. If baby really is hungry, they usually won’t go to sleep easily until they’ve been fed. If they nod off after a few minutes of crying, that’s a reliable sign that they were looking for some help getting to sleep and not actually hungry.

6. Does baby fall asleep independently?

If you can put your baby down in their crib while they’re still awake, leave the room, and have baby fall asleep without any help or assistance, then those nighttime cries are more likely to mean that baby really is hungry.

Determining whether your baby’s hungry at night is a complicated situation. Once you’ve taught your baby the skills they need to fall asleep on their own and break the habit of feeding to sleep, things become much easier and more clear. 

If you’re looking for some help teaching your baby those essential sleep skills, I’ve got you covered.

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