PART 7-2 OF 7-2 AREAS COMMONLY OVERLOOKED OR NOT STRATEGICALLY PLANNED WHEN SLEEP TRAINING
SLEEP TRAINING MYTH #1: Sleep training means you will have to get rid of all night feedings depriving your child of food.
This is the last part within my blog series, The 7 Areas Commonly Overlooked or Not Strategically Planned When Sleep Training. It also happens to be the beginning of my new series, The 10 Myths of Sleep Training.
In the first part of this mini-series, I touched on some realistic expectations to set when it comes to night feedings. Now it is time to dive into the practical side - what to consider when deciding whether or not to keep them AND how to strategically create and implement a sleep plan that improves your baby's sleep while doing what is best for your child regarding caloric intake.
Throughout the steps provided, I will provide a real life example (RLE).
STEP 1: SPEAK WITH YOUR INFANT’S PEDIATRICIAN
Before making any decisions around keeping or dropping night feedings when sleep training, first thing’s first. Figure out what is best for your infant’s growth and development by speaking with a pediatrician. Call or set an appointment to discuss the number of night feedings you should expect based on your baby’s needs. Generally, it falls somewhere between 0-3 depending on age, weight gain, and daily caloric intake.
STEP 2: EVALUATE YOUR INFANT’S CURRENT NIGHT FEEDINGS
Log your baby’s night feedings for about three to five days. Log the start time of each feeding session with the duration of time if breastfeeding or amount consumed if bottle feeding at the end throughout the day and night. If you are already doing this, great! You are ahead of the game.
Once you have the data collected, analyze it to find which feedings were true night feedings, if any. For lack of a better term, I will be referring to these as "ok-to-feed times" for clarity throughout this post. With this we are fishing for three pieces of information: number of true night feedings, general time for the first feeding of the night, and a typical duration between the beginning of one feeding to the next throughout the day.
When we have this information, it is usually pretty easy to pin point the true feedings from the ones used to sooth back to sleep between sleep cycles.
NOTE: This does not need to be rigid! This is just to give you a general idea for the next step so that when you create and implement your sleep plan in a way that leaves you feeling confident in your decisions at night.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
I will be using the example of Jewels, a seven month old girl who was breastfeeding at night. When we first began back in September 2020, Jewels was sharing a bed with her twin brother, Mom, and Dad. Jewels would wake frequently at night requiring a breastfeeding session to get back to sleep. When mom was asked how frequently Jewels wakes, Mom's reply was, "Too sleep deprived to count."
STEP 3: PICK YOUR FIRST DESIGNATED OK-TO-FEED TIME
Now you are going to look at the first feeding of the night. What is the earliest your infant has been experiencing a true feeding? This is what we will designate as the first “ok-to-feed time." It generally is three hours or more from the last feeding prior to bedtime. You are going to use this time in the next step.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
After logging, we discovered that true feedings for Jewels lasted between ten to twenty minutes and tended to be around midnight and 4:00 AM. How did we know? Mom said she could feel when letdowns occurred; Mom said she could see and hear whether or not Jewels was actually drinking milk; Mom logged the duration of each session.
If Jewels had been bottle feeding, we would have known her true feedings based on whether or not the amount consumed was equivalent to other meals during. Mom or Dad would have also paid attention to whether she was actively drinking the bottle or falling asleep rather quickly upon receiving the bottle without actually drinking milk.
STEP 4: CREATE NIGHT FEEDING GUIDELINES IN YOUR SLEEP PLAN
When you create your sleep plan, you will want to include guidelines for how to handle night feedings. This is a piece of the puzzle that is not often included when sleep training! If you are missing this part, it is very easy to be confused about what to do. Especially when you are woken in the middle of the night when thinking logically isn't always heightened, potentially slowing down or hindering the sleep training process. This forgotten piece is often what leaves families giving up on the process and concluding that sleep training does not work. Don't let that be you!
Now here is where you need to come back to me if you started zoning out! This part is crucial to sleep training success for an infant with night feedings.
Within your sleep plan, you will have decided on your level of involvement. Aka, which sleep training method you would like to use to help your infant master the skill of falling asleep independently. For any waking at night that is PRIOR to the ok-to-feed time, respond to your infant with the sleep training method chosen until they fall asleep. The first time that your infant wakes after the ok-to-feed time, go to them immediately to feed.
If your infant wakes prior to the ok-to-feed time and you have been responding with the sleep training method chosen but your infant doesn't fall back asleep by the ok-to-feed time? Continue responding with the sleep training method chosen until your infant falls back asleep. Then feed immediately at the next waking.
I REPEAT! LET YOUR INFANT FALL BACK ASLEEP AND FEED IMMEDIATELY AT THE NEXT WAKING!
Avoid responding with the sleep training method and then feeding due to the time on the clock. Your infant does not know time! Your infant picks up on patterns. Be consistent with the patterns so that they know what to expect.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
The sleep training method chosen by Jewels' parents was the Sleep Wave, a form of timed checks. If Jewels woke prior to midnight, Mom or Dad would respond with this method. Once Jewels woke at or after midnight for the first time, Mom would go breastfeed right away. After feeding, Mom would lay Jewels down regardless if she was asleep or awake and then respond with the sleep training method chosen if needed.
This is where the duration between feedings comes into play!
Once your infant wakes for the first time to eat at night, use that information to figure out the next ok-to-feed time based on the typical duration between feedings.
Just as with the first feeding, for any waking at night that is PRIOR to the next ok-to-feed time, respond to your infant with the sleep training method chosen until they fall asleep. If your infant wakes prior to the next ok-to-feed time and you have been responding with the sleep training method chosen but your infant doesn't fall back asleep by the ok-to-feed time? Continue responding with the sleep training method chosen until your infant falls back asleep. Then feed immediately at the next waking.
Repeat this part throughout the night with each feeding until a pre-determined time to hold off on feeding until your baby wakes for the day. I generally start with at least an hour if not more from the ok-to-wake time and no later than 5:30AM.
Why do I suggest this? Well, for a couple of reasons!
First, feeding too close to the ok-to-wake time can encourage early risings. Two factors contribute to this. One, sleep drive is low. Two, sleep cycles consist mostly of REM sleep when approaching the wake time. This means your infant is in a state of sleep where it is normal to fall in and out of sleep. With both of these factors, it is easier to be woken up by outside distractions and harder to fall back asleep if disturbed. Hence, feedings too close to the ok-to-wake time can make it more difficult for your little one to sleep to an appropriate time of day throwing off the entire day.
Second, if you feed too close to you baby's wake time, your infant will not be hungry upon awakening. This first feeding of the day allows the rest of the day's feedings and naps to fall into place. With it being too early, your infant has a higher potential of experiencing hunger during a nap time and sleepiness during a feeding. If you have read my blog post Why Won't Baby Sleep, then you understand this could be an issue for your infant's sleep!
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
From logging, we knew Jewels' general wake time was around 6:30AM when we first started sleep training. We designated her ok-to-wake time as 6:30AM with waking her by 7:00AM if still asleep. Hence, we decided that any waking past 5AM would be treated with the sleep training method chosen while waiting until she was up for the day to have another feeding.
WRAPPING UP WITH THE REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
After four nights of sleep training, Jewels was only waking once to feed on most nights. By night six, Mom concluded that she no longer needed the midnight feeding but would probably need the one feeding happening between 3:00AM and 4:00AM for a bit longer. In Mom's words:
"I'm happy with how they're doing. This has been such a game changer, and I can see it is only going to get easier...Seriously thank you. We could not have done this without you. It's been such a came changer. I'm more rested and less stressed, it's so great."
So you see? The idea that you can't sleep train your infant if they have night feedings simply is not true. Sure, someone might choose not to sleep train while their baby has night feedings. But if you want to feel like yourself again while helping that baby of yours achieve quality sleep? It is absolutely possible while still feeding your baby.
Looking for support? I've got you covered. To learn how, download my e-book What Does Working With a Child Sleep Consultant Entail? by clicking here.