Please watch my video below to learn about children waking because they’re hungry.
Questions about your child’s sleep? Advice to give other parents? Join the discussion in the ‘Comments’ section below!
To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
If you’d rather read than watch, here’s a transcription of the video…
This week’s question comes from Kathleen. She writes:
“My son is four months old, and the only reason he’s waking in the night is because he’s hungry. I believe that he’s too young for anything but formula, and do not plan to feed him solid food until he’s 12 months old. I don’t think any of your advice will help if he’s actually hungry. What can I do?”
And I completely agree with you Kathleen, and nowhere in any of the information that I have will I suggest that you not feed a hungry baby. But, I want to just give you an example of a day I had in my office, and had three clients on a particular day.
The first one had a four month old and she came in and said “I worry that he’s hungry in the night”, and we discussed that. And the next one had an eight month-old and she said “I worry that he’s hungry in the night”, and we discussed that. And then the next one that I had was an 18-month-old and she said “I worry that she’s hungry in the night”, and these are all babies who basically had a feed-sleep association.
And so, you know, I think as a mother one of the hardest things is to – I think we all have this innate fear that our children are hungry, and it’s a primal instinct to feed our young, and to take care of them, and so I don’t think there is any age that’s very easy to just say to yourself “I know he’s not hungry in the night, and I’m not going to feed him anymore.” And it really tends to not depend on age or weight. It’s just that fear we all have as mothers.
So, you could be very right that he is looking for food. But what I would encourage everyone to do, and the day I had these three clients, they had to ask themselves “How is my baby falling asleep at night?” And in the case of the 18-month-old, she basically used a bottle and she fell asleep with the bottle and then was transferred to the crib. And then she woke up a couple of times in the night, of course, looking for a bottle, and not hunger based.
I mean, I think we can all assume that an 18-month-old does not need to eat in the night any longer. And so, it’s not a hunger based issue, it’s a strategy based issue.
So if she’s convinced herself that she needs the attention of the bottle in order to make her journey in sleep, then of course in the night she’s going to wake up and not really know how to get back to sleep without that same help. So, in went mom with the bottle, and that’s going on once or twice a night.
And so, in the case of your son, if he’s falling asleep completely independently, he doesn’t have a prop, and he’s waking up in the night looking for food, then yes, I think at four months, that’s fair to offer a night feed. If however, he’s using the breast or the bottle as basically his vehicle back into sleep, it could be more of a strategy issue and not necessarily a hunger issue.
And of course, too, in one example, I was sure this – you know if I woke up at midnight, and my husband was there with my very favorite meal, I’d probably get up and eat it, and if I woke up at midnight the next night, and there he was again with my favorite meal, I would eat it. And if I did that for a week or so, I would probably start actually waking up at midnight feeling hunger pains. So we can very easily condition ourselves to, you know, require food, or for our hunger cues to kick in at certain times of the day or the night.
So, you can potentially have a child who just sort of, routinely wakes up at midnight looking for some food or 3:00 in the morning looking for some food. And so when you’ve decided that it’s time to break that or you’ve decided that it’s no longer necessary, it is scary those first couple of nights are going to be – he’s going to be a little bit hungry. You know, if he’s eating then, and he’s not getting anything, so he might be hungry.
But the good news is that this quickly resolves itself, and whatever calories he was relying on in the night, he’ll quickly make up the next day, and those hunger pains won’t be there.
So, you know, that was a loaded question you gave me, and one I agree “yes” might be the answer and maybe “no” is the answer. So, I encourage you to have a look at the things I’ve suggested, and also I appreciate you question and thanks for watching. Sleep well.
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