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Natural Birth & Parenting Natural Birth & Parenting

Do Older Babies Need Night Feedings?

Posted by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 11:00 AM
  • 38 Replies
1 mom liked this

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Has somebody told you that your baby doesn’t need to breastfeed at night past a certain age?  This age often varies by advisor. However, science tells us that in many cases, this simply isn’t true.

Why? Babies and mothers are different and these differences affect baby’s need for night feedings. Some babies really do need to breastfeed at night, at six months, eight months, and beyond.  This is in part because if their mother has a small “breast storage capacity” and tries to sleep train her baby, her milk production will slow, along with her baby’s growth. To find out what this means and if this applies to you, you need to know the basics of how milk production works.

Degree of Breast Fullness

Two basic dynamics are major influencers of milk production. The first, “degree of breast fullness,” refers to a simple concept: Drained breasts make milk faster and full breasts make milk slower. Whenever your breasts contain enough milk to feel full, your milk production slows.1 The fuller your breasts become, the stronger the signal your body receives to slow milk production.

Breast Storage Capacity

This second basic dynamic refers to a physical characteristic known as breast storage capacity, which varies among mothers.2 This physical difference explains why feeding patterns can vary so much among mothers and why one breastfed baby does not need to breastfeed at night while another one does.

Breast storage capacity is the amount of milk your breasts contain in your milk-making glands at their fullest point of the day. Storage capacity is not related to breast size, which varies mainly by how much fatty tissue is in your breasts. In other words, smaller-breasted mothers can have a large storage capacity and larger-breasted mothers can have a small capacity.

Both large-capacity and small-capacity mothers produce plenty of milk for their babies. But their babies feed differently to get the daily volume of milk they need.3 After baby’s first month, a mother with a large storage capacity may notice that her baby:

  • Is satisfied with one breast at most or all feedings.
  • Is finished breastfeeding much sooner than other babies (sometimes just five minutes).
  • Gains weight well on fewer feedings per day than the average eight or so.
  • Sleeps for longer-than-average stretches at night.

If this describes your breastfeeding experience, your baby may already be sleeping for longer stretches at night than other babies you know. But if after the first month of life your baby often takes both breasts at feedings, feeds on average longer than about 15 to 20 minutes total, typically takes eight or more feedings per day, and wakes at least twice a night to breastfeed, your breast storage capacity is likely to be small or average. 

Again, what’s important to a baby’s healthy growth is not how much milk he receives at each feeding, but rather how much milk he consumes in a 24-hour day. Breastfed babies of both large- and small-capacity mothers receive plenty of milk, but their breastfeeding patterns will necessarily differ to gain weight and thrive.4 For example, a baby whose mother’s breasts hold six ounces or more (180 mL) may grow well with as few as five feedings per day.  But to get this same 30 ounces (900 mL) of milk, if a mother’s breasts hold only three ounces (90 mL), a baby with a small-capacity mother will need to feed ten times each day.  (This may not apply in the same way to a mother who’s pumping.)

How These Dynamics Affect Night Feedings

How does this apply to night feedings? A mother with a large storage capacity has the room in her milk-making glands to comfortably store more milk at night before it exerts the amount of internal pressure needed to slow her milk production. On the other hand, if the baby of the small-capacity mother sleeps for too long at night, her breasts become so full that her milk production slows.

In other words, if you are a mother with an average or small breast storage capacity, night feedings may need to continue for many months in order for your milk production to stay stable and for your baby to thrive. Also, because your baby has access to less milk at each feeding, night feedings may be crucial for him to get enough milk overall. Again, what’s important is not how much milk a baby receives at each individual feeding, but how much milk he consumes in a 24-hour day. If a mother with a small storage capacity uses sleep training strategies to force her baby to go for longer stretches between feedings, this may slow her milk production and compromise her baby’s weight gain.

Each mother-baby pair is unique. Babies will outgrow the need for night nursings at different ages, so a simple rule of thumb doesn’t consider either the emotional needs of the baby or his physical need for milk.

References

1Daly, S. E., Kent, J. C., Owens, R. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (1996). Frequency and degree of milk removal and the short-term control of human milk synthesisExperimental Physiology, 81(5), 861-875.

2Cregan, M. D., & Hartmann, P. E. (1999). Computerized breast measurement from conception to weaning: clinical implicationsJ Hum Lact, 15(2), 89-96.

3Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the dayPediatrics, 117(3), e387-395.

4Kent, J. C. (2007). How breastfeeding worksJournal of Midwifery & Women's Health, 52(6), 564-570.

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by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 11:00 AM
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Replies (1-10):
tabi_cat1023
by Group Mod - Tabitha on Jan. 31, 2013 at 11:16 AM
1 mom liked this

Good article, thanks

melindabelcher
by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 3:57 PM
1 mom liked this

Thanks for sharing.

I hate the "shes to old to be waking at night" "you need to stop feeding her and make her sleep" lines

I will continue to nurse her at night until well after 1 and hopefully until she decides she no longer needs it

Amberleigh81
by Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 3:59 PM
Cool!
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themissheather
by Heather on Jan. 31, 2013 at 5:36 PM
3 moms liked this
This is really interested. Thank you. My LO wakes at night because she's hungry, so I feed her. I don't listen to "experts."
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Sarah725
by Group Mod - Sarah on Jan. 31, 2013 at 5:52 PM

 When baby wants milk I give milk...

catholicmamamia
by on Feb. 1, 2013 at 12:45 AM

Thanks for sharing! 


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EthansMomma2010
by on Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:12 AM
2 moms liked this

 gonna be the odd one out and say that as long as your baby doesn't have issues eating solid foods, there really shouldn't be a need for night feedings past about age 1.

pinkiebabii
by Bronze Member on Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:17 AM
I agree but I don't think you should stop night nursing after one, even if it's mostly for comfort.

Quoting EthansMomma2010:

 gonna be the odd one out and say that as long as your baby doesn't have issues eating solid foods, there really shouldn't be a need for night feedings past about age 1.

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littlelambe2
by on Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:41 AM
1 mom liked this

Not picking a fight, here, bear with me! Lol. I think nursing patterns (length between feedings) have a lot to do with baby's stomach capacity as well as metabolism. I have oversupply and had to block feed switching every 4 hrs to get it under control with my first. Based on this article, baby should have slept nice long stretches and nursed less. Wasn't the case with us. In fact, even after she weaned at 23 months, I was having to feed her a complete meal in the middle of the night. Even now, at 2.5, she needs to eat in the middle of the night very once in a while. She's a small girl, eats quite a bit, but must burn through the food faster. Just saying that some kids do still NEED to eat in the middle of the night. Be it nursing or solids. But I'm sure I've got an odd kid! Lol


Quoting EthansMomma2010:

 gonna be the odd one out and say that as long as your baby doesn't have issues eating solid foods, there really shouldn't be a need for night feedings past about age 1.



ethel37
by Member on Feb. 1, 2013 at 7:42 AM
1 mom liked this
I knew nothing about nursing until we had to take a breastfeeding class at the midwife center I went to (dads had to go to). They taught feeding on demand, so that's what I've always done...it just made sense to me. Babies only cry for a couple reasons and being hungry or just needing cuddle time with mommy is one of them. I produced so much milk that not only did I feed him all the time, but I had to pump several times a day, too, but that made it easier for night feedings. My husband was the one to get up at night when baby was small. My baby is now 2 years old and he always wakes up once, gets out of his bed and comes in with us, nurses, then goes back to sleep with us the rest of the night. Some nights, he nurses a lot. I don't think it matters on the age, if they're hungry or need comfort for some reason, night feedings are fine.
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