By the time your baby is six months old, she can go until morning without food, but she may well settle into a pattern of waking for a feed. If you want to wean her off these night-time feeds, start by reducing the feeds gradually, then stop the feeds but go into her and offer reassurance for as long as she cries.
- At her bedtime feed, try not to let your baby fall asleep with breast or bottle in her mouth, she needs to learn to fall asleep on her own, not rely on sucking to relax her. As soon as her eyelids droop, take her off the nipple or teat. Tuck her up in her cot.
- For a few nights, give her a feed when she wakes, but reduce the amount. Put her back in her cot, asleep or not, kiss her and leave.
- If you are breastfeeding, your partner will have to take over at this point as your baby will smell your milk and want to carry on feeding. If she continues to cry, wait five minutes, then pop back in to give her a pat and rub her back to reassure her. Then go back to bed, even if she’s still crying.
- Continue to pop back every five minutes. Only pick her up if she is beside herself with crying, when her sobs subside put her back in her cot and leave her for a few minutes more. You may have a couple of hours of this but persevere.
- For the next few nights, stop offering the feed, instead adopt the tactics for nights waking for as long as it takes to teach your baby to sleep through the night.
The tactics below provide a way of reassuring your older baby when she wakes in the night that all is well and you have not abandoned her while conveying the message that she is only going to get the minimum of attention from you during these hours. If she is not sleeping through within a week, ask your health visitor’s advice.
- If your baby whimpers in the night, wait a few minutes to see if she goes back to sleep again.
- If she cries properly, go in to check nothing is wrong. If not soothe her and calm her down, rubbing her back may be enough, but you may need to pick her up and cuddle her. When the crying has subsided into sniffles, put her back into her cot, tuck her up so she is snug and warm, and kiss her good night. Then go back to bed yourself.
- If the crying continues, or increases in intensity again, call out to her reassuringly from your own bed but wait five minutes before going in to settle her down again.
- When you do go back, just reassure her by patting and rubbing her back, don’t get her up unless she’s really beside herself, then tuck her up and leave her.
- Continue going back in this way at five-minute intervals for as long as it takes her to fall back to sleep. After half an hour increases the intervals between visits to ten minutes, but never leave her crying for more than 1.5. A week of gentle firmness on your part should be enough to establish a more sociable sleeping pattern.
From the age of about nine months, establish a method of handling bedtime, then stick to it. If your baby gets into a pattern of not settling when you put her to bed, a week of resolutely following the tactics below should break it. She will soon get the message that you will always come to her if she cries, but you won’t get her up again.
- Keep to a bedtime routine, making it fun for your baby but relaxing and loving as well. If she cries when you leave her after tucking her up you leave her after tucking her up for the night, go back and give her a reassuring kiss, but don’t pick her up, and don’t stay more than a moment or two.
- If she cries again, call out to her reassuringly, but wait five minutes before going in again.
- When you do go in, check that there’s nothing wrong, such as a wet nappy or something chafing. If not, pat her back to soothe her, kiss her goodnight again and tuck her up. Be cheerful but firm, and then go. Don’t hesitate your baby’s will is stronger than yours at this point, and you will be easily persuaded to stay.
- If she goes on crying, continue popping in for a brief look at five-minute intervals. After half an hour of that, start to increase the intervals between visits, but never leave your baby crying for longer than a quarter of an hour.
- Eventually, she will realize that the brief reward of you popping in at intervals isn’t worth all the effort that she’s putting in, and will drop off to sleep.