The first rule of night feeds is, there are no rules!
Whether you’re breastfeeding your baby or bottlefeeding, night feeds will be an inevitable part of becoming a parent.
Night feeds are both difficult and beautiful. They leave you feeling physically exhausted, and yet being up in the early hours with your baby can be quite nice. Cuddling up to them in the peace and quiet of the night with nothing to do but stare at their beautiful little face and tiny hands is special.
So the first thing to say when talking about how to survive night feeds is, ultimately you need to do what you want to do.
Many experts will urge you not to interact too much with your baby in the night and to try to settle them back to sleep as soon as possible.
They may warn you that without following the rules you will never sleep again ever.
The truth of the matter is though, your baby changes so very much in the first year that to say something you do right now will have a negative impact in 12 months time is just silly.
I had two very different experiences of night feeds with my babies. My first child slept through from around eight weeks.
She was feeding once a night at around 2am (I never fancied trying the dream feed, though I know it does work for some people).
At the time I was pumping all of her feeds (you can check out my post on exclusive pumping if you want more advice on this). I had to wake up to pump, because if I didn’t it got painful! However I soon realised she was quite happy to snooze through without a feed at this time.
Eventually my boobs adjusted and we all slept through the night. Hooray!
My second baby was feeding throughout the night for the first eight months. She woke up for food roughly three times a night. It was exhausting, but I got through it and she started sleeping through the night at 13 months.
My point is, if you’re worrying that the night feeds will last forever, let me reassure you that will not last forever. All babies sleep through in the end.
So, if you want to co-sleep, do it. If you want to cuddle your baby all night, do it. It’s all down to what you feel physically able to do and what you want to do.
These tips will help give you some ideas for how to make those night feeds a little easier, and how to soothe your baby back to sleep in their own bed (if that’s what you want to do)!
If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments!
1. Keep the lights down low
Your baby is born without any awareness of the difference between day and night.
One of the best ways you can show them the difference is to keep the lights low after 7pm.
During summer you may need to use blackout blinds to keep the room dark in the evening.
Once you get to the late night/early hours of the morning, you can maintain the message that its night time by just using a low night light so you can see what you are doing.
Gro Eggs are brilliant for shedding a very dim light, but I’ve never found them quite bright enough to be able to see the baby properly.
Go for something that allows you to see the baby’s face without being as bright as putting the main light on.
2. Try to avoid changing their nappy
Your baby will hopefully be drowsy during night feeds. Changing their nappy can wake them up and make them think it’s time to play.
Unless your baby’s nappy has leaked or their nappy is really full, avoid changing it if you can.
If you do have to change it, keep the lights off and be as quick as you can.
3. Don’t forget to burp
It’s easy to forget to check for gas when you’re half asleep.
Always remember to burp your baby after every night feed as trapped wind can make it difficult for them to fettle back to sleep.
4. Co-sleep to make it easier
Co-sleeping can be the ideal solution to feeding your baby and getting some sleep at the same time.
You could use a side-sleeper cot that attaches to your bed and means your baby is within arm’s reach at all times for quick access at night.
If you do choose to take your baby into your bed, follow the safe sleep guidelines from organisations such as The Lullaby Trust.
I have a blog post about avoiding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or cot death, with tips for safe co-sleeping.
5. Get some decent entertainment
If you are having to sit up to feed your baby, then have some decent TV downloaded to your phone or iPad that you can watch.
I used to watch mine with headphones so that my baby wasn’t disturbed. I had a case for my iPad that would prop it up so that I could use both hands to support my baby, and the iPad stood up on its own so I could watch.
I think having a baby is the perfect time to sign up to Netflix if you haven’t already!
6. Stay hydrated
Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding, keeping hydrated is really important when you’re sleep deprived.
Always have a bottle or glass of water within reaching distance for yourself so that you can get to it whenever you want. Remember to have a big swig of your drink before going back to sleep.
7. Have a comfortable nursing chair
This is so important if you do end up with a baby who insists on having several night feeds. You need to support your back and be comfortable, because you’ll be tired and probably a bit fed up. Having somewhere nice to sit is important!
Go for something with arm rests and good back support.
I had the IKEA Poang chair for my first child. Then with my second I had a sofa bed in her bedroom, which I found good for the night feeds.
8. Take shortcuts to get bottles ready
If you are bottle feeding, you won’t want to wait for the kettle to boil and then for the water to cool down before you can feed your crying baby. Honestly, waiting 30 minutes is just way too much hassle for you and for them.
You could do several things instead. The Perfect Prep machine has amazing reviews. It produces a bottle at just the right temperature within minutes. You could have it set up in the nursery to make things really easy.
You could also use the ready-made formula bottles, which you simply open and serve to your baby. My babies were fine drinking milk at room temperature, which was great, however if your baby is fussy about having warm milk then you will still have to warm this up a little.
You also can make up bottles this way, which cuts corners without the expense of buying a prep machine. You need to have cooled boiled water in the fridge. This should be measured out so it’s exactly half the liquid you need for a feed.
Then you boil the kettle, measure out half the liquid for the feed from the kettle and pour this onto the formula powder. Give it a swirl, then add the cooled boiled water.
This method means the boiled water still acts to sterilise the powder, however the cooled water, which is already sterilised, brings the temperature down immediately.
9. Enjoy the cuddles
This is a phase that does not last forever.
Enjoy those hours where your baby is snuggling up to you and nodding off in your arms. It’s an exhausting time, but it’s also so special.
10. Don’t plan for early starts in the morning
Make your life easier the day after a long night by not planning anything too early in the morning.
Many baby groups meet at around 10am which isn’t too bad a time for getting up. If you have a difficult drive to reach the baby group however, you may want to avoid anything this early while the night feeds are taking it out of you.
Put yourself first if you’re not getting enough sleep.
I hope you find these tips useful. Remember mama, it won’t last forever!