Until WHEN will I have to feed my baby at night?
Every time I hear this question, I know that what they're really trying to ask is: "When can I start the sleep training?"
Everyone assumes that the reason why the baby is not sleeping through the night, is because you're feeding him. And this may take your sleep away or not, but there's a lot of confusion around the subject.
Now, these lines' intention is not to talk about sleep training, neither when your baby will sleep through the night. It is not that I don't appreciate sleep; we all do. Still, I truly believe that a baby who's breastfed on demand and parents follow his hunger cues consistently, without interfering with them, will naturally sleep when he needs to.
Then, why night feedings are important?
It depends on the age of the baby and his health condition. A newborn simply can't sleep through the night because he needs to eat frequently to meet his caloric needs. Babies are born with tiny stomachs that fill up and empty quickly, and they grow exponentially the first 3-4 months of life.
As their stomachs grow, babies can retain more food at a time, which is when they become more efficient at the breast and stretch those feedings.
On the other hand, feeding your baby at night seems beneficial to build your milk supply, especially during the first weeks. At night, your prolactin levels are higher than the rest of the day. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for producing milk. That's the reason why you make more milk at night, and you wake up with that feeling of breast fullness.
Your brain sends a signal to the pituitary gland to produce prolactin, based on the suction signals coming from the breast's nerves. In other words, if your breasts are not stimulated by suction, milk production stops.
It is common to see among families in an attempt to stretch the sleep periods at night, to limit the feedings, and look for other ways to comfort the baby. However, that practice is not beneficial for milk production. That also coincides with a drop in the milk supply and affects the baby's growth rate in many cases.
Only your baby can tell you when he/she is ready to drop the night feedings. That doesn't mean you can't start encouraging other comfort techniques or self-soothing habits. Routines make a tremendous difference when teaching healthy sleeping habits. A certified sleeping coach can guide you on this matter and even accompany you in the process.
Remember to ask your pediatrician about his opinion on your baby's calorie requirements, according to his age and specific needs. That will give you confidence and peace of mind to make the right decision.