As new parents, I think we all spend a lot of time worrying if we're getting it all "right." Entering the most difficult and important journey of our lives with basically zero training can be scary. But there really isn't one way to do things when it comes to parenting. That's why guidelines can be so helpful when it comes to making decisions for your new baby. Having an outline that offers best practices and recommendations, with enough wiggle room for you to do what's best for your baby ensures she will have everything she needs to thrive. Today, we're giving you a thorough guideline on a normal nighttime feeding schedule for your baby. Because we could all use a starting point even if mom really does know best!
When determining a feeding schedule that works best for your baby, the main consideration will be their age. Babies grow very quickly, and their feeding schedules can look very different from one month to the next.
As you're using this to plan your baby's nighttime feeding, remember that your baby is a unique individual who won't necessarily follow this outline exactly. That's totally OK!
Normal Nighttime Feeding Schedule by Age
For the purpose of this outline, understand that we refer to your baby's "nighttime" as a 12-hour period, such as 7 pm - 7 am. Additionally, you'll see that breastfed babies will need to eat more frequently than formula-fed babies as a general rule. That's because breastmilk is digested more quickly than formula.
0 - 2 Months
"Schedule" isn't really a word that is conducive to your baby at this age. Still early on in what's often referred to as the fourth trimester (read our article to find out what that's all about), your baby's digestive system is still very immature. Their tummy is also still very tiny! Therefore, trying to implement any sort of schedule with your newborn is only going to cause a lot of anxiety for both you and your baby.
Instead of implementing a schedule with your baby at this age, you really want to tune into their needs. Feeding on demand, swaddling your baby to replicate a womb-like environment, and keeping your baby close to you are the best ways for your baby and you to sleep as much possible to get through those frequent night feedings.
Though a schedule isn't a good idea at this age, you do want to aim for full feedings so your baby can stretch longer between feeds. Also keeping your baby consistently feeding every 3 hours by day (without ever napping more than 2 hours) will help them sleep longer stretches at night.
Here's how often you can expect your baby to eat at night during the 0 - 2 month age timeframe:
- Breastfed Babies - 3 to 5 feedings per night.
- Formula-fed Babies - 2 to 4 feedings per night.
Unless you've gotten approval from your doctor, it's best not to let your baby ever go longer than 3-4 hours between feedings at this age in order to stimulate proper growth.
3 - 4 Months
By this age, your baby can start sleeping a bit longer. As long as your baby is growing well, your doctor will probably tell you that you don't have to wake your baby every 3-4 hours to feed anymore. But that doesn't mean that they won't still wake up during the night to feed. A priority during these months is getting your baby into a good nighttime routine so that they learn to fall asleep on their own as well as fall back to sleep quickly after a night feeding.
Things like dimming the lights, using a white noise machine, or using a weighted sleep sack for your baby (like this one from Dreamland Baby), are all ways to help your baby get to sleep more quickly on their own.
At this age, feeding your baby a few times per night is still very normal (no matter what your friends try to tell you). In fact, we recently wrote about the top 5 reasons babies won't sleep and the number one reason is hunger. If your baby is crying at night, they most likely need to eat.
Here's how often you can expect your baby to eat at night during the 3 - 4 month age timeframe:
- Breastfed Babies - 3 to 4 feedings per night
- Formula-fed Babies - 2 to 3 feedings per night
Some babies are capable of sleeping in close to "through the night" stretches of 7-8 hours at this age. But it's not the norm. And even if they are, the 4-month sleep regression will also kick in at some point. Even a baby who had been sleeping very well might start to wake more. If you need to feed more through this transition, don't worry too much, but it's a good time to focus on helping your baby to keep working on going back to sleep independently.
Pro Tip: This is a great time to implement the dream feed so that YOU can sleep a longer stretch. Read all about how to implement it here.
5 - 6 Months
That 4-month sleep regression can really do a number on parents. You'll think you're on your way to sleep when suddenly you feel like you're right back where you started. Luckily, it doesn't last!
By 5- 6 months, most parents are starting to see their babies sleep in longer stretches at night on a consistent basis.
This is also the age at which most doctors, including the AAP, recommend you begin feeding your baby solid food. However, most babies take in very little solid food in the beginning, so it doesn't really change how much breastmilk or formula your baby takes in. Breastmilk or formula will continue to be your baby's primary source of nutrition until their first birthday. And it's a myth that more solid food will help your baby sleep longer at night.
What IS happening is that your baby is growing. So is their tummy. They can take in a lot more milk at one feeding, which means everyone is able to get a lot more sleep at night.
Here's how often you can expect your baby to eat at night during the 5 - 6 month age timeframe:
- Breastfed Babies - 1 - 3 feedings per night
- Formula-fed Babies - 1 - 2 feedings per night
In order to have similar results to this, be sure to continue a 3-4 hour feeding schedule during the day for your little one. This will ensure they have full tummies when they head off to dreamland.
7 - 9 Months
These are the first months where more babies start to sleep through the night then don't. Hooray!!
If you've set your baby up for success with a solid nightly routine as well as worked hard to teach them to self-soothe to put themselves back to sleep on their own, it's very likely he will no longer wake in the middle of the night to eat.
Here's how often you can expect your baby to eat at night during the 7 - 9 month age timeframe:
- Breastfed Babies - 0 to 3 feedings per night
- Formula-fed Babies - 0 to 1 feeding per night
There will be some babies who still need an extra feeding at this age, especially toward the younger end. Don't be discouraged if your baby is still waking to eat a minimal amount during the night. However, it is recommended that you do attempt night weaning as they near their 9-month birthday if you feel your baby is ready to sleep through the night. You'll be so well-rested when they do you won't even know what to do with yourself!
10 - 12 Months
By the 10 - 12 month age timeframe, the majority of babies are capable of sleeping through the night. And not just the 8-hour stretch you so longed for those first few months. Older infants are now capable of sleeping 10 - 12 hours straight. And when they do, you will feel like the fog has finally lifted. By the end of that first year, most parents are rejoicing in the fact that their little ones are finally sleeping through the night.
Here's how often you can expect your baby to eat at night during the 10 - 12 month age timeframe:
- Breastfed Babies - 0 to 2 feedings per night
- Formula-fed Babies - 0 to 1 feeding per night
Nutrition-wise, most babies no longer need to wake up to eat in the middle of the night at this age. This is especially true for formula-fed babies. However, if you haven't established good routines with your baby, they may still wake up. If this is still happening, it's time to really focus on cutting out the nighttime feedings. More likely than not, your baby is not waking out of hunger.
The first year of your baby's life will be both one of the best as well as one of the most exhausting of your life. We know how hard parents work to help their babies thrive and be happy. When your baby isn't sleeping, it can put stress on everyone in the family. But you can see from this nighttime feeding schedule guideline that a baby waking up to eat is the norm, whereas young babies who sleep through the night is more of an exception. Often having unrealistic expectations makes the process that much harder.
If your baby is still waking to eat, just relax and know you're giving them exactly what they need. Like anything, it won't last forever.