Why Does My Baby Eat More At Night? Should I Worry About Nighttime Feeding?

It’s around nine in the evening, and your newborn seems to be hungrier and fussier than earlier in the morning. He breastfeeds longer than usual before settling down to sleep. Occasionally, he wakes up at two in the morning to latch and another at five. You wonder: was he not getting enough milk during the day? Should you adjust feeding and give more in the morning? Are you worried that you need to change your baby’s feeding habits?

Newborns are most comfortable feeding at their own pace. This is known as “cue feeding.” There are no rigid feeding schedules for them, nor do they strictly take a certain amount of milk per day. Increased feeding at night is a common concern among parents, but this does not always mean that their milk intake is inadequate. It may mean your baby 1) hasn’t adjusted to our regular sleeping cycle, 2) feeds more in response to nighttime fussiness, or 3) is trying to make up for inefficient feeds in the morning. If you notice that he or she drinks more milk at around bedtime, then sleeps well throughout the night, your baby might be exhibiting cluster feeding instead, which shows a gradual transition to normal sleeping cycles.

More feeds at night can be a good thing

Cue feeding

Cue feeding is usually seen in newborns. On average, they take 2-4 hours of sleep between feedings, with each session lasting between 20-40 minutes. This may even last up to an hour in some children.

In the first few days of life, newborns would usually feed between 6-8 times a day, increasing up to 12 times a day. This means that at night, mothers will most likely be woken up by their babies to feed, as they do not instinctively recognize bedtime and when they should have prolonged sleep.

As the weeks pass, your baby should slowly adjust to regular feeding habits. Research shows that between 6-8 weeks or during the infancy stage, babies gradually decrease night feeding and concentrate their period of sleep at night. By 4-6 months, they are ready for a regular sleeping schedule.

Cluster feeding

Some babies simply choose to feed more at night but can sleep for longer periods – this is called “cluster feeding” and is a great way newborns adjust to nighttime. Another term parents use is “grazing.”

Your baby may choose to feed at shorter intervals, or even irregularly, to get more milk and sleep fully fed. Babies choose to do cluster feeding at night, mostly before bedtime. This may be a sign that your child is slowly developing his or her circadian rhythm, realizing when it is the right time to sleep.

To compensate for the extended duration of sleep and the number of feedings he or she will miss by not waking up, your little one may opt to “top up” by either increasing the amount of milk taken in or by feeding much more frequently.

But why do newborns sometimes change track and suddenly feed more at night? Let’s take a look at other possible reasons why.

Observe and watch out for these possibilities

Nighttime fussiness

Nighttime fussiness

Sometimes, newborns can become fussy at any time of the day, whether fed or hungry, whether they just woke up or are about to nap. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, this usually starts at 4-6 weeks of age. Perhaps your baby was bloated from the last few feedings and could not spontaneously pass gas. Soiled diapers could also trigger fussiness. Overstimulating your baby with too much lights and sounds can also frustrate them.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that infants have different breastfeeding styles. The “excited ineffective” style describes an eager infant that becomes easily frustrated when he or she does not immediately taste milk.

This could be the cause of fussiness of a newborn, which could further mean less milk taken in for the day. Similarly, the “rester” style could lead to longer breastfeeding sessions and definitely reduce milk per feed. Babies may attempt to adjust by drinking more milk at night when the surroundings are quieter, and there are fewer activities for the baby to be distracted from feeding.

Infant breastfeeding styles
Image from Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians, 2nd Edition (2014). American Academy of Pediatrics and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Troubleshooting nighttime fussiness

Newborns will usually continue with cue feeding and irregular sleeping intervals. As they turn 3-4 months old, you can slowly change their feeding habits. Most babies respond well to these tactics, but it is always best to speak with your pediatrician to ensure that your baby is taking in enough nutrients per day.

Some mothers who are confident or still willing to breastfeed throughout the night may continue to do so; babies will eventually adapt to our regular sleeping cycles, but at their own pace.

Feeding schedule

One option to remove night feeds is to change the schedule of feedings. First, observe and list down the hours at night when your newborn would usually feed, and for how long.

You can then choose which period of time they would want your child to sleep longer. You can then gradually lengthen the time between feeds by around 15-20 minutes, roughly every 2 days, until your child learns to sleep throughout the night.

Amount of milk

Others opt to slowly lessen the amount of milk given at night, either by decreasing prepared milk in the bottle or decreasing breastfeeding time. Parents can shorten the length of feeding by 30 seconds up to 3 minutes per night.

Dream feeds

One way to encourage your newborn to sleep longer at night is to give a “dream feed”. When your baby seems drowsy or beginning to sleep, lightly wake him or her to nurse or feed as much as they can take. Sometimes, a few minutes could add a few hours of sleep for both of you.

Is your milk enough?

Is your milk enough?

There is always the possibility that your child is simply not getting enough milk, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, causing them to try to feed more at certain times of the day.

For breastfeeding mothers, they may be having difficulty producing enough milk for their child. Other issues also include problems with the latching process – the baby may not latch or suck well, or the mother’s nipple may be too small or too flat for the baby to latch on to.

Working mothers may also be unable to breastfeed with enough time during the day, resulting in less milk for her baby.

How do we know if they’re taking in enough during the day?

Find out if your baby is drinking enough

It’s more likely that newborns who drink less milk overall become dehydrated and undernourished than those who just drink more at night. Experts say that the following are symptoms that your child may not be drinking enough milk throughout the day: persistent and inconsolable crying, jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin), weight loss of more than 10% in the first week of life, or unusually sleepy.

Your baby should be voiding at least 3-6 times a day in the first few days of life, then at least 6 times by the time he or she reaches the first week of life. If your baby also does not void or stool enough in a day, that could mean your child is not taking in enough milk.

There should be at least 3-4 stools per day by the first week of life. If your child seems to be increasingly hungry and has any of those symptoms, it’s best to have them seen by a pediatrician to rule out under- or overfeeding.

Time to supplement milk or not?

If you’re wondering whether to supplement your baby’s milk with water or complementary foods (solid or liquid foods such as infant cereals and vegetables), it is best not to do so for now.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine both recommend that complementary feeding should start at 6 months old. Breastmilk or formula milk are able to meet the nutritional requirements of growing newborns and infants, from birth up to the end of the 5th month of life.

Takeaway

Increased feeding at night should be observed diligently by caregivers. You should first observe if these behaviors persist or only last for a few days after some adjustments have been made.

Most of the time, babies are simply adapting either to changes in breastmilk production or their developing circadian rhythm. These are common deviations in their feeding schedules. In the long run, cluster feeding may benefit both you and your baby, as it gives them longer periods of sleep at night while allowing them to take in their daily nutritional needs.

Lastly, a quick visit to the local pediatrician can also help address any further concerns or issues regarding your little one.

Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn't a biological mother yet, she has taken two young dogs, named Indy and Obi-Wan, under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.

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