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I am subscribed to a newsletter from babycenter.com. Just now I received a letter containing the following content:

Sleep solutions:
Once she reaches the age of six months or so, your baby will not need to feed so often at night and if you can manage to persuade her to drop those night-time feeds, it can be a real boost to you all as a family. Unfortunately, this is not always easy. One method that many parents use is "controlled crying", also called sleep training. The idea behind it is that a baby of this age is waking for a feed out of habit rather than need, and the aim is to break that habit. At the same time, the method aims to reassure both you and your baby that she is still all right but that nights are definitely for sleeping.

How to identify whether a 7 months old baby is waking for a feed out of habit rather than need? Can she not be actually hungry? How would I know?

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I'm not sure that I'm qualified to be answering -- it's been over a decade since my child was that age -- but, for what it's worth, I'm going to give my 2¢.

If a child is waking b/c they are hungry, then that is the only thing which will comfort them. If the child is waking for any other reason -- dirty diaper, bad dream, etc -- then curing that issue is the only thing that will comfort them. Knowing the specific needs of our children is a constant challenge and always changing. ;)

All children want, need, and long for love. Waking in the night when one is that young can be rather scary... they've only had 7 months to know that it's dark and even then the first few months the eyes were developing. Holding them, comforting them, and putting them back to bed may very well be helpful (feeding may not be the issue, but the symptom).

Each child, however, is unique in darn near every regard. Some more "needy" (i.e. desire more attention and affection) and some more independent. I see nothing inherently wrong with acceding to their reasonable needs. A child afraid of the dark at 7 months may be a night owl at 17 years, and so on and so forth. At less than a year of age, one would, imo, be prudent to ask if certain behaviors are worthy of trying to rectify or if nuturing is the best course.

Again, just my 2¢, but I hope it is in some way helpful.

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You don't really know, but you can make some educated guesses.

  • Is your daughter eating a reasonable amount during the day? Does how much she eats during the day affect how often she wakes up? Keep track for a few days, and try varying it a bit. If you find a maximum - ie, an amount either that she's unwilling to eat more than, or that doesn't have any impact on her waking - then you're feeding her enough.
  • Is she waking for some other reason? Is her diaper wet (have you moved to "night diapers" yet?), is she cold, etc. Eliminate those reasons.
  • Can you get her back to sleep without feeding? Even if it takes ten or twenty minutes of rocking, petting, etc.? If so, and she actually stays asleep, then she's not (too) hungry.
  • How much does she eat when she night-feeds? You probably can tell by now how hungry she is during a feeding. If she's snacking, then she doesn't need to eat. If she's starving and eating all that she can get her hands on, then she might still be hungry.

You don't say if you're breastfeeding or if you're bottle feeding, and this is one of those places where it makes a difference. Breastfeeding at night is extremely comforting to the baby, and can make it a much harder habit to break for both mommy and baby - it was definitely hard for us.

I do suggest some version of 'cry it out', although not as extreme necessarily as some. What worked for us was to comfort our son but not get him out of bed, initially; then move on to letting him cry for a few minutes, but not very long. We never needed to let him cry for a lengthy period of time; he figured out pretty quickly that he wasn't getting a midnight feeding.

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+1 for showing love and yet "tough love" in as light a way as possible. It pains every parent to hear their child cry anything out, but sometimes when we know their needs are cared for, it is the option (that doesn't hurt them!) which we need to choose. –  Jeremy Miller Jan 25 at 4:29
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AND, I meant when you've tried everything else, ofc! –  Jeremy Miller Jan 25 at 4:51
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I just coached my best friend through this same situation. I have three children; ages 9, almost 4, and 22 months. I breast fed two of them, bottle fed one. Someone already mentioned that this makes a difference: it does. My bottle fed boy had no trouble sleeping through the night by the time he started polishing off an 8 oz bottle at bedtime (around 20 weeks old ). He woke occasionally, but it was never hunger.

The other two, breast fed, well...they were both tough to get to sleep through the night. And by "through the night" i mean a solid 6 hours. I don't know why, but breast babies just love to eat (ok, maybe I do know why (-; )...

If you are concerned that your baby might be hungry- stuff her to the gills before bed. So, say she goes down around 7:30 and you go to bed at 9; feed her at 9. She'll be sleepy, but do your best to get at least a few minutes in without fully rousing her. Change the diap if you can get away with it (my boys were easily roused so I only made this mistake once). This way, you know she has had enough to eat (logically). If she's waking up at 3 or 4 am, she might be hungry, or, an early riser. My second baby got up at 4 with the birds. He'd have his "breakfast" and then sleep till 9. This only lasted a few weeks till he just hung out in his crib without needing to eat. More proof that they won't starve to death over night.

But, if your baby is waking between 11 and 3 am, let her cry for 10 min. It's agonizing (and for us , this meant risking waking the other child(ren)) but listen carefully: is the intensity increasing? Or are there moments of quiet (they stop crying I think to listen " is mommy coming??") If she seems to be petering out, go a little longer and see if she settles. Sometimes they'll cry off and on for an hour, but as long as it's not desperate, all out wailing, let her be. If she's ramping it up, have daddy go in and try to comfort her. Nothing extreme. Just a pat, quick hug...

If the hug/pat "daddy treatment " doesn't help, try a diaper change. In the crib. In the dark (if daddy can manage). Then repeat the hug/pat procedure. Make sure she's not too hit it cold. Walk away and let her cry again.

If she settles , awesome. If not, now you can try a quick feeding. If it lasts for less than 5 minutes, baby wasn't hungry. She MIGHT have been thirsty. Try a humidifier if you're in a very warm climate (and she might be sweating) or if it's cold and dry.

FYI- i did all of this stuff and still was woken every three hours by my "Besty best pesty pest". I thought my youngest would NEVER sleep through the night, until one night I desperately put him down in my room in a pile of laundry ( whilst i arranged myself for a feeding) and he passed out instantly. Apparently, my scent was enough. I scooped him up, dirty t shirt and all, deposited him very unceremoniously in his crib and he slept like -well, like a baby! - for 5 more hours. Try sleeping with your baby's clean sheets for a couple nights before you put them in the crib and see if she sleeps better when her crib smells just like mommy. This was kryptonite for my youngest.

Once you get her to quit waking up in the wee hours, adjust the last night feeding to as late as you can stand it at first, then gradually move it closer to the baby's bedtime. This sometimes means she'll wake up earlier. My breast fed kids never went more than 7 hours. I adjusted that window to suit my needs. I wanted to sleep in so I let baby stay up later. You do what suits you.

My friend just did this with her first baby (always toughest with the first!) and despite her disbelief, and her husband's insistence that the boy was hungry, her baby only cried for ten minutes the first night and then settled on his own, and cried once more two days later for 5 minutes, and now sleeps 8 hours! She has to wake him now because she can't stand the morning engorgement! And he's certainly not losing weight, so, this proves it had nothing to do with a NEED to eat at night.

So, should you let your baby cry it out? I think so. It's really really awful to listen to, but, in the long run, it's worth it to FINALLY get a good nights rest. An added benefit is that they often sleep better during the day because they know how to drift in and out of sleep on their own. Someone here mentioned ~45 min of crying...nerves of steel! I've had nights where it lasted a half hour (when my baby was a little older and I KNEW he wasn't hungry-just a pest) and he survived, as did the baby who cried for close to an hour ( persistent little fella!)

Btw : if you think it's hard now - try to imagine getting a two year old to break a bad habit. Not gonna happen. Do it now ! 7 mo olds are MUCH easier to train!

I hope this helps.

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When we stopped the night feeds (at 6 months or so), what reassured us was the fact that our baby would sleep for another good four hours after falling back asleep. Essentially his total amount of sleep stayed the same during the night. We knew from previous experience that he would have woken up and cried earlier if he was really hungry.

It took us about five nights with ~45 minutes of crying at 4AM before he realized that he should just roll over and go back to sleep. These five nights, his dad would hold and cuddle him the whole time. I wouldn't go near, because my smell would make him go crazy since it indicated that milk was near.

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