My child is 13 months old. She is breast fed, eats solids but doesn't eat a lot during supper time. Apparently she eats well at day care. She wakes 3 to 4 times at night and sometimes every hour. Twice I have ended up force feeding her baby porridge during one of these wakings and then she sleeps through till the next morning. She is definitely hungry. When we eat dinner she nibbles and I can't get her to eat more than she wants to. She has no problem eating biscuits and chips after supper so there is clearly space. I have now taken the chips and biscuits away completely. She refuses to have formula or a bottle of expressed milk - which I could add porridge to. How can I get her to eat more on her own so that she can be full and sleep longer at night without force feeding her?
You must be very tired, and very stressed!
The good news is that I think you might be able to fix this quite quickly and easily.
But first, you mustn't ever try to force-feed your child. No matter how worried or tired you are, this won't work and could cause serious problems.
You don't say that your child is underweight, so I'm going to assume her weight is fine.
Therefore she is getting enough food, period. Because she has "space" for biscuits, it does not mean your baby is hungry or needs the nutrition. Most humans will eat sweet, high calorie food at any time if offered - that's probably down to the way we evolved, when it was a sensible strategy!
Unless there's some underlying medical problem, there's no reason your 13 month old now needs food during the night. If your baby is of normal weight, then she's getting enough calories, so there's no reason she needs to feed during the night at this age.
If you think about it, your final question
How can I get her to eat more on her own so that she can be full and sleep longer at night without force feeding her?
doesn't make sense. If she is of normal weight and in the absence of a medical problem, she can't both (a) be hungry and (b) need "force-feeding" in order to sleep. If she doesn't want food during the night, then I think there is no issue of feeding and the problem is entirely one of sleeping.
All humans, just like your baby, wake up several times during the night. If we don't have a sleep problem, we turn over and go back for another cycle, and we don't even remember the partial waking.
The problem is that she's not falling back into deep sleep by herself. My guess from the information you give is that she has a sleep association problem. This is like a habit; expecting something to be a certain, usual way when she goes to sleep. It can be easy to fix!
Therefore I suggest you investigate the sleep problem.
It might simply that your child has an association with something unhelpful, such as
- you being there when she falls asleep (unless you are co-sleeping and you want to be)
- being nursed or fed to sleep
In particular, if she is used to being nursed or fed to sleep, it might be that she is used to feeding when she wakes during the night, and now hasn't learned how to sleep without this (because you keep trying to feed her!). Since she's not hungry now, since her stomach has grown since she was a baby and she's now getting enough food during the day, that is creating the confusion for her and you.
To sleep independently, she needs to learn to fall asleep by herself so that she can fall asleep after her partial wakings. For more information, read the book by Ferber "Solve your child's sleep problems" which helped me immensely.
I asked a very similar question here about a year ago
and I got some helpful answers although no-one could really suggest how to get my son to eat more.
A year on, we've had some success trying certain things and I think that just time in itself makes a big difference. It's not very well accepted by society now that extended breastfeeding and children waking up at night is a normal and natural thing. You only need to look at how many questions there are on this site and the internet in general to see it's not at all unusual. Therefore, if you want your daughter to eat more and wake less at night, you can't really expect her to just do it by herself for a while longer yet.
What we did that helped was some fairly basic and gentle night weaning. There are more structured and stricter versions you can try depending on how much you want to achieve. The idea is to get the baby used to having less milk at night and they will gradually compensate by eating (or drinking) more during the day. Search online for night weaning, you'll get lots of suggestions.
With us, we started with my husband going in for the first night-waking which tended to be around 12:30. He would offer comfort and bottled milk to my son but he didn't take it. He cried what seemed like a lot the first night, but checking the clock it was only about 20 minutes. The second night he cried less and after that he was OK and mostly stopped waking at that time. When he went back to sleep, he slept for as long as he would have if I had breastfed him. This and the fact that he refused bottled milk led us to believe that he wasn't really hungry at this time.
We then moved on to the next waking around 3 am. Occasionally he would drink some milk from the bottle but not as much as breastfeeding and after a while he stopped bothering. We had a good spell where he would sleep until anywhere from 4:30 to 6. I would then breastfeed and stay with him and he'd go back to sleep until it was time to get up. We could probably have cut out this too but I didn't mind it as I work full time, I enjoyed keeping this chance for closeness with him.
My son is gradually starting to enjoy his food more. He's still not a big eater, he's only a small child, but now he can speak he actually tells us he likes a food even if he doesn't eat much of it. We try very hard not to push him to eat although it can be difficult to avoid, especially if you feel that you're going to be up half the night. But the more he can communicate, the more we realise that there's no way to make him eat when he doesn't want to.