One of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to getting babies to sleep through the night is the old “cereal in the bottle” routine.
It’s been used by parents for generations, and I can understand why! As adults, we know that sleeping on an empty stomach can be challenging!
The idea is that a little cereal in baby’s bottle should take longer to digest than breastmilk or formula, which will keep them feeling full for longer, and therefore help them sleep through the night.
And, as a parent who has had a child that doesn't sleep well, I understand being at the point where you will try anything to get your child sleeping through the night!
Unfortunately, the vast majority of parents who use this trick find that, even if it’s successful at first, the results are only temporary, and here’s why...
Once your baby reaches a certain age and weight, waking in the night isn’t about food. I’ve heard from parents who were getting up with their little ones 6-8 times a night wanting to eat. Does that mean they are just hungry all night long?
No, it doesn’t.
It’s very likely that your child is using eating as a tool to help them fall asleep. They are tired, not hungry!
If they have become accustomed to nursing (or drinking a bottle) in order to fall asleep for their entire life, they are going to continue to need that until they learn a new method of falling asleep.
We all cycle in and out of deep sleep, and at the end of every cycle, we tend to wake up slightly.
In babies, that cycle is usually about 45 minutes, so even on a good night, they’re going to wake up a lot. And if the only way they know how to get to sleep is by nursing, they’re going to cry to get your attention, and wait for you to come in and help them out.
So, you may ask, if it’s got nothing to do with hunger, how can I help them sleep through the night?
The solution to the issue, not the “hack” or quick fix, but the actual remedy, is teaching your baby to fall asleep independently. You will actually need to remove the thing that they are dependent on (bottle or nursing, etc) and give them the space to practice their own self soothing skills. Remember, it will take some practice before they are excellent at it. It’s a skill, and skills take time to master.
If your child is older than 6 months and 15 or more pounds, it is very likely that they no longer require any night feeds. They are capable of going 12 hours without a feed. Of course, get your pediatrician’s ok on this first.
When you are ready to drop their night feed, use this rule of thumb:
If they are used to getting 1 feed per night, go ahead and drop it cold turkey.
If they are used to getting 2 or more feeds per night, do a wean down. For 3 days, offer one feed in the middle of the night and on the 4th day, remove it completely.
Now, I want to go back to the solid food question because there are some solid foods that have been shown to benefit sleep! Incorporating healthy fats and protein into your baby’s diet can actually help their sleep. Add in some avocado, beans and lentils, nut butters, meat and yogurt to their diet. When you have the choice, be sure to feed them full-fat foods as opposed to low-fat varieties.
Keep in mind, this is their daytime diet we are talking about. Unless you have a young baby, your child does not need food during their 12 hour night to help them sleep through.
When it comes to nighttime sleep, focus on the root of the issue. In order to sleep well throughout the night, they need the skills to do so!