I am a firm believer that babies and toddlers should be allowed night feedings until the 14-24 month range. Yes, I know this means lost sleep for mum and dad- and many of those parents are already exhausted and stressed to their maximum capacity. My reasons include nutritional needs, biological drive, teething comfort, and bonding.
It seems many parents are eager to wean from night feedings as early as 4 months these days, and I have no idea how one would accomplish this. Since I co-sleep with our little ones until they are ready for more independence (2ish), it is very easy for me to do night feedings. No walking down a long dark hallway for me at night.
Through the journey of 2 kids, I have these observations and experiences.
Calories: According to many pediatricians in our circle, a chubby baby/toddler is an important sign. When cold and flu season roles around, it can take just one nasty virus to shed those baby pounds, which is nature’s way of protecting them. Back-up calories when they aren’t willing to eat or simply can’t because they’re so miserable. Several pediatricians who I know have commented on how young babies and toddlers are so thin from weaning too soon (at night or all together). It makes no difference if you’re breastfeeding or bottle, they need the calories. They are also growing rapidly. Height, muscle, bone density, teeth are shifting, brain development, etc. The first three years of a child’s life are the most crucial to their overall development- they need these calories. Our pediatrician has been one for 30 years- he knows more about kids than any person or book I’ve encountered in my life- and he’s always right- with shocking accuracy.
Nutritional: Toddlers can be picky eaters. Formula or breast milk is packed with nutrition. They need the vitamins and minerals.
Teething/Illness: I have found that night feedings are a great way to soothe a grumpy, teething baby. It’s comforting, and also reassuring to have mom or dad close during that painful time. If your little one develops a cold or flu, it’s also a great way to keep them hydrated and the calories they need that they may be lacking due to lack of appetite from an illness. My rule of thumb is the first 2 winters should be bottle/breast day and night at their request (set a schedule-you get my drift). It makes those colds and flus much easier on everyone.
Biological Drive/Bonding: Little ones need the closeness. Why on earth would we want them to be pushed into solid foods/no night time feedings when they are so young? Let them be babies! This is the time they get to gaze into your eyes, snuggle, feel safe and secure, and learn how to love another person. It’s the time they get your undivided attention. It’s supposed to be this way. Babies and toddlers are programmed to wake up every 2-4 hours the first 2 years of life for this purpose and also as a built in biological reset button- keeps them breathing normally, etc. Nature has designed babies the way they are for a reason. When we attempt to alter that, it can lead to problems.
I know a couple who just had their first baby, and as usual, it’s a handful. It seems like the first one keeps you up all day and night because, as first timers, the parents are bewildered by the experience of this new little life. The little one is only sleeping 10-12 hours a day- much too little for a 5 month old. Out of last resort they decided to try the “Ferber Method” (don’t get me started). Fortunately, they didn’t have to do much, it was just a matter of them needing to go into their baby’s room and settle it again, rather than picking it up to feed it every time it stirred. So everyone is getting a bit more sleep now.
I desperately wanted to just tell them- “It is what it is! Stop trying to find a solution and accept that this is how babies are!” They keep you up at night, they make messes, they scream, they poop, some are fussy, they can ruin your social life, etc. Despite all of these things, it will pass. Then you will enter a new stage. It might be a nice stage, or worse yet. You never know what they will send your way.
Our daughter, Goblin #2, is now 20 months and has been throwing screaming fits since she was 8 months old. Actual temper tantrums. Her scream can be so shrill that it’s physically painful to everyone in the room. Lucky for her she’s super cute. Finally, at 20 months, she is outgrowing it. It’s like someone flipped a switch, and she just stopped. She also stopped teething. There’s usually a connection, to whatever stage they are in, and you simply have to remember: it will pass. Yet so often “these days” I see parents who don’t want having children to alter their “lifestyle” or feel compelled to “find a solution.”
Our now four year old has been going through a horrible, and I mean horrible stage since last spring. He is sassy, grumpy, and has meltdowns. The “terrible twos” finally got him. Yet, this is the time he learns from us, that we love him and will establish the same boundary over and over and over again until it sinks into his psyche that there is the good choice and the bad choice. Which one should I make? Hopefully, he will learn to make the good ones. Yet, as his parents, we have to keep our cool and attempt to be the role model he is demanding we be.
Save your kids: I hope they rearrange your life and it is what it is- most of the time there is no solution. Let them go through their stages so they complete them as they should. It’s all important. We wonder “what’s wrong with the world today?”, well, I can say this much- parents who place themselves before their children on a regular basis! That’s what!