Like teething, hunger is often given as the explanation for a baby who starts waking again during the night. This occurs even when a baby has been sleeping for long stretches and had stopped feeding in the night or was down to just a dreamfeed.
If they are 'rooting' (turning their head to the breast) when you pick them up, this may be the case. Or if baby has been unwell and you think they have missed feeds in the day.
However before you go back to regular feeds during the night, look for ways during the day to prevent baby from being hungry during the night.
Waking at about 5am is often due to hunger with older babies, especially when they can self settle and sleep through the night. We highly recommend doing a 'dreamfeed' (feed baby while they are asleep) at 10pm, so they can last all night without needing another feed.
If you think your baby is hungry
Re-introduce a 'dream-feed' - the feed you do at around 10pm while your baby is still asleep.
Talk to your Plunket nurse about starting solids if your baby is over 6 months.
If you are breastfeeding, a good option can be to express a bottle of milk after the first feed in the morning and offer after breastfeeding at bedtime.
Review your routine, as the timing of milk feeds and solids can have a significant effect on both day and night-time sleeping. See the Sleep Store Sleep Plan for some sample routines.
Ensure you are eating well, not rushing around too much and resting when you can. The volume of late afternoon and early evening breastfeeds can be effected by tired, dehydrated and hungry mums!
Is it REALLY hunger?
Just because your baby or toddler happily accepts a feed in the night, that doesn't mean it's hunger that woke them in the first place. Remember babies over 5 months wake fully every couple of hours between sleep cycles whether they are hungry or not.
Waking between sleep cycles does not automatically mean your baby is hungry and NEEDS a feed.
If you woke up and couldn't resettle, and someone offered you your favourite comforter, would you take it??? Of course you would, and so will your baby accept a breastfeed or bottle if they are upset, regardless of what caused them to wake or struggle to resettle.
Feeding a baby when they don't need it can lead to a sleep association ...ie a baby learns over time that they can only fall back to sleep by being fed.
Once your baby is over 3-4 months, you can try other settling techniques to see if your baby can go back to sleep without a feed. A hungry baby will not go back to sleep with a cuddle, patting, dummy or being given the opportunity to self settle.
Of course newborns need feeding during the night and will wake every 2-4 hours as their tummies are so little - remember the info in this article relates to babies over 3 months and beyond.