Is Baby’s Night Waking from Hunger?

Just because baby is waking in the night doesn’t mean baby is hungry at night. This post outlines how to tell if the night waking is from hunger or not.

Baby in bed awake

It is normal for babies to wake in the night. We all expect it.

As baby gets older, we hope for baby to sleep through the night. We can find ourselves wondering, is baby waking up because he is hungry? Or is it from something else?

Hunger is not the only reason babies wake up in the night. There are many reasons. You can find the full list in my post How To Solve Your Baby’s Nighttime Sleep Issues.

In this post, we are going to talk about how to tell if baby is waking from hunger and what to do if that is the reason.

You must understand the “why” behind your baby waking in the night. You need to know the why so you can treat it.

If you assume it isn’t hunger but it is, your baby will continue waking up because you will not be addressing the hunger.

On the flip side, if baby is not waking from hunger but you treat it like hunger, baby will not stop waking at night.

Hungry baby

How to Tell If Baby is Waking from Hunger

When your baby wakes at night and you find yourself wondering if it is hunger or not, consider these 7 points.

Baby’s Age

If your baby is younger than 12 weeks old, there is a good chance night waking will be from hunger.

Even older than 12 weeks, babies can wake at night from hunger, but under 12 weeks, it is easy to assume baby will wake at least once in the night from hunger.

You can help this by having a dreamfeed (which is a night feed).

This doesn’t mean you can’t expect or hope for baby to go a chunk of time at night between feeds. But if your 6 week old goes to bed at 7 PM and sleeps the possible 7-8 hours at night, you will still get a wake up at 2-3 AM for a feeding.

Let’s review how long baby can go without feedings at night by age:

  • 0-6 weeks: Up to 5 hours
  • 6-9 weeks: Up to 7-8 hours
  • 8-12 weeks: Up to 9-10 hours
  • 12 weeks and older: 10-12 hours

Number of Feedings

Before you expect baby to make it through the night without eating, make sure you are aware of how many feedings per 24 hours your baby should be getting.

  • 0-8 weeks: 8-10 feedings
  • 8-12 weeks: 6-10 feedings
  • 12-16 weeks: 5-8 feedings
  • 4-6 months: 4-6 feedings
  • 6-9 months: 4-5 feedings
  • 9-12 months: 3-4 feedings

If your baby is 8 weeks old and getting 5 daytime feedings, you can expect your baby to wake in the night for another feeding.

>>>Read: Your Babywise Baby: First Year Overview

Hunger Cues

When baby wakes up at night, does he show hunger cues?

If yes, he is probably hungry.

I have a very thorough post full of hunger cues information, so refer to that to learn the physical signs baby is hungry here.

Full Feedings

When baby wakes up in the night, does she take a full feeding if you try to feed her?

The word “full” in this sentence is important. Most babies will eat some at night if offered. Even adults can eat in the night if it is offered.

If your baby takes a full feeding, similar to what she takes in the day, it was probably hunger.

You also want to note what happens to your first feeding in the day if she takes a full feed in the night.

If she takes a full feed at her first feeding, she was hungry. If she does not, she might have been hungry enough to eat at night, but she didn’t NEED the feeding in a 24 hour perspective.

If baby will not take a full feeding at night, it probably isn’t hunger that is waking your baby.

Independent Sleep

If your baby falls asleep really well on her own during the day, then she might be waking from hunger at night.

You know she is capable of independent sleep and can fall asleep alone. So if she is waking, you at least know there is a need of some kind, and hunger could be that need.

Sleep Patterns

After your baby has woken in the night and eaten, what are sleep patterns like for the night?

If you do not feed your baby, will he fall back asleep? If you try to soothe your baby back to sleep, will he go to sleep? If not, he is likely hungry.

If your baby goes back to sleep but then wakes up an hour later, he was probably hungry.

If, however, your baby falls back asleep and sleeps really well, the waking was most likely not hunger.

If you fed your baby and he won’t go back to sleep or if you fed him and he doesn’t sleep well after eating, there is a good chance the night waking wasn’t caused by hunger.

So pay attention to if your baby will fall asleep or not and also to how well baby sleeps after waking in the night.

Random Hunger

It is possible for your baby to wake in the night and just randomly be super hungry.

I remember one night when Brayden was three.

He woke up at 4:45 AM. He was sick and had thrown up in his bed.

Since he was a sun riser, and it was summer, I raced like a mad-woman to get his bed cleaned up and remade before the sun came up and signaled daytime to him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it.

He kept telling me he had already gone to bed and it was daytime. I gave him some books and told him to sit on the couch and read them.

I then went to the other couch and tried to sleep. Brayden was a big talker, so of course this didn’t work.

Around here, Sesame Street comes on at 6 AM. He never sees this show for obvious reasons, so I thought I’d turn it on and he would be enthralled and let me sleep.

I turned it on and went to my bed.

As I got in bed, I was suddenly starving. I was surprised at how hungry I was. I had eaten normally the day before. I was not pregnant and not nursing–no “growth spurt” for me.

It was odd to me that I would be so hungry over an hour before my usual breakfast time. (By the way, in case you are wondering, my Sesame Street idea didn’t work too well. Brayden is not long distracted by the TV and was in my room within 15 minutes, at which time I just got up).

>>>Read: How to Stop 5-6 AM “Night” Wakings

That experience helped me really understand how sometimes a baby could just wake up and be starving in the middle of the night when he usually can make it through without a problem.

If an adult who isn’t growing or producing anything and has been eating normally can wake up and be hungry, then certainly a quickly growing baby can do the same.

So when your baby has times of waking in the night, be aware of that possibility, and while it isn’t necessarily “typical” it also isn’t necessarily “odd.”

I didn’t wake up because of hunger, but once I was up, I got hungry.

So when you are solving nighttime sleep issues, keep that in mind. Your baby will likely take a full feeding if he hasn’t eaten in 9 hours, but it doesn’t necessarily mean hunger is what woke him up.

The question is this: is baby’s night waking from hunger? Or is baby just feeling hungry after waking up?

How to Test It

Now that you have this list of 7 items, how do you test to be sure if it is one of the 7 or not?

Being a parent basically means using the scientific method over and over again.

In the scientific method, you:

  1. Have a question (in this case, is baby waking from hunger?)
  2. Do research (you have done that by reading this post)
  3. Construct a hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis
  5. Analyze results

At this point, you are on step 3.

Do you think baby is waking from hunger?

If yes, let’s test this by addressing the 7 points.

  • Age: Is baby in an age range to be reasonably waking from hunger?
  • Feedings: Does baby need another night feed to get enough feedings in a 24 hour period?
  • Hunger Cues: Does baby show the physical hunger cues at night?
  • Full Feedings: Does baby take a full feed at night?
  • Independent Sleep: Can baby sleep independently?
  • Night Sleep: Does baby sleep well after waking in the night?
  • Random Hunger: If this is a random thing, it could be random hunger.

If you think there is a chance it is hunger, it is smart to always start by addressing it as though it is hunger. If any of the above answers are “yes”, it is wise to simply treat it like hunger and see what happens.

This brings you to test the hypothesis.

Feed Baby at Night

Feed baby at night and see what happens. If baby sleeps well the rest of the night and eats well the next day, it was probably hunger.

If your baby is old enough he could be sleeping longer and not waking then, see what you can do to get him sleeping longer in the night. This will usually involved adding more feedings or more calories to the daytime so they aren’t needed at night.

>>>Read: How To Use Cluster Feeding to Get Baby Sleeping All Night

Do Not Feed Baby At Night

Another way to test the hypothesis is to not feed baby at night.

You soothe your baby back to sleep.

If she goes to sleep and sleeps until morning waketime, you can safely assume she wasn’t hungry in the night.

If she wakes again an hour later, you can safely assume it was because of hunger.

>>>Read: How to Drop Middle of the Night Feeding


These 7 points can help you figure out whether or not baby is waking in the night from hunger or not. It is one important step to getting your baby to sleep through the night.

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This post originally appeared on this blog May 2008

Is baby's night waking from hunger

13 thoughts on “Is Baby’s Night Waking from Hunger?”

  1. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and always reference it first when I have a scheduling question or what not. Thank you for all of the info you provide. It is a wonderful help for me and my little ones!

  2. I hope this is the right place to post this! I have a 6 week old and he is eating every 3 hours during the day AND every three hours at night! I feed him at 10:00 and then he wakes up at 1:30 am and then again at 4:30. First of all, don’t you think he should be down to one feeding by now? (My 2 year old was down to one at this point). Second, which feeding to I attempt to drop first? The 1 am or 4 am one? Thanks! Jennie

  3. This might be a really stupid question, but do babies “root” even when they are not hungry? My baby seems to root for the breast every time I (or anyone else) picks her up.

  4. I have a six month old and have been doing babywise from birth. he has never slept through the night however would go back to sleep after a feed. lately at around 1am he wakes and wont go back to sleep for an hour or so which is getting very tiring. We change nappy , check temp of room, feed . his shedule during day is 7am 60mls formula. the 2 tbs cereal with 60mls of milk (thats the only way i can get more milk into him.1130 60 mls , sweet potato with 60mls of milk.330 60 mls, carrot with 60 mls of milk7pm 100mls1030pm dream feed 120mlshe will not drink the milk if i stick to a 3 hour schedule he refuses it and cries.plss hellp!!!!

  5. Dusty, is he able to self-soothe? Have you trained him to sleep on his own? If not, that would be my first recommendation. It sounds like that is the most likely problem. In your day, I would try to eat at 7, 11 rather than 11:30, 3 rather than 3:30, then 7–unless you know he won’t do it any other way.

  6. My LO is 16 weeks old but was born 6 weeks early (corrected age is 10 wk). He was healthy just tiny at birth but is now in the 50% for size. I have him on a eat-play-sleep schedule which works well, but he still wakes every 3 hours throughout the night, starving!Here's our typical day:8am: First feeding of the day – BF11am: BF2pm: BF4pm: BF6pm: BF8pm: Bottle Feed — 5oz BM w/ 2tsp cereal11pm: Sometimes wakes up on his own, sometimes DF, sometimes let him sleep through1am: Wakes up starving, eats 5oz BM3am: Wakes up, cannot be soothed, nurses for 10min5:50/6am: Wakes up crying, sometimes can be soothed w/ paci, sometimes eats full bottle.We've tried to dreamfeed at 11pm, but he still wakes up at 1 or 2 am. I have tried CIO but he cried for 2 hours straight for several nights, to the point where he was hyperventilating & sweating. If he wasn't hungry initially, after screaming for 2 hours, he was starving (for the record, I checked on him every 15 mins during the 2hour CIOs). I have noticed that no matter what time we give him his last feeding or DF, he awakens around 1 or 2am, ready to eat. The longest he's ever slept is 5 hours, which was from 8pm to 1am. Even though he was a preemie, he's average in size. My question: How can I progress towards having him STTN? Is he waking out of habit or hunger? Since he is hysterical/sweating through his sleeper & swaddle, is it safe/effective to do CIO? Any advise would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  7. Missy, having a range of an hour with him waking would mean he isn't waking from habit but from need. BW says a digital clock will tell you if baby is waking from habit. I have always taken that to mean it is habit if it is basically down to the minute.Since he is waking from need, you really have two options: 1-try to fill that need in the day if possible or 2-wait until the need is gone.Be sure that during the day, he is able to soothe himself to sleep so that when the need for food is gone in the night, he won't be crying in a need for help falling back asleep. Good luck!

  8. Missy, having a range of an hour with him waking would mean he isn't waking from habit but from need. BW says a digital clock will tell you if baby is waking from habit. I have always taken that to mean it is habit if it is basically down to the minute.Since he is waking from need, you really have two options: 1-try to fill that need in the day if possible or 2-wait until the need is gone.Be sure that during the day, he is able to soothe himself to sleep so that when the need for food is gone in the night, he won't be crying in a need for help falling back asleep. Good luck!

  9. Hi! I used your blog a ton for first kiddo and now again for second. Thanks =) So our 'lil guy is 2 1/2 wks and goes 3 hrs consistently during day – sometimes 2 1/2 as night approaches. He's waking after dream feed after only 1 1/2 hrs and then will eat less than 2 hrs until his bottle around 5:30 and then goes until his morning bottle (7-7:30a). He's getting plenty of feedings during day. I even tried moving back to 2.5 hrs and that didn't make difference. He does not burp at night – despite our efforts – and last night pretty much snack fed – he'd eat 1.5 oz and then be done. He's one if you don't get burp – he's done eating, too. I wonder if it's too early to know if it's truly hunger or if I should try soothing him back to sleep for a bit. He's rooting like crazy and appears ravenous. Any suggestions appreciated!

  10. Hi! Thank you for sharing so much helpful information. I have a question about night time sleep.My baby is almost 6 months old (Thaddaeus), and we went on a vacation (not our first vacation, in which he slept fine on the other two) this past week in which he slept horrible. Before vacation he had been sleeping 6-7 hours in the night and waking up once before sleeping for another 2-4 hours. On vacation he woke up 3-4 times a night crying!! I fed him when he woke, and he would usually fall back asleep really quick (probably because he was exhausted)We got back from vacation yesterday and I was hoping that maybe the waking was a "sleeping somewhere new and uncomfortable" thing, but last night he again woke 3-4 times crying, in which I fed him and put him back to bed. Now I am uncertain what is going on with him and his schedule. He seems to be napping fine still. If it is just a post-vacation issue- what would you suggest doing to help him get back to waking only once? Do you recommend feeding him at all the times he wakes in the night?Is there other things that might be causing the waking during the night besides vacation, and I may be mis-correlating it?A second question for you is: Prior to vacation, he was still waking after 6-7 hours of nighttime sleep (sometimes at the same time, sometimes random times). Since being born he had been progressively sleeping longer and going with less wake ups in the night. But for the past month or two he seems like he has been stuck at this 6-7 hour mark (maybe with 1 week where he slept 9 hours and I thought I was in heaven). We want to try to work towards Sleeping Through the Night, but I am not sure what to try to get him past this hump? It's hard to tell if he really is hungry, because some mornings he is not real interested in having an AM feeding. Thanks for all your effort in this site!Erin Moffit

  11. I am at a loss with my 7 month old. She was a great sleeper at night as a newborn as was STTN by 3 months old. Not long after she turned 4 months old she started waking around 5:00 or 5:30 to eat instead of her 7:00 am wake time. At first I tried treating it like a hunger issue and fed her and immediately put her back down again. Unfortunately it hasn't stopped and I noticed that on most days she seems to stretch out one or two feedings during the day so she ultimately isn't getting an extra feeding in with the early morning feeding in. This has resulted in me deciding to trying to wean her off of it but since that time she has started waking up multiple times at night. Before if she woke in that night she would fuss for a bit and then fall back asleep or we could move her to her swing. Now when she wakes she immediately starts crying and can't even be soothed to sleep in her swing. The times she wakes up is so sporadic also. If she wakes up as early at midnight or 1:00, she still wakes for the 4:30-5:30 feeding. We started solids about a month ago hoping it would help and so far no sleep for us. This is her current routine:6:55-7:30 Wake, nurse, and solids9:10 nap11:00 wake, nurse, solids12:40 nap3:00 wake, nurse4:40 nap5:30-5:45 wake, nurse, solids7:00-7:30 pjs, nurse, and in bedShe wakes on average 2x a night. The first feeding varies. Sometimes it is a midnight, 1:30, 2:00, 2:45, 3:00 and then the second feeding is between 4:30 and 5:30. I am at a loss at what to do and I need sleep.


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