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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Have a question (in this case, is baby waking from hunger?)
- Do research (you have done that by reading this post)
- Construct a hypothesis
- Test the hypothesis
- 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.
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.
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.
- How to Drop Middle of the Night Feeding
- How To Solve Your Baby’s Nighttime Sleep Issues
- How To Diaper Baby at Night for Optimal Sleep
- Babywise Newborn Night Feeding Schedule
- When To Stop the Dream Feed
This post originally appeared on this blog May 2008