A misconception a lot of people hold around sleep consultants is that we focus solely on naps and bedtime … after all, we are sleep consultants!
While sleep is certainly our goal, we have to look at the child’s entire day to make sure we’re setting her up for sleep success, and feedings are a really important area to talk about! Whether you have a newborn or a 5-year-old, food can affect your child’s sleep, so let’s explore how we can use food to best support good sleep skills.
The first feeding goal for newborns is to keep the baby awake while she’s eating. This may feel impossible at first, and those first few weeks, especially, it often is, and that’s okay! You can tickle her toes, stroke her cheeks, lightly blow on her face; anything to keep her awake so she gets a nice and full feeding. As the weeks go on and your baby becomes more alert, this will get easier. The other newborn goal is to wait a few minutes to feed her after she wakes up from a nap or the night! One tip that will help is to change your baby’s diaper before feeding her (even in the night!) to help stimulate her up more.
In order to avoid a feed-to-sleep association and to save yourself from some short naps and/or early morning wakings, leave space between feedings and sleep. When your baby wakes up in the morning or from a nap, wait at least 10 minutes before feeding her. Similarly, make sure you leave at least 15-20 minutes between finishing a feed and sleep. At bedtime, this looks like making the feeding the first step of your routine, and during the day it looks like keeping a close eye on the clock.
Another way to avoid that feed-to-sleep association is, if your baby is still waking in the night to feed, make sure she is awake enough that she is aware she is eating. We want her to know that food is for nourishment, not for sleep, and to get a nice and full. It’s also important to keep her awake so when you lay her back down she recognizes she’s going back in her crib.
When it’s time to introduce solids to your baby around six months, I suggest starting with one meal at a time, and having that meal occur after nap one, about an hour after your baby has had her milk. It’s helpful to do this feeding in the morning so if your child has any allergic reactions or experiences gassiness or discomfort from the food, that it’s far removed from bedtime and your baby can still have a good night of sleep.
Toddlers and Older Children
Around 12-15 months old, breastfeeding and bottle feeding should no longer be a part of the bedtime routine; rather, they should end with dinner. It’s also around this time that many parents introduce their child to whole milk. Although milk is great for our kids, the natural sugar content can actually cause your child to experience a sugar crash in the middle of the night, causing a wake-up! So absolutely offer milk with dinner, but once dinner is over, just offer water.
Similarly, if dinner was 1.5-2 hours before bedtime and you give your child a bedtime snack, make sure to avoid sugary snacks (even natural sugary, like fruit) right before bed, in order to avoid that crash.
Finally, if your baby is still breast or bottle feeding around 15-18 months old, make sure she is getting that feeding after her solid meal, as solids should be her main source of nutrients. (It is also recommended that any bottles be discontinued no later than this age and replaced with a sippy cup.)
If you are struggling with your baby or child’s sleep, take note of when her feedings are occurring during the day; making the above changes makes a big difference!
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant