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To feed or not to feed in the middle of the night – that is the question. Experts agree that if your baby is younger than 6 months old, you should feed him whenever he wakes at night.
But once he's past the 6-month marker, skip the midnight snack. The goal is to separate eating from going to sleep so that if your toddler does wake up at night, he won't need your breast or a bottle to get back to sleep.
What should you do if your toddler still wants to eat at night? We turned to five leading sources: child psychologist and sleep expert Jodi Mindell, experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, and pediatricians Richard Ferber, T. Berry Brazelton, and William Sears.
At this age, your child should be getting enough nutrition during the day so that she doesn't need to eat at night. You may make sleep problems more likely if you continue to breastfeed or give her a bottle when she wakes during the night.
If you're breastfeeding, gradually shorten the time she nurses. Change the time you nurse so it isn't near the time your child falls asleep, and have someone else put her to bed so she doesn't smell your milk.
You can cut out bottle-feeding by reducing the amount of formula by 1 ounce every night.
The AAP's view
If your child is used to getting a lot of attention at night, it's time to gradually retrain him. If you've been giving him milk when he wakes up, for example, either dilute it or switch to water and gradually stop giving him anything. He needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping.
Try not to associate feeding your child with her going to sleep. If she falls asleep while she's eating, stop and put her in her crib. As she gets older, gradually reduce the number and frequency of her feedings.
If your child still wants to drink out of a bottle, you can make it part of your bedtime ritual, along with a story and so on. At this age, he needs the bottle more for comfort and relaxation than anything else.
Don't put a bottle in bed with him, though. It can contribute to tooth decay and acts as a substitute source of security.
Try to teach your child various sleep associations that don't involve eating so she doesn't get locked into needing food to help her nod off.
Give her a bottle in a rocking chair and then help her snuggle with a transitional object, such as a teddy bear. Then transfer your child and the teddy bear to bed, but leave the bottle behind.
For more help finding a bedtime approach that suits your family, check out our list of expert advice, books, websites, and other resources.
Parent Poll: What method did you use to sleep-train your baby?