If you ask people how long to let a newborn go without a feed at night you are bound to get lots of different answers, especially if you are breastfeeding. You'll hear anything between 1.5 hours to "as long as she'll give you!" Even different pediatricians will give very different answers. You will need to talk to yours to see what is right for your baby. Things like weight, weight gain, jaundice and prematurity need to be taken into account.
Sleeping through the night- when will it start?
Here's what some "experts" say. I'll add what I did with my boys and why at the bottom.
- Feed every 3 hours for at least the first 3-4 weeks for a singleton.
- Feed every 3 hours for at least the first 5-6 weeks for twins (she suggests every 3 hour feeds longer since twins are usually born weighing less than singletons)
- At birth - Don't allow baby to go more than 5 hours for the first four weeks
- 9 weeks - If breastfeeding, baby can go 9-10 hours. If bottle-feeding, baby can 11 hours without a feed.
- She doesn't talk tons about how long a baby should be allowed to go at night if you are bottle or breastfeeding. She focusses more on how often to do daytime feeds (feeds are more often with smaller babies) and gives some averages for night sleep. From what I gather, outside of the first several days, she says that babies can sleep as long as they want to at night (assuming they are healthy, growing well and eating well).
- If you are breastfeeding, feed baby very often at least until your milk comes in. Always monitor your milk supply, especially as baby begins to sleep longer at night.
- It's pretty common advice to hear that you shouldn't let your baby sleep through the night (5 hours is what these people are referring to) the first two weeks of life. I have yet to hear any medical research to back this up. I believe this advice is given to prevent any malnutrition, low blood sugar and dehydration with the general population of babies (as well as keep up a mom's milk supply if she is breastfeeding). It is decent advice but I don't personally think it applies to all babies. Well, I know it doesn't because I know MANY babies who have slept longer and been 100% ok. Once again, check with your pediatrician about what plan to take. Always monitor your baby's health and growth as well as your milk supply if breastfeeding (most moms seem to do fine if baby sleeps longer but some don't).
What I did
I was much more paranoid about things with my first child. I know I'm not alone with this one!
I fed Joshua every 2-3 hours day and night the first couple weeks. My office has a 3-5 day check up and my doctor didn't really say anything about sleep and feeding times then so I kept up what I was doing even though I was waking Joshua up every 3 hours for all night feeds. The breastfeeding class I went to said to feed at least every 3 hours so that is what I was going to do dangit!
At two weeks my pediatrician said I could let him go 5 hours if he wanted to. So, being the attentive mom I was I set an alarm exactly 5 hours from the time he woke up at night. Unfortunately he didn't give me more than a few hours at this point and I can't help but wonder if it was due to me getting him into the habit of waking for a feed every three hours at night up to this point. I dont' remember what my pediatrician said regarding sleep after that (I know it wasn't much if anything at all) but I started to read some parenting and sleeping books at this point and decided at 6 weeks of age that I was fine letting him go as long as he'd go. He was healthy and growing like a weed. If he was hungry he would wake up for a feed. Why force feed the chap? When he started going 12 hours around 4/5 months, I pumped before I went to bed for a few months.
With my second child, Jacob, I did things a bit differently. I fed him at least every 3 hours at night until I went to my 6 day visit. By this time he had reached and surpassed his birth weight and was almost 9 lbs. Before he was born I had planned to feed him every 3 hours at night until 2 weeks to avoid horrible engorgement and blocked duct issues I'd had with the last baby, but I was totally fine engorgement wise this time. Plus, my pediatrician suggested I let him go as long as he wanted to. Note: this was a new pediatrician who is big on teaching children to sleep. He said that Jacob was healthy, alert and growing extremely well and if he was hungry at night he'd let me know. He also asked about my milk supply and told me to always monitor it as well as Jacob's input and output. BTW, I LOVE this pediatrician!
SO... with baby number two I let him sleep as long as he wanted to at night from 6 days on. When he started sleeping 12 hours 100% of the time he was 8 months old. I watched my supply and never had any issues during this gradual and smooth transition so I never pumped at night before bed (that I can remember, I'll update if I find otherwise).
Please remember that this is what worked for me, it may not be the case for you. I didn't have any milk supply issues, my children are big babies who grow extremely well, are very alert and my pediatrician believes that many babies can go long periods without food at night at a young age and remain extremely healthy. In fact, he believes the continuity of sleep adds to their health.