This is a subject that’s widely debated even among sleep experts and Maternity nurses, as well as parents.
Should you wake or rouse your sleeping baby just before you plan to go to bed, around 10/11pm and give them an extra feed, in the hope that it will mean an extended stretch of sleep for you, once you have finished and manage to crawl into bed? Some parents choose not to do it and will just wait for baby to wake and ask for milk. In the early weeks it is likely that they will naturally wake around this time anyway, if their previous bedtime feed was around 6-7pm.
As they get older they are more likely to continue sleeping at this time without waking, so if you chose not to wake them, you may start to get their long stretch of sleep that lasts from 7/8pm, right through to 3-4am.
This scenario will definitely make you feel like you are winning and that your baby is gradually sleeping longer over night and stretching between feeds and you won’t want to interrupt their sleep to give an extra feed, before you go to bed.
Some parents will literally ‘dream feed’ their baby before they go to bed, so they keep the lights off, don’t change the nappy and just rouse baby enough for them to take a sleepy feed and then put back to bed again.
Both of the above will seem to be working in the beginning days and weeks but I can promise you, without a doubt and from years of experience in speaking to parents who do one or other of the above, it WILL cause a sleep regression anytime from 10 weeks and that big stretch of sleep you have been letting them do from 7pm, will start to become more disturbed with waking more frequently both before the usual time they have been sleeping to and waking for a feed, and also after it.
This is because you are encouraging a feed to sleep association by allowing them to control the feeds and this makes them think they need to rely on sleepy feeds in the dark to aid them through their sleep cycles. If you have also been doing the bedtime feed in a dark room and feeding to sleep too, this will also be a reason for why sleep will regress.
The good news is that we can stop this from happening though.
I am one of the very few sleep experts and Maternity nurses who advise my parents to WAKE YOUR BABY FULLY at 10:30/11pm for a full feed.
Go in, turn off their white noise, put the lights on and pick them up to wake them up. Chat to them as you change their nappy so they wake up fully and are alert and awake before you start to offer them a feed.
By ensuring they are wide awake and alert, you are breaking that association that feeds happen in dark rooms and are needed to help them get to sleep.
We keep the lights on throughout the feed and at the end, once baby has finished and you are ready to start winding them, that’s the time when you turn the lights down low, switch your white noise on to give them the cue that we are going back to sleep and put baby up over your shoulder to allow time for the milk to settle and you get all of their wind up. (You can watch our winding video for tips).
In my experience, by waking fully for this feed, from newborn and in those early weeks, babies will sleep much better as a result of it and the stretch of sleep they manage after it will naturally get longer, until they can sleep all the way to the morning feed at 7/7:30am and no longer need the overnight feed. This is achievable by 12 weeks if you are following my Newborn to 12 week routine.