Ask the expert: Is my baby waking from habit or hunger?

While newborns need to be fed every couple of hours, starting around 4-months-old babies can usually go longer between feedings. More time between feedings sets the stage for longer stretches of sleep at night.

But if too many middle-of-the-night wake up calls are sticking around, it can be hard to tell if your little one is waking due to real hunger, plain old habit or…something else. Knowing why your baby is waking up is the first step to being able to help her build the right associations with sleeping and teaching her to self-soothe—so she can get the best night’s sleep.

Maggie Moore - Moore Sleep

Meet our expert

Maggie Moore

Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Founder & Head Sleeper of Moore Sleep

How to rule out hunger

If your little one is under 16-weeks adjusted age, it’s normal for infants to wake several times a night—those are most likely hunger cries, which means you should respond to by feeding your baby.  

After 16-weeks adjusted age, if your baby is meeting the proper age/weight milestones determined by your pediatrician, your baby’s tummy will stay fuller for longer, which means night-time feeds can become fewer. Here’s the number of night feeds you should expect, according to your baby’s age:


Number of night feeds

0-3 months


Normal for baby to wake every 2-3 hours 

4-7 months


Normal for baby to wake every 3-5 hours

8-9 months


Normal for baby to wake every 4-6 hours, but some babies can make it through the night without a feed

10+ months


Most babies are ready to be sleeping through the night without a feed

Other causes for night waking

The best way to determine if your baby is waking due to a feed-to-sleep association, is by ruling out other common sleep struggles:

  • The basics: make sure a wet diaper, gassiness, a minor cold, etc. isn’t the culprit. Make sure you’re putting on a fresh diaper before bed, burping after feeds, and keeping an eye out for other symptoms.
  • Teething: can start as early as 3 months old but is most common around 6 months. Try these teething tips.
  • Sleep Regression: The 4 month sleep regression usually hits just when your baby is ready to start weaning night feedings—between 3- and 4-months-old. Get advice from other parents.
  • Overtiredness: getting enough sleep during the day sets the stage for good nighttime sleep. Get your baby on the right schedule.
  • Inability to self-soothe: believe it or not, babies need to learn how to fall asleep, and stay asleep, on their own—without help from rocking, swinging, bouncing, feeding, etc. Lightly weighted Zen Sleepwear™ can help teach them.  

Get more expert advice delivered right to your inbox. Sign up for age-based sleep tips.

Tips to reduce waking out of habit

Establishing a routine, setting a schedule, and teaching your baby to sleep independently will help minimize night waking.

1. Establish a routine

Not every day and night are going to be perfect when it comes to your little one’s sleep but consistency is key. Having a solid routine is an important piece of independent sleep, as it will become your baby’s signal that it’s time to sleep.

I recommend feeding, bath, diaper, jammies, Zen Sleepwear, story time, and bed. If you have been feeding your little one to sleep, be sure to move the feeding to the beginning of the bedtime routine.

2. Set a schedule

Any child can learn to fall asleep unassisted but if they’re not on the right schedule, nighttime sleep can still be a disaster.

Making sure your child is getting the right number of naps, maximizing daily sleep and setting the correct bedtime can limit the night waking’s your little one experiences. Use my nap guide to make sure your little one is on the right schedule, and make sure you’re finishing up naps at the right time.

  • If your baby is on a 3 to 4 naps per day schedule all naps for the day should end by 5pm
  • If your baby is on a 2 naps per day schedule all naps for the day should end by 4pm
  • If your baby is only taking one nap per day, all naps for the day should end by 3pm

3. Start teaching independent sleep

If you’re assisting your baby in falling asleep—with rocking, walking, bouncing, feeding, etc.—then when they wake up in the middle of the night, they will need your help again. Thus, the cycle repeats itself. All. Night. Long.  

To get your little one to go to sleep unassisted I recommend using a gentle sleep training method to teach your little one how to fall asleep on their own.

Remember, sleep training is not about getting your little one to sleep through the night, but instead about getting your little one to fall asleep independently.

My Sleep Training Guide will walk you through how to approach sleep training step-by-step. Zen Sleepwear is also a great tool for sleep training—it’s gently weighted to mimic your touch and help teach your baby to self-soothe.

You should only begin sleep training once your baby reaches 16-weeks adjusted age and with the OK from your pediatrician.

The feed-to-sleep association is one of the strongest, which means it will take time and patience to overcome. Be sure to give yourself plenty of patience and grace as you work towards better sleep for your little one.

You might also like

When do babies sleep through the night—and what might be preventing it?

Surviving Sleep Regressions

What is sleep training?

Baby sleep simplified: Newborn sleep schedules + patterns 

More about Maggie

Maggie Moore is the Founder and Head Sleeper at Moore Sleep. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant through the Family Sleep Institute, which means her sole focus and objective is getting your baby on a healthy sleep schedule so the whole family can get the sleep they need.

Like many parents, Maggie and her husband struggled with getting their son on a healthy sleep schedule and he was unable to fall asleep independently. As a result, her family was losing precious sleep every night. Maggie became a firm believer when, shortly after hiring a certified pediatric sleep consultant, her son began sleeping independently at bed and nap times.Maggie knew right away she wanted to become a certified consultant herself so she could help other families struggling to get the sleep they need.

Maggie and her family reside in Southern Indiana (near Louisville, KY). She received her bachelors in Journalism and a second concentration in Communications & Culture from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Follow Maggie on Facebook and Instagram.


Teething and Sleep

As a Sleep Coach, there are many questions that I am asked quite frequently. How to approach sleep when baby is teething is definitely at the top of that list. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that as first-time parents we struggled majorly in the sleep department for the first few months. We climbed out of that sleep deprivation hole only for someone to casually say to me, ‘Wait until she starts teething’. WHAT!? NO! In my head, with every tooth that came in, we’d be back at square one with all-night wakings, zero naps, and a screaming, overtired baby. Luckily – this doesn’t need to be the case. Read on below to find out why teething can affect sleep and what to do to help ensure sleep doesn’t majorly regress during this inevitable time.

How can teething affect sleep?

Teething gets a really bad rep for creating a host of sleep issues and it can – especially for a child that already struggles to connect sleep cycles [sleep training for the win!]

Teething won’t necessarily CAUSE your baby to wake through the night but for a baby that’s already wakeful, it can make re-settling very difficult. It can also make the initiation of sleep more challenging as well if baby is experiencing discomfort.

There are 2 different types of teething – chronic teething [which is basically happening all the time as the teeth are slowly moving their way up through the gums and is on and off for the first 2+ years of a child’s life] and acute teething. Teething is at its worst [acute teething] when you can see those little white bumps just before they pass through the sensitive nerve endings near the skin surface. Once the tooth is through, the discomfort is mostly gone. This should take no longer than 3 days to occur so if your sleep is out of whack for weeks – teething isn’t likely to blame. 

It can be difficult to know with certainty whether wakings at night are teething related or not. One good way of determining this is whether your baby’s wakings are occurring in a pattern or not. So, for example, if your baby is waking up at the end of every single sleep cycle [60-90 minutes at the beginning of the night, every 2-3 hours as the night goes on] then teething isn’t likely to blame, and it’s more likely a habit/sleep association/schedule issue. If your baby starts waking up at random times [say, at 9:00pm when they usually sleep until at least 1:00am, or every hour in the second half of the night] then teething might be to blame.

If your baby’s gums look like this, be prepared!

If your baby’s gums look like this, be prepared!

What are some other tell-tale signs that your baby might be teething?

  • Baby seems uncomfortable or extra fussy during the day

  • Gums are red, swollen, or bulging

  • You can see a little white nub right below the surface of the gums

What are not typically signs of teething?

  • Drooling

  • Hands in mouth

  • Fever [a slightly elevated body temperature [think: 99-99.5°] can be normal but an actual fever is not an indication of teething and if your baby has a fever and is sleeping poorly, you may want to rule out an ear infection]

  • Diarrhea

  • Cough

  • Congestion

  • Vomiting

What can we do to help when baby is teething?

The best weapon against teething discomfort preventing a good night’s sleep is a dose of Tylenol/Motrin before bed. If your baby is 6+ months of age, then I would be giving Motrin vs. Tylenol as it is an anti-inflammatory as well as a fever and pain reliever. Give the Motrin 30 minutes before bed if you suspect teething pain/discomfort. If your baby has been waking in the middle of the night or early morning and struggling to fall back asleep/stay asleep, then go in at the 6 hour mark and re-dose baby to help them through the second half of the night [this is like a dreamfeed but with medicine, let’s call it a ‘dream dose’!. While your baby is still asleep gently put the syringe of pain reliever into the back corner of their mouth. Very gradually squeeze the medicine into their mouth. Most babies will just swallow the medicine without waking up. If the on-set of sleep or early part of the night is when baby is struggling, there’s no need to offer the dream dose unless they wake in the middle of the night and are having a tough time re-settling.  If your baby still wakes up for nightfeeds, you can preemptively re-dose them at one of their feeds just to help avoid any issues through the second half of the night.

**speak to your healthcare provider before offering any medication, this is not medical advice

If your baby wakes in the middle of the night and is needing comfort and that 2nd dose of medicine and you haven’t done the ‘dream dose’, consider holding them for 30 minutes until the medicine takes effect, and this should help you to be able to lay them down afterwards.

chart teeth.jpg

Keeping a consistent routine and schedule when your baby is teething is important as well! Continue to lay them down awake, continue to always give them time to re-settle on their own in the middle of the night if they do wake, continue to be consistent in how you respond to any protesting/middle of the night wakeups, and try to avoid bringing in any long-term habits for a short-term phase. It’s important to especially try to avoid bringing back the associations that you worked the hardest at undoing [i.e. if you were previously bedsharing and have now moved baby to his own bed, try to avoid bringing baby back into your bed and perhaps try to comfort by rocking instead. Or, if you have worked hard to eliminate a nursing association, try to avoid using nursing as a comfort tool if possible].  In saying this, if all else fails and your baby is really struggling, you can do what you need to do to help, but just remember the key is getting back on track the DAY baby is better.

So, put together, what might your teething plan of attack look like?

You notice baby is acting extra fussy today. You look inside baby’s mouth and there is a super swollen gum with a tiny white bump right under the surface with a small section poking through. In hopes of avoiding a tough night, you give baby a dose of Motrin before her bath, about 30 minutes before bed. Baby falls asleep well but then wakes up at 2:00am crying [this is an abnormal time for her to be waking up]. You wait 10 minutes to see if she can re-settle on her own without help, but then you go in and pick her up to comfort her. Seeing as it’s been 6+ hours since her last dose of Motrin, you re-dose her and hold her in the rocking chair for half an hour. After 30 minutes you lay her back down – but she starts to cry again. You leave the room to see if she can re-settle but after 10 minutes she’s still crying. Knowing she might be in discomfort, you go back in the room and hold her again, hoping to get her sleepy enough to lay her back down and have her stay asleep [I would repeat this in 10 minute intervals as needed]. The next transfer is successful, and she stays asleep the rest of the night.  The next night, you offer a dose of Motrin 30 minutes before bed but then also do a ‘dream dose’ at 1:00am [6 hours after 1st dose] to try and avoid the middle of the night waking – and it’s a success! To be careful you do this for one more night [3 nights total of possible teething discomfort].

Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting, now based out of Kamloops, B.C. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve – a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be a dream!


How breastfeeding impacts sleep—and what to do about it

When a baby is born, their internal clock is still under construction. They don’t know the difference between day and night, or how to move from one sleep cycle to the next…basically, they’re still learning how and when to sleep.

Breastfeeding plays a direct role in yours and your baby’s sleep. It both helps them sleep and causes them to wake up throughout the night. Chaya Lighten, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), helps us get to the bottom of this biological conundrum.

Meet our expert

Physician Assistant, internationally board-certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and co-founder of Lactation Central, Chaya Lighten.

How breastfeeding impacts baby’s sleep

Ask any new parent and they’ll tell you that day and night mean nothing to their newborn. In fact, babies are not born with an established circadian rhythm and don’t develop one until sometime between 3 and 4 months old. Therefore, babies don’t excrete melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy and relaxes the gastrointestinal tract.

But here’s a fun-fact: night time breastmilk contains melatonin, A.K.A the “sleep hormone”—so it can help babies clear up the day/night confusion, sleep better, and has even been shown to reduce colic[1].

However, breast milk is much more easily digested than formula, which means they’ll be hungry more often. Typically, breastfed babies eat every few hours, sometimes even more frequently, especially in the first few weeks.

From the expert

The human species is nomadic or semi-nomadic— women carried their babies throughout the day and fed on demand. Adults and older children also fed frequently throughout the day as food became available. The natural feeding patterns of babies are like other mammals that graze throughout the day.” 

Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

So…when will my baby start sleeping through the night?

Nearly 50% of moms will breastfeed their baby for at least 12 to 18 months—but that doesn’t mean they’re waking up every 2 hours for an entire year or more.

As healthy weight-gain is established and your baby grows, they’ll be able to go longer periods without being fed. Some newborns can sleep up to 5 hours between feeds and that amount of time will only increase as they get older.

When will my baby sleep through the night? Get all your baby sleep questions answered with expert insights and real mom advice



How breastfeeding impacts mom’s sleep

Most breastfeeding moms feed on demand—which means they’re on-call for their baby 24/7. And if you’re exclusively breastfeeding (EBF), nursing duties can’t be shared with a partner or family member before bottles are introduced, so mom is taking the brunt of the work much of the time.

Ironically, studies have shown that EBF moms get more sleep than bottle-feeding parents. In fact, EBF moms report getting more hours of sleep, more daily energy, better overall physical health, and even show a lower risk for depression than moms who formula-feed. [2]

Mom happily breastfeeding baby

The hormone oxytocin is secreted during breastfeeding. This is often referred to as the “love hormone”, but it can also make a breastfeeding mother feed sleepy and relaxed—these recent studies have shown that parents of breastfed babies actually get more hours of sleep.

But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding mothers are always getting enough sleep. Balancing breastfeeding with your other parenting duties, household chores, life, etc. can get overwhelming and often leads to sleep deprivation.

Breastfeeding itself should not be exhausting. If feeds are taking a long time or the interval between feeds is very short, it may be a sign of poor milk transfer and this is a reason for mom to reach out to a board-certified lactation consultant. While there are times that “cluster” feeding is expected, for example during growth spurts, if baby is needing to nurse “constantly” this is a matter that should be brought up with the pediatrician.

How to get enough sleep while breastfeeding

Making sure you and your baby get enough sleep is vital to both your health and overall wellbeing. Plus, avoiding sleep deprivation will make it easier to breastfeed for longer—providing numerous health benefits to your little one.

To make sure you’re getting enough sleep while breastfeeding, you should:

  • Prepare yourself: know what to expect and plan ahead. Read 6 things no one tells you about breastfeeding.
  • Save nighttime breastmilk for bedtime: if you’re pumping, make sure you’re giving your baby breastmilk that was expressed at night, so it will contain that “sleep hormone”, melatonin.
  • Maximize time between feeds: while nothing will (and shouldn’t) keep your baby from waking up to feed, gently weighted Zen Sleepwear helps babies calm and relax, so you’ll spend less time helping your baby fall asleep and more time getting some rest yourself.
  • Get advice from an expert: Start by reading 7 tips for better sleep while breastfeeding. And if you feel like you’re really struggling, consider seeing an IBCLC that can help you achieve your breastfeeding goals.

You might also like

6 Things no one tells you about breastfeeding

What’s the most soothing nursery color?

Top 5 things I wish I put on my baby registry

How to get better sleep—even when you’re breastfeeding




6 Things no one tells you about breastfeeding  

Let’s start with a DD-cup-sized truth bomb: Breastfeeding may be the most natural thing in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll be easy.

Luckily, we’ve got five real-life tips from Nested Bean moms that’ll help you get baby fed and serve as a reminder that “normal” doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means.

Mom breastfeeding baby in Zen Bodysuit

1. You won’t have milk right away

Most women won’t produce milk until three or four days after their babies are born. Until then, babies feed on colostrum, a thick, concentrated form of milk that’s packed with awesome stuff like protein, sugar, fat and immune factors.

You may worry that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat in the interim, but get this — a newborn’s stomach can only hold about a teaspoon at a time. Chances are, she’s plenty full!

2. Breastfeeding can hurt

All those kumbaya, communing-with-Mother-Nature, bliss-filled moments other mamas talk about? They exist, but they’re interspersed with moments when you feel like your nipples are on fire and your boobs might actually fall off.

There is an adjustment period at the beginning while everyone figures out how this breastfeeding thing works, but painful nursing could also be linked to:

  • Shallow latch
  • Lip or tongue ties
  • Plugged ducts
  • Thrush
  • Mastitis
  • Oversupply

While baby-safe creams and time help in some cases, other situations call for a professional. Contact your doctor and/or an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) if you experience any of the following:

  • Intense pain that doesn’t subside over time
  • Pain between feedings
  • Cracked or bleeding nipples
  • Blisters
  • Breasts that are hot, red and sore to the touch
  • Burning or shooting pains in your breasts

3. Nursing is messy

Waking up in a pool of your own milk is a new-mama rite of passage. 

Boobs leak. 

You’ll go through tons of breast pads, unexpectedly soak your shirt in the middle of the grocery store, and probably wish you had double the amount of nursing bras no matter how many you bought.

Embrace the soggy clothes and linens. They’ll wash up easily enough, and besides, there’s no stain in the world that can overshadow a sleepy baby in a milk coma. #allthefeels

4. You’ll be exhausted 

Newborns eat every 2-3 hours ’round the clock—and you’re their 24-hour milk vending machine. 

While the whole “sleep when the baby sleeps” idea is great in theory, most parents know that it doesn’t always work out. In reality, you’re tending to your home, taking care of your other children, checking off your mile-long to do list, and maybe sneaking in a catnap—it’s exhausting! 

Zen Sleepwear™ is gently weighted to mimic your touch, so you can make the most of your time between feeds. You’ll spend less time helping baby fall asleep and make sure they’re getting the quality rest they need, which means you’ll have a little more time for yourself, too. 

To avoid some serious sleep deprivation, wrap baby in their Zen Sleepwear and make sure you’re penciling in time to rest and relax between feeds. Taking care of yourself is just as important as providing for your new babe. 

5. You may resent your husband — and bottles

As a breastfeeding mother, you may soon find yourself glaring at your sleeping husband for not having functional nipples at the same time you hate on your baby’s bottle for acting as a substitute when you’re at work or otherwise unavailable.

Just remember; your job is one-of-a-kind. While hubby snores, you’re literally giving your sweet baby what he or she needs to not just live but thrive. 

Bravo, Mom!

6. You’ll want to build a nursing lair

Once you get baby latched, nothing short of a tsunami will come between you and getting that hungry kiddo fed. Before you settle in, make sure you have all of the following within arm’s reach:

  • Pillows for lumbar, arm and baby support
  • The TV remote (binge-watching your fave shows is the #1 way to get through cluster feeds)
  • Your phone
  • Snacks — nursing makes you HUNGRY
  • A huge bottle of water — the more you hydrate, the more milk you make
  • Burp cloths
  • Clean/dry nursing pads
  • Nipple cream

Sign up for more parent tips on everything from breastfeeding to bedtime

Mom breastfeeding with Zen Sleepwear

You might also like: 

Dream Feed: The what, how, and everything else you need to know

Baby Sleep Simplified: Newborn sleep schedules and patterns

When will my baby sleep through the night? And what might be preventing it?