Tell me if you’ve heard this one (usually from your mom or grandmother): “Just put cereal in their night time bottle – that will get them sleeping through the night!”
Sigh…It’s been used by parents for generations and I can understand why it’s so popular. As adults, we know that sleeping on an empty stomach is challenging (hello late night snacks, am I right?).
We also know that staying awake when you’ve just eaten a big, hearty meal is next to impossible.
So the notion that a little cereal in baby’s bottle should take longer to digest than breastmilk or formula and will keep them feeling full for longer and therefore help them sleep through the night seems reasonable at face value.
Any parent who has experienced a baby who isn’t sleeping well is probably anxious to find the reason why and is likely to try anything they deem as safe and potentially effective in order to remedy the situation.
It’s not about the food
Unfortunately, the vast majority of parents who use this trick find that, even if it’s successful at first, the results are only temporary, and here’s the reason why...
Once your baby reaches a certain age and weight, (I’ll just use the 6 month mark here as a happy medium) waking in the night isn’t about food. I’ve heard from parents who were getting up with their little ones 8-9 times a night claiming that their baby was waking that often to eat.
While baby might have nursed a little every time they were offered the breast (especially from a desperate parent doing anything to get baby back to sleep in the middle of the night), but that doesn’t mean that they were hungry.
What is much more likely is that baby’s become dependent on nursing as a method to get to sleep. After all, if they’ve nursed to sleep every time they’ve woken up for the first six months of their lives, it only makes sense that they won’t be able to get to sleep without that familiar routine.
This is a very typical sleep association, one that I have experienced as a mother myself.
The cereal in the bottle works on the idea that babies fall asleep at bedtime with a warm and full belly that will keep them asleep for a solid 10-12 hours. But that’s not how sleep works. We all cycle in and out of deep sleep, and at the end of every cycle, we tend to wake up. Maybe not fully, but we do attain a certain level of consciousness.
In babies, that cycle is usually about 45 minutes, so even on a good night, they’re going to wake up a lot. And if the only way they know how to get to sleep is by nursing, they’re going to cry to get your attention, and wait for you to come in and help them out.
Once your baby reaches 13 lbs/5.8Kg AND are growing appropriately on the growth curve/otherwise healthy, their wake ups are not due to hunger.
So what WILL get my baby to sleep through the night?
The solution to the issue is two fold: teach your baby to fall asleep independently and night wean them.
That might seem like a tall order for a 6 month old, but I assure you, they’re fully capable of learning this invaluable skill. They typically take to it faster than you would expect, sometimes within just days. I did it with my own child at 6 months and it typically takes about 2 weeks.
Self Soothing Strategies
Being an independent sleeper means your child has found a self soothing strategy that does not rely on anyone or anything external. Lots of babies will babble to themselves for a bit, or rub their feet together, or suck on their fingers, or some combination of all three. Almost every client I’ve worked with has had some new (and often amusing) trick that their baby has adopted as a sleep strategy. Let them discover these strategies on their own, and then let them practice them a little. It’s a skill, and skills take time to master.
If you have learned a new skill lately, you may remember that it feels a bit strange and uncomfortable. This is true for babies and they will tell you that learning this new skill feel strange and difficult by tears and protest. This is natural and they are ok.
I don’t suggest leaving your child to cry it out without any comfort or attention. You should feel free to attend to them, let them know you’re nearby and available, but don’t rock, nurse, or cuddle them until they fall asleep. Let them find a way to do it on their own. That way, when they wake in the night, they’ll have the skills they need to settle back down on their own.
As a mom who was at wits end with my own child’s sleep, I definitely contemplated the cereal in the bottle trick. I was ready to try anything to get my baby to sleep better. But after research and talking with my pediatrician, I realized and learned it was not about the food. It was about the skill.
It is not easy work, but learning how to self sooth and be an independent sleeper is such an important skill.
Overwhelmed? You are not alone. Let’s chat about what’s going on and we can talk about how we can get your baby sleeping through the night in about 2 weeks WITHOUT cereal in a bottle!