September 15, 2023

Hunger or habit? How to tell which one it is.

Hunger or habit? How to tell which one it is.

One of the most common questions we get asked by struggling parents with babies who wake frequently overnight is:

"But do they actually need this feed, or are they just waking due to habit?"

Whilst there is nothing wrong for your baby to wake often, especially if it is not a problem for you, there are some signs you can look out for to see whether it is a genuine feed, or merely a comfort / habitual feed.


  • Your baby is under 6 months old. At this age it is common for your baby to wake often for feeds overnight. In the newborn days 2-3hr are very age appropriate and these will gradually push out to 3-4hr the closer you get to 6 months of age. Naturally overtime as your baby's stomach grows, as does their capacity to hold milk, these feeds will start stretching out.
  • Your baby will wake and take a full feed - whether full bottle or full breastfeed. Following the feed, they will sleep again for a nice long stretch before they wake again for another feed. For example, a 6 month old may feed twice overnight. 
  • If you try to resettle your baby using a different settling technique and not offer the feed, they may fall asleep but will wake very quickly thereafter (typically within the hour).
  • Your baby will wake up at sporadic times overnight, there will be no consistency with the timing of their feeds.
  • Their morning feed is not impacted which means they will either take the full bottle or full breastfeed.
  • Between 4-6 months of age, babies can start to form associations to how they have fallen asleep, which may cause sleep disruptions. With associations, you may see your baby waking up as often as every two hours one day, sleeping longer the next. Associations look very different to each family and some may experience sleep battles (if you try and offer a different settling technique), catnapping or frequent night waking. 
  • If you find your baby is waking every 2hrs but only has a small amount of their bottle or small breast feed and falls asleep very quickly (typically within minutes).
  • Habitual feeds tend to happen at approximately the same time every single night (a dream feed is a great example of how it may become a habitual feed - once you stop offering your baby the feed, your baby may wake up at approximately the same time. The trend you may notice is your baby constantly wakes around 10.00pm and 2.00am. 
  • Even after a feed, your baby wakes around the 2hr mark
  • Their morning feed may be impacted.

If you find that your baby is habitually feeding overnight, my top tip is to look at how often and what your baby is doing during this feed. 

Your overnight feeds may be split between comfort feeds and genuine feeds, comfort feeds are ones you can automatically remove and replace with a settling technique of your choice to support your baby towards a more consolidated overnight stretch. 

Genuine feeds are ones, regardless of bottle or breast that if your baby is of age can be weaned in a more gradual process, this ensures that their calorie regulation is shifted to other times of the day in a more manageable process for both you and baby.

If you find your baby is full term, healthy weight and feeding regularly overnight but not overly well during the day they may be experiencing what we refer to as reverse cycling. This term is used to describe babies who have a higher calorie intake overnight, in comparison to their day and this is something that we can comfortably adjust with 1-1 support.

Alternatively if you prefer something more self paced the Weaning Masterclass showcases may be the option for you! We teamed up with Nutrionist Aimee from Little Bean Nutrition to guide you through the know how when it comes to weaning - both breast and bottle!

With examples for both day and night as well as strategies and real life cases. You can find the Weaning Masterclass here

If your baby's routine seem to be in line with our recommendations with sleep is still messy, we can help!

  • For small tweaks to routine, have a look at our Quick Chat - 15min  option
  • For parents struggling with several things such as catnapping, frequent night waking, early morning rising or things that simply no longer work, have a look at our Phone + One Week Support option.
  • Not sure what is right for you? Get on the phone to one of our experienced consultants with our FREE 15min Discovery Call