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How Sleep Regressions Impact Feeding: A Guide for Parents

New parents often brace themselves for the sleep disruptions that come with developmental milestones. But have you ever paused to consider how the changes brought on by little one’s growth might also influence their feeding habits? It’s not just about missed z’s; it’s about mealtime shifts too.

While it’s natural to feel a tad overwhelmed when your baby’s sleep and feeding patterns take an unexpected turn, it’s important to remember that these aren’t setbacks. They’re exciting leaps in both physical and brain development. Just as we adults might skip a meal or stay up late when engrossed in a new passion or project, babies too can get so wrapped up in their newfound abilities that their usual routines waver.

To better understand these shifts, let’s delve into how baby sleep regressions can also influence feeding patterns. And for those keen on a deeper dive, our detailed guide on sleep regressions offers a more comprehensive look.

How Sleep Changes Can Affect Feeding

Sleep and feeding go hand in hand. Therefore, sleep regressions, while primarily known for disrupting sleep, can also temporarily affect your little one’s feeding patterns. As babies navigate developmental leaps, they might occasionally skip or reduce their daytime feeds, leading to potential nighttime hunger and increased night waking for a period of time. This can be particularly noticeable during growth spurts, where increased fussiness and altered feeding patterns might coincide.

How Sleep Debt Affects Your Baby’s Mood and Feeds

Think about how you feel after a bad night’s sleep. You’re tired and maybe a bit grumpy, right? Babies feel the same way. If they miss out on sleep for a few nights, they can get fussier due to overtiredness. They might want to eat more often to feel better—this is especially true for breastfed babies. Older kids can get moody or have trouble focusing when they’re tired. This might seem contrary to what we said above, but the distinction is that while developmental milestones can cause a baby to be too busy to eat, overtiredness and lead to an increase in comfort feedings.

Feeding Considerations During Regressions

Sleep regressions don’t directly cause feeding issues. However, the changes associated with these developmental periods can influence feeding behaviors:

  1. Getting Distracted: As babies undergo developmental leaps, they become more aware of their surroundings and are eager to practice new skills. This heightened curiosity can make them more distracted during daytime feeds, leading to shorter or less frequent feeding sessions.
  2. Seeking Comfort: If babies don’t sleep well, they might want more cuddles and food to feel better. This can sometimes lead to a lot of small “snack” feeds rather than full feedings, and can mean your little one is hungry at night.

Breastfeeding Considerations:

  1. Responsive Feeding: Breastfed babies often feed based on both hunger and comfort cues. During sleep regressions, there might be an increased desire for comfort nursing.
  2. Ensuring Nutritious Feeds: When a baby is fussy due to disrupted sleep, the line between nursing for comfort and nursing for hunger can blur. It’s essential to ensure they’re still getting full, nutritious feeds during the day to avoid too many nighttime feeds.

Bottle Feeding Considerations:

  1. Volume vs. Satiety: While bottle feeding provides a clear measure of how much a baby consumes, it’s important to pay attention to their fullness cues.
  2. Flexibility in Routine: Bottle-fed babies often follow a more structured feeding routine. However, it’s beneficial to be flexible, ensuring they’re adequately fed, even if the timing deviates from the norm.

Balancing Comfort and Feeding

As babies grow, their nutritional needs evolve. While feeding is a natural and effective way to comfort a baby, especially during challenging periods of fussiness or growth spurts, it’s essential to strike a balance. Over-reliance on feeding during nighttime wake-ups can inadvertently reinforce unsustainable sleep associations or a reverse feeding cycle.

By the time your little one reaches 12 months of age, they typically start transitioning to a more solid-food-based diet. They can often sustain themselves for longer stretches at night without needing a feed. However, if feeding has been the go-to solution for every fuss or stir, those nighttime wake-ups might be more about seeking comfort than genuine hunger.

To address this, it’s crucial to diversify comfort strategies during periods of fussiness and wake-ups. Techniques like gentle rocking or singing can be integrated, especially during naptime and nighttime. This approach ensures that nighttime feeds don’t become the only comfort mechanism, especially when they might not be nutritionally necessary, barring specific medical considerations.

Establishing a healthy sleep routine that aligns with your baby’s developmental needs can be beneficial in navigating these challenges. And for parents considering sleep training to address sleep associations, always consult with a pediatrician to rule out any underlying health concerns before beginning any sleep training regimen.

Navigating Age-Specific Regressions

While we’ve discussed the general interplay of sleep and feeding, it’s also helpful to understand how these dynamics play out at different stages of your child’s growth. Here’s how you can navigate and support your little one during specific sleep regressions:

The 4-Month Regression

The 4-month sleep regression brings a big change to your baby’s sleep patterns as they transition from erratic newborn sleep to a more structured sleep cycle pattern resembling that of adults. Alongside this change, their awareness of the world expands, making them more easily distracted during daytime feeds. This combination can lead to shorter or missed feedings during the day, which they might try to compensate for at night.

  • Offer a Calm Feeding Environment: Ensure daytime feeds occur in a quiet, distraction-free setting.
  • Establish a Routine: At this age, sleep schedules can start to become more reliable. A consistent bedtime routine can help signal the transition from wakefulness to sleep, aiding in smoother nighttime rest, and reinforcing healthy sleep habits.
  • Dream Feed: Offering a night feed as a dream feed before you go to bed can help align your baby’s longest stretch of sleep with when you go to bed. This can help you get a stretch of 5-6 hours.

The 6-Month Regression

Six month olds are busy! They’re on the cusp of significant physical milestones like crawling and sitting up without support, and it’s a common age for teething. Additionally, many parents introduce solids around this time. The combination of physical exertion from trying to move and the introduction of new foods can sometimes lead to digestive discomforts like gassiness or constipation. By 6 months of age, many little ones will have acquired the gross motor skills needed to find ways to self-soothe, and their sleep schedules are a bit more solidified. These two factors are key in determining whether your little one is ready for formal sleep training.

  • Solids and Milk: As your baby starts to get used to taking in solids, keep in mind their primary source of calories is still coming from milk.
  • Promote Tummy Time: Playtime on the tummy can aid digestion and alleviate discomforts like gassiness.

The 8-9-Month Regression

This age marks a cognitive leap as babies begin to understand object permanence, realizing that things continue to exist even when out of sight. This newfound knowledge can lead to separation anxiety, making them more clingy and resistant to sleep without a parent nearby. Additionally, many babies start pulling themselves to a standing position, a new skill they’re eager to practice even at night.

  • Offer Reassurance: Be there for your baby during moments of anxiety, offering comfort.
  • Safe Exploration: Ensure they have safe spaces to practice new physical skills.
  • Monitor Diet: Keep an eye on their dietary intake, ensuring a balanced mix of solids and milk. Milk should be the main source of calories for your baby until at least 12 months of age.

The 12-Month Regression

The one-year mark is a significant milestone. Babies are often beginning to cruise or walk, expanding their exploration radius. Their language skills are budding, with some babies uttering their first words. These developments can lead to a decreased interest in food as they’re too engrossed in their surroundings or too busy practicing their new skills.

  • Offer Nutrient-Dense Foods: Smaller, frequent meals can ensure they get the necessary nutrients.
  • Safe Spaces: Ensure they have safe areas for physical activity.
  • Interactive Play: Encourage language development through play and communication.

The 18-Month Regression

Eighteen months brings about a surge in language skills and a strong sense of independence. The word “no” becomes a frequent part of your toddler’s vocabulary, and they begin to assert their preferences, including food choices. This newfound autonomy can lead to picky eating patterns and potential power struggles during both sleep and meal times.

  • Set Clear Boundaries: This helps in managing meal times and other routines.
  • Diverse Food Choices: Offering a variety ensures they get all the necessary nutrients.
  • Emotional Support: Understand their emotional needs and provide comfort during meltdowns.

The 24-Month Regression

By two years, toddlers are well into their journey of independence. They’re more mobile, their language skills are rapidly expanding, and they have a clear sense of what they want. This age can bring about nap strikes, more pronounced tantrums, and a stronger will, especially around food choices and sleep.

  • Structured Meal Routine: Consistency can help manage picky eating phases. Keep in mind that your job is to offer food, it’s your little one’s job to decide what and how much they eat.
  • Engage in Meal Preparations: Involving toddlers can foster a positive attitude towards food.
  • Bedtime Snack: Offering a nutritious snack 30 minutes before bedtime can help offset a day of picky eating, and ensure your little one isn’t waking due to hunger



Raising a child is a journey full of ups and downs – especially during the first years as your baby’s brain is rapidly developing. As they hit new developmental changes, their sleep can get disrupted and their eating habits might shift. But remember, these changes don’t last forever.

The key is to provide consistent support, understanding, and patience. By establishing a strong foundation of sustainable sleep and feeding habits, you can mitigate the intensity and duration of the disruptions that sleep regressions bring, which means better sleep for everyone

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists. Special thanks to Deanna.  

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