Sleep training while keeping an overnight feed

Many parents put off reaching out to a baby sleep consultant because they worry that they will be bullied into cutting their baby’s feeds entirely overnight or simply think that it’s impossible to improve their baby’s sleep without doing so. This is flat out NOT the case. 

There are a number of reasons that a mother may wish to continue a feed overnight, eg. Their baby is too young to sleep through without milk, or is ready age-wise but not growing at a rate we’d hope or even just the very fact that mum WANTS to keep in one feed (but understandably doesn’t want to keep the other six!). These are all perfectly valid and don’t need to be questioned or examined by anyone. 

So how do we achieve this seemingly impossible dream?

Once you have selected which sleep training method you are going to use to help your baby to learn to self-settle you need to choose which time you think is reasonable to feed her overnight. We normally guide people to choose a time that is earlier rather than later and that’s mainly because if you postpone the feed (say to 3am) and your baby wakes four times before then it’s going to be REALLY HARD to stay on track and stay consistent. Rather, if you choose a time like 10.30 or 11pm then any subsequent wakeups you rationally know that she isn’t actually hungry because you know she just had a feed. 

If you need to keep in two feeds, that’s totally fine BUT it may mean that progress is slower as it is slightly more confusing for your baby. Just choose a second time in the night and treat it the same way as we explain below. 

What’s next for keeping an overnight feed?

So, we have our expected feed time (let’s say for the sake of this article it is 11pm) and we have our sleep training method clear in our head. It’s time to take a deep breath and get started! 

Now what needs to happen is we wait for the waking around 11pm to feed, but treat every waking that is NOT at that time as a night waking (with our sleep training method). So if your baby wakes at 9pm, well that is clearly not 11pm so you would use your sleep training method to assist her to self-settle back to sleep. Again, if she woke at 10pm – well that isn’t 1pm either so you would use sleep training rather than a feed. If she woke at 11pm though? BOOM! Feed time! What is critical is that immediately upon waking you go in and feed your little one. 

This encourages your baby to learn that if mum comes in to feed me, it’s time for a feed. If she does her sleep training method (which may or may not have you immediately in the room, it depends on which technique you decide on), I need to go back to sleep. 

If you only remember ONE thing, let it be this…

What is absolutely critical is that once you decide that a waking is going to be a sleep training one, rather than a feed, that you follow through with that decision until your baby is asleep. 

If you start sleep training then call it off and feed 30 minutes in because you think she might actually be hungry, then all you’ve done is teach her that if she cries for 30 minutes she gets fed. This is intermittent reinforcement and honestly, you would have been better off just feeding her to start with. 

Knowing that and given that your baby can’t actually tell the time we would advise that you consider feeding your baby if she wakes some time around the time you have mentally nominated. 10.15? We would probably treat that as a waking. 10.45? Yikes! Just do the feed because it’s close enough! You can use your judgement here, we will not be standing outside your window monitoring to make sure you stick to the time you thought you would. That would be suuuuuper creepy. 

Feeding is not a get out of jail free card

Unlike a lot of baby sleep consultants, we aren’t hugely concerned if you baby falls back to sleep while she’s feeding but if she doesn’t and she cries when you put her back in her sleeping space, then you would need to resume your chosen sleep training technique again until she is asleep. 

A final note…

So the takeaway message is that it IS possible to reduce the number of night wakings by sleep training and still keep a feed in overnight. Are we saying that EVERYONE has to? Absolutely not. But the option is there if it’s up your alley. 


Say! You might also be interested in reading one of these equally enthralling posts:

What to do when your baby rolls onto their tummy

Will you make me do controlled crying?

Is my baby ready to drop to one nap?



If you would like personalised help with any sleep issue for a child, newborn to 5 years, contact The Baby Sleep Company today on 0457 473 725 or click here to send us an email.


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