Toddler night awakenings and nutrition
Recently in my conversation about when I put my toddler to bed and when his wake-up time is, a friend of mine commented:” but wont he be hungry? Isn’t that a long 11 hours fast?” This is a question most mothers for older infants, mothers of toddlers question themselves time to time. If he has woken up in the night, then he “must be hungry”. How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night because you really needed that healthy salad, sandwich, or soup? American society of obesity medicine states that an individual becomes a night feeder if 25 % of his energy intake or calories come from night eating and this is a sure shot way to become obese or end up as the classical metabolic syndrome person with high waist hip ratios and predisposition to chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases. Newborn babies feed round the clock but they are not obese?? Well, they have a different genetic code that is being implemented at that time that secretes growth hormones that makes their livers, lungs, bones grow. As adult human beings we get our title as an adult because we are not operating on that genetic code as a newborn. Infact toddlers are not operating on that code either. Growth spurts do not occur in toddlerhood.
Contrary to our belief about growth that children always need more food, all they need is nutritious food during their growth spurts and toddlerhood is not one of those periods.
Toddlerhood is about exploration, being amazed by every bubble, splashing water, and giggling when it hits your face, staring at bunnies and wondering why they aren’t coming to you. It certainly is not about having three square meals a day and making sure one is filled up in the middle of the night.
Habits that we create by giving milk when a toddler wakes up in the night create these neural pathways in their brains that food is reassuring during stress and that is one way to help themselves soothe their fears, stress in the night. American academy of pediatrics states the sure shot way to childhood obesity is frequent meals that are high in sugar content. Mothers have offered milk to crackers during toddler nighttime awakenings and these simple items do have high sugar content.
There are other ways of teaching our toddlers to overcome their nighttime fears that do not involve food. All it needs is to create a different neural pathway in their brain and their brains are a gold mine of neuroplasticity aka malleability of how a brain works.
So, no Toddlers will not be hungry, and a 11 hour fast is what our bodies were meant to withstand. It is not unnatural to not eat for 10 -11 hours at their age and will not deprive them of calories if they are supplemented in the daytime. Late night feeding, middle of the night feeding are known causes for childhood obesity and sleep apnea in early childhood. A full stomach never aids a good night sleep.
So, teach your toddler new neural pathways to overcome nighttime awakenings. There are multiple ways to achieve it, but everything starts from one single thought from you as a parent/ caretaker who is “I want to give my child and myself the gift of a goodnight sleep “. Numerous pathways lead to this result, but it all starts from your resolve and consistency. Welcome to independent sleep.