Early rising is a very complex issue and can be the most difficult sleep problem to solve. Firstly, make sure your child isn’t getting too much sleep during the day. It may be that their first nap is too early and too long. Gradually extend the time between morning waking and that first nap so that he naps during later on in the morning, followed by an earlier bedtime. This will lead to a more regulated routine and, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, reduced early-morning waking – it’s relatively slow progress but worth persevering! Babies are individuals like us and each will develop their own pattern.
If your older baby or toddler is waking at 5am at which point they have milk or something to eat, their bodies will get used to expecting food at that time so it follows that they’ll continue waking. Again, this is something that’s dealt with in increments – over the next few weeks, delay the morning feed by a few minutes at a time, if you can, until your child wakes at an hour much more conducive to breakfast. However, young babies do need to be fed through the night so look for their feeding cues for signs of hunger and be led by that.
There isn’t a particular age when babies ‘shouldn’t’ be having milk at night. You can decide what feels right for you and your baby.
You might think that putting a baby to sleep later will solve the problem of early rising, but actually, this will only make it worse. Babies wake when their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise. If your baby is sleep-deprived because she’s been put to bed late, her cortisol levels will already be high before she even goes to sleep and she’ll wake even earlier.
So as odd as it sounds, you should try putting your baby to bed earlier, with fewer naps throughout the day. He’ll go to bed tired but relaxed, his cortisol levels will be lower and he’ll be more likely to sleep later. It might be an option for parents to go to bed earlier, if you have an early waker, as this will help you cope better the next day.