Trying to get your baby to sleep longer? Learning how to dream feed may solve this problem!
Parents all over struggle with handling their baby’s many night wakings. So if you are anything like me, you’ll try just about anything for a chance at a few extra hours of shut eye.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a parent in possession of a newborn, must be in want of more sleep… or something like that. Forgive me, I’m sleep deprived.
The answer to the sleep conundrum may be a dream feed.
When my first was 6 months and still waking multiple times at night, our pediatrician introduced me to the dream feed. For us, it was a total lifesaver.
Oh, wonderful dream feed, where have you been all my baby’s life? Why hadn’t I known about this sooner? All of those missed hours of sleep, gone forever!
So now I feel duty bound to share this idea with other parents in the hopes that perhaps it will help them get a bit more of that elusive sleep.
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What is a Dream Feed?
A dream feed refers to a feeding given to your sleeping baby right before you go to bed, typically between 10pm and 12am.
The term itself was coined by Tracy Hogg in her book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.
A little digging online will show some discrepancy in just how asleep or awake your baby should be to dream feed. Our pediatrician’s recommendation to me was to rouse him just enough to get him to latch, but not fully awake.
Admittedly, this is a bit of murky description and honestly took some trial and error to find the sweet spot where he was not fully asleep, but also not fully awake.
Why Risk Waking Your Baby?
This was my very first thought. The idea of waking my peacefully sleeping baby just when I wanted to go to sleep myself sounded nuts.
So why take the risk?
The whole point is to try to fill up your baby right before you go to sleep. This way hopefully they will sleep longer while you are also sleeping.
For most babies, the first stretch of sleep will be their longest. Unfortunately, baby’s bedtime may not coincide nicely with your own. So if your baby goes to bed early, during their long stretch of sleep, you may be up doing dishes and laundry or watching Netflix.
All too often, this also means that your baby will wake up not long after you’ve fallen asleep ruining your best stretch of sleep.
The dream feed should push back that first waking allowing more uninterrupted sleep.
How To Dream Feed
Wondering how do you give a dream feed? It’s surprisingly simple:
Gently pick up your baby.
Touch their cheek or lips to get them to suck.
Feed your baby. Either bottle or breastfeeding works fine.
Return baby to their bed.
Go to sleep!
Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
The big thing about dream feeds is that there isn’t a whole lot of research on them. While many baby experts have used the term and described their own protocol, there are no hard and fast rules.
Dream Feed Tips
- Keep the room dark
- Only change their diaper if necessary (poopy)
- If baby is swaddled, don’t unswaddle.
- Pick baby up. Don’t feed them laying flat on their back.
- If picking baby up isn’t enough to rouse them, try changing positions or playing with their hands or feet.
- If you usually burp your baby after feeding, it’s a good idea to try to do so after their dream feed. They may not need to since they are usually more relaxed and swallow less air.
- If baby does wake up, don’t interact. Be boring and avoid eye contact.
- Have your partner do the dream feed to get an even longer stretch of sleep.
Dream Feed Pro and Cons
Pros of Dream Feeds
- Gives mom a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep.
- Encourages longer stretches of sleep for baby.
- Provides parents some control over night wakings.
- Feed can be done by another caregiver to allow mom an even longer stretch of sleep.
Cons of Dream Feeds
- They can interrupt baby’s sleep cycles, inadvertently causing worse sleep.
- Could potentially overfeed baby making them uncomfortable.
- Dream feeds can become a hard habit to break.
- They won’t work for all babies
- Some babies will wake too much and be difficult to get back to sleep.
- Some babies may refuse the feeding.
- Some babies will still wake just as frequently.
When And How To Stop Dream Feeding
The internet has a lot of conflicting advice on when you should drop your dream feed ranging anywhere from 16 weeks to 9 months.
Given the contradicting information, it’s hard to know when you should stop.
The advice that I received was to wean from the dream feed once baby was sleeping the rest of the night.
One size does not fit all when it comes to baby sleep and like so many parenting decisions, it really depends on your specific situation. My personal opinion is that you should stop when you feel ready or when it doesn’t seem to be working.
As for how you stop, there is the quick way and the slow way.
The quick way to wean is to simply stop cold turkey. One night you decide you’re done and that’s that. For lucky parents that will work out (and for some it truly does), but on the flip side baby may have other plans and wake to feed at that time anyway.
So that brings us to the slow way. Instead of cutting out the dream feed all at once, you slowly decrease it over several nights before stopping completely.
You can do this by cutting back the time if nursing by a minute or reducing the bottle by an ounce or even half an ounce every night or every couple nights until the point where they are barely feeding at all. How slow you go is up to you.
Hopefully, with the slow way, baby doesn’t even realize they’re weaning and everyone gets sleep.
Or you could do what I did which was try the quick way, fail, and then try the slow way.
The Bottom Line On Dream Feeds
If your baby is regularly waking you just after you fall asleep, a dream feed might just be the answer. Unfortunately, it won’t work for everyone.
There isn’t anyway to know if it will work for you and your baby unless you give it a try.
Have you tried to dream feed? Did it work for your baby?