Sometimes, your baby just won’t sleep through the night, no matter what you try. Pediatricians say that children older than six-months-old don’t need a feeding during the evening, but the baby may not agree with that doctor says. One of the solutions that work for my children is a dream feed. It is an excellent choice for parents and babies to help get longer stretches of sleep at night!
What is a Dream Feed?
You might assume, based on the name, that a dream feed happens at night while your baby is asleep. You go to your child while they are asleep and feed them. It is particularly easy for breastfeed babies who root in their sleep. However, bottle feeding parents can easily warm up a bottle and dream feed their baby.
Many parents believe that you and your baby will get longer stretches of sleep. It makes sense; a baby will a full stomach is less likely to wake up hungry in the middle of the time, at an inconvenient time. However, just like anything else with parenting, it doesn’t work for every baby and parent.
How Do You Begin to Dream Feed?
The first thing you should consider is when your baby goes to bed. Every baby is on a different sleep schedule. Some children go to sleep close to 7 p.m., and some prefer to go to bed later or earlier. Also, you have to think about what time you go to sleep. If you don’t work out of the home, you may be able to place the dream feed later in the night than other parents.
If your baby heads to sleep around 7 p.m., you might consider a dream feed around 10 or 11 p.m., before you go to bed yourself. Typically, their full tummies will give you a four to six hour stretch of sleep! Your baby may sleep until 5 or 6 a.m., giving you many quiet hours of sleep.
Some babies stay totally asleep during dream feeding. Their eyes never open, and they are happy to drink until they feel full. Other babies may rouse a bit, only to fall asleep again once content. However, your child may totally wake up during a dream feed. It is important just to soothe your baby back to sleep, just as you would at bedtime.
Why Do Dream Feeds Work?
A lot of parents have success with dream feeds. They are convenient and straightforward, and typically you can pick the time that works best for you. The main idea of a dream feed is that you fill their little bellies up, even more, helping them sleep longer without the need for an additional feeding. Even if they wake up during the dream feed, you are likely to get them right back to sleep without much fuss.
Dream feeds can cut out one or two late-night wakeups, and that is a great thing for parents and babies! Everyone gets more sleep. Sleep deprived parents can benefit even from an additional hour or two each night. It will feel marvelous to get a bit more sleep. If your baby takes a bottle, you can have your partner do a dream feed to allow you get even more sleep!
A dream feed is worth it if it resets their clock and lets you get just a bit more sleep every night.
Dream Feeding: Breast or Bottle
Some parents think it is easier to dream feed with a bottle because you won’t have to change their position too much. Placing the bottle nipple on their bottom lip stimulates their natural sucking reflex. Once your baby gets a few drops of milk into their mouth, they are likely to start sucking without much trouble.
With breastfeeding, you do have to get your baby into the correct and comfortable position to nurse. It may lead to your waking your child, but they are likely to drift back off soon. The biggest problem is getting your baby to start breastfeeding. The best ways to do this is to either brush your nipple over the baby’s lips, stroke their cheek or hand express some milk for them to taste or smell. Hand expressing almost always gets them interested; their ability to smell milk is impressive.
It is important to remember that, for newborns, you may want to wait to introduce a bottle. If you are dream feeding a newborn, their rooting reflex is strong. Introducing a bottle too soon can lead to nipple confusion, which can be damaging to your entire breastfeeding relationship. However, once you have waited and introduced one successful, dream feeding is a great way for your partner to help out so you can get some extra sleep!
Will a Dream Feed Work for Every Baby?
The short answer is not. There is nothing out there that works the same for every single baby, but it sure would be nice! There are some scenarios that produce better results than others.
- Dream feeds are ideal for babies who are six months old or younger.
- If you have a newborn, you are likely to have great success with dream feeds! When it comes time that your baby would normally wake, you can go and feed them and head to bed yourself for a few hours of bliss!
- For breastfeeding mothers, dream feeds can help keep up your supply or be beneficial if you work outside of the home and need to breastfeed more.
- Some babies will wake easier for dream feeds, without waking all of the way
- Babies with reflux tend to respond well to a dream feed. Melatonin relaxes the muscles in your body, along with the abdominal muscles. Most reflux babies can tolerate a dream feed without spitting up. Just remember to hold them upright to let the wind
Do any of the scenarios fit your situation? If your baby is close to six months old, it may work or it may not. However, parents should always give it a try! There are also sometimes that dream feeding may not be the best idea. Here are the situations when you are less likely to get a good result.
- Babies who are older than nine months old. This age is around when some parents decide to night wean, and your child may not need any night feedings. However, every baby is different; they may not be ready to night wean!
- If your child is more alert than average or wakes entirely very quickly, you may not want even to run the risk of waking them all the way by dream feeding. Instead of having a long sleep, you may have a happy, playing baby.
- For babies with a sleep association issue or a persistent sleep problem, dream feeding won’t fit anything. It only helps wakeups that have to do with hunger.
Why Does Age Matter?
Babies, just like an adult, have sleep patterns. As they age, their patterns change. A four to six-month-old baby has a sleep cycle that more resembles an adult rather than a newborn. They enter a deep sleep quickly, around 30 minutes after they get to sleep. Older infants and adults cycle in and out of a light and deep sleep. A period tends to be 45 to 50 minutes long. So, your baby may briefly wake up after they go through a cycle.
At this time, a baby may be able to sleep through the night. They probably won’t sleep for 12 hours at a time. The definition of sleeping through the night is 5 hours of continuous sleep without any feedings. When your baby does this, those five hours are the deepest sleep they receive. Then, the rest of the night is a cycle of light and deep sleep, but it won’t be as deep as it was before.
All of this means a few things. First, you may have a hard time waking your baby up to feed when in their first deep cycle. If you are lucky enough to wake them up, they could be cranky and angry that you did. Second, even if you successfully dream feed your infant, they are probably going to have another wake up anyway. Then, they need their regular sleep routine to go back to bed.
What Do the Experts Say?
The experts are split on how they feel about dream feeding. It was a term coined by Melinda Blau and Tracy Hogg in their book The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. They are the ones who first advocated for dream feeding, so long as it wasn’t later than 11 p.m.
You will find a lot of different opinions. Gina Ford, author of the Little Baby Book: The Secret to Calm and Confident Parenting, advocates for parents to wake their baby up at 10 p.m. for a nighttime feeding. However, individual experts and doctors firmly believe that dream feeding disrupts a child’s natural sleep cycles and patterns. They believe a dream feed is more harmful than helpful for the proper sleep needs of a baby.
Tips to Dream Feed Safely and Appropriately
If you decide to give it a go, there are a few things you need to do to make sure that you are doing everything safely. Remember, your baby is sleepy at this time!
- Your baby should be in a position where his head is elevated. Before you begin to dream feed, lift your child into an appropriate, safe place. If your dream feed your baby when they are lying down or very deeply asleep, you run the risk of choking or gagging your child. That is not a pleasant way to wake your child up, and they likely to be miserable.
- After your baby feeds, keep your baby in the position with their head elevated. It gives some time for air to escape. Your child is likely to be relaxed and more than likely asleep. Keeping them elevated for a few moments also reduces that risk of spit up.
- You have to trigger your baby’s rooting reflex. It is easier with babies who breastfeed, but bottle feeding infants still that that instinct. You can try to stroke their cheek with your breast or bottle nipple. Rubbing your baby with your hand over their feet or hands can help wake them just enough to encourage drinking.
- Never fully engage your child. The goal isn’t to fully wake up your baby. It may take you some practice to figure out what is the best method to get your baby However, you’ll figure it out quickly.
- If your baby doesn’t wake up, you may want to try some different methods. Taking your baby semi-out of their swaddle may rouse them enough to drink. If your baby is very sleepy, you may have to do a quick diaper change BEFORE you dream feed. Don’t change their diaper after; that is just asking for them to be wide awake! Your baby may respond best to your voice. Just keep it quiet and don’t overdo anything!
When to Stop Dream Feeding
Just like everything else, everyone has their opinion about when to stop dream feeding. Dropping the dream feed depends on your child and the routine you have set. Some babies can sleep longer than others. Other kids prefer to keep their dream feed for as long as possible. Here are some signs that it may be time to let it go.
- Your baby is suddenly tough to wake.
- They sleep through the night.
- The baby won’t wake up at all to dream feed.
- Baby doesn’t drink much when he does wake.
The average age to drop it does differ. Some suggest once your child is firmly on solid foods, around 7 to 8 months old. If you follow Babywise, they suggest stopping the dream feed around 3 to 4 months old. Other recommend 6 to 7 months old! Only you can make the final decision about when your baby is ready.
To Try Dream Feeding?
There is no reason not to give dream feeding a try! Many parents advocate for it and have great success. You can always stop if you feel like it doesn’t benefit your baby. Dream feeding could be the key to a good night sleep for you!