How to Do a Dream Feed
- Dream feeding can be very helpful for parents trying to get their baby to sleep through the night or sleep longer stretches.
- While dream feeds can help many babies sleep, for some babies they will be too stimulating or won’t help them sleep longer.
- The key to a successful dream feed is to keep the baby completely asleep and minimize any stimulation that could wake the baby during the feed.
Parents of young babies generally have one dream: a baby who will sleep longer.
Those early months of sleep deprivation can be excruciating, and the constant night feedings take their toll on exhausted parents. I remember the first time I tried a dream feed, and my baby slept until 2:45 a.m. I felt like a new person the next day!
Incorporating a dream feed into your baby’s routine can be a useful tool in getting a longer stretch of sleep.
What is Dream Feeding?
If you decide to try dream feeding, you’ll put your baby to sleep using their normal routine at bedtime. Around 10 or 11 p.m., you’ll pick your baby up without waking them and breast or bottle feed them. Babies have a natural sucking reflex, so don’t worry about waking them for the feed. They will naturally begin to eat even while still fast asleep.
The most important part of the dream feed is ensuring that you don’t wake your baby. Waking your baby during the dream feed can lead to this feeding time becoming a habitual waking time. Additionally, it can be difficult to get your baby to fall asleep if they wake during a sleep cycle.
Your baby may wake slightly the first few times you initiate a dream feed. This won’t create an issue as their eyes stay mostly closed, and they won’t wake fully or require your support to put them back to sleep.
Remember: Dream feeding is supposed to make your life easier, not more difficult. You may need to adjust the time you are feeding if you find dream feeding is resulting in an additional waking from your baby.
Do Dream Feeds Really Help Babies Sleep Longer?
Let’s be honest—the question we are all wondering about is whether dream feeds really help babies sleep longer. The answer: It depends!
If hunger is causing your baby’s middle-of-the-night wakeups, then a dream feed can help extend the time they go without a feeding during the night. However, there are a lot of other factors that come into play when considering baby sleep. Most importantly, take a close look at the baby’s schedule.
A few questions to ask yourself before you decide to implement a dream feed include:
- Is your baby taking a full feeding during night wakings? If not, the waking may be due to an inability to connect sleep cycles rather than hunger, and a dream feed may not lead to a longer stretch of sleep.
- What is your baby’s sleep schedule? Babies need an appropriate schedule for their age. This means age-appropriate wake times, adequate naps, and a bedtime between 7-8 p.m.
- Does your baby have a consistent bedtime routine? This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a 15-30 minute routine with predictable steps in a consistent order is important.
- What’s the baby’s feeding schedule? Again, it’s crucial to ensure your baby is taking in enough calories during the daytime. If not, they’ll wake to feed throughout the night, leading to shorter intervals of uninterrupted sleep.
- What is the baby’s sleep environment? Is it completely dark? Tip: You shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you hold it out in front of you. Do you use a sound machine? Is the temperature comfortable?
Dream Feeding: Risks vs Benefits
Dream feeding may sound like the answer to an exhausted parent’s prayers, but it’s not the right choice for every baby or family.
Let’s start with the dream feeding pros:
- Can lead to longer stretches of sleep for your baby
- A beneficial way to ensure you are feeding your baby enough milk
- May help babies gain weight
- Can lead to longer stretches of sleep for parents, particularly at the beginning of the night
- Allows for parents to take predictable shifts for the first half of the night
- Meets baby’s hunger needs before they are actively upset or crying
However, there’s a downside to everything. Here are the risks of dream feeding:
- Can interfere with a baby’s natural sleep patterns by interrupting sleep cycles leading to more waking, not less
- Can activate a baby’s digestive system leading the baby to want more feeds throughout the night
- May require the parent doing the feed to stay up later than they normally would, leading to more rather than less sleep deprivation
- Older babies can become reliant on dream feeds requiring parents to go through a weaning process that could have been avoided
- Some babies wake too much during a dream feed creating additional work for the parent
How to Do a Dream Feed: Everything You Need to Know
There is absolutely no harm in giving dream feeding a try. If there’s a chance dream feeding can help, then it’s absolutely worth experimenting with to catch more Zs. Many parents swear by this method! Try the dream feed for a few nights to determine whether it’s a good fit.
When to Do a Dream Feed
The first step is to determine what time you want to do the dream feed. A dream feed occurs after the baby has been asleep and before the baby wakes. A good rule of thumb is to dream feed your baby no sooner than three hours after your baby’s bedtime feeding. So if your baby goes to sleep at 7, you wouldn’t do a dream feed before 10.
Another consideration is what time your baby wakes for their first feed during the night. A dream feed isn’t a feed that occurs in response to an infant crying. If your baby typically wakes at 10:30, for example, you would want to go in and feed before that waking to ensure that you are feeding your baby while they are asleep.
How to Feed a Sleeping Baby
We all know the old adage “never wake a sleeping baby,” and this definitely applies to a dream feed. Dream feeding works for breastfed babies and bottle-fed babies. It can be highly effective for very young babies who don’t wake up as easily when you pick them up during sleep.
You can start dream feeding your baby as soon as you’d like to begin. There is no set age for when dream feeding starts, and the newborn stage can be a great time to start filling your baby’s tummy to set the stage for a good night’s sleep.
Most babies will only wake slightly when picked up during sleep, especially nighttime sleep. If your baby is at the lightest point in the sleep cycle, they may be more wakeful. A lightly sleeping baby is easier to feed. Signs that your baby is in a lighter sleep stage include moving around in their sleep, making noises, or stirring without waking.
To feed a sleeping baby, you’ll position your baby’s mouth at the bottle or breast. Most likely, your baby will naturally latch and begin sucking. You may need to nudge your baby to open and latch if they are in a deeper phase of sleep. It doesn’t matter if you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. This can look like lightly stroking your baby’s cheek and moving the nipple from the tip of the nose to the lips to stimulate your baby to open their mouth.
The goal is to give your baby a full feed and then go to bed! There is no time limit on how long to feed during a dream feed. Some babies will take a small feed during this time. Try to do what you can to keep your baby eating for a full feed. This can include switching sides if breastfeeding, stroking your baby’s cheek to encourage continued feeding, or subtly repositioning your baby in your arms.
Burping Your Baby
You should always gently burp your baby after a dream feed. Trapped air bubbles after a feeding can lead to more discomfort and waking. The opposite of what we’re aiming for with a dream feed!
However, you may find that your baby doesn’t need to burp. Oftentimes, babies are so relaxed that they take in less air during these feeds. You can cuddle your baby for a little while after burping to ensure they’re back to sleep before putting them back down.
What Not to Do During a Dreamfeed
Rule number one: don’t wake that baby! Try to avoid doing the following to ensure it truly is a dream feed:
- Do not change your baby’s diaper unless there’s poop. In the case of a newborn, you may often find this is the case. Newborns sure do poop a lot! If this happens, change before the feed so that your baby can get back to sleep during the feed.
- Do not turn on bright lights. Ideally, keep all lights off. If you need a light, keep the lights dim and use a soft, warm-colored light like a Himalayan salt lamp.
- Do not turn off the sound machine. You want to keep everything in the sleep environment as consistent as it would be if the baby was still sleeping in their sleep place.
- Do not remove your baby’s swaddle or sleep sack.
- Avoid using your phone.
- Do not sing or talk to your baby. Avoid overstimulating your baby as much as possible.
When to Stop Dream Feeding Your Baby
All good things must come to an end—including this sleep hack. Most babies don’t need a dream feed after six months old. However, some babies do! I still dream-feed my ten-month-old because it works for our family. There are no hard and fast rules about when to stop.
Some signs to look for indicating that your baby is ready to stop dream feeding:
- Your baby is sleeping through the night from the dream feed until morning.
- Your baby suddenly begins waking more throughout the night. (The feed could be interfering with your baby’s natural sleep cycles.)
How to Stop Dream Feeding
There are three main ways to stop dream feeding your baby:
- Move the time of the dream feed backward until it is close to the bedtime feed. So if your baby’s bedtime is 7:30, you would gradually move the dream feed earlier each night until the feed is at 9:30 or so. At that point, you can stop the dream feed.
- Cold turkey. If you stop completely and your baby begins to wake in the night again, then you can add the dream feed back in and try to drop it more gradually.
- Decrease the amount or time of the feed a little bit each night depending on whether the baby is breast or bottle-fed.
A dream feed can be a wonderful thing. No matter what you decide to do, make sure a dream feed works for you and your family. Sweet dreams, parents!
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