A dream feed – have you heard about it?
Do you know what a dream feed is?
For many families, a dream feed is what helps their baby ‘sleep through the night’.
But how does it work? And can a dream feed really help your baby sleep through the night?
HOW DOES A DREAM FEED WORK?
A dream feed is when you feed your baby without them actually waking for a feed.
You will pick your baby up when they are asleep – or lie beside them if they are co-sleeping with you – and feed them.
When you do this, your baby will gently wake up or go into a drowsy state, you will then give them a feed and ideally, your baby will immediately go back to sleep.
How do I do a dream feed without waking my sleeping baby?
Whether it be breastfeeding or bottle feeding, these are the steps you should follow if dream feeding:
- Step 1: Gently take your baby out of their sleep space. Ensure the room is either dark or dimly lit and quiet (except if you are using white noise).
- Step 2: Touch your baby’s cheek with your breast or bottle. Placing either breast or bottle on their cheek or lower lip will wake up their rooting reflex and get your baby to start feeding.
- Step 3: Offer a brief feed, so maybe for a little less than you would normally feed in the daytime or before bed.
- Step 4: Wind your baby if you can, though this isn’t always easy when baby is fast asleep which is one of the dream feed cons in our opinion.
- Step 5: Place your baby back into their sleep space. If they are awake, let them to try and self-soothe back to sleep.
DO DREAM FEEDS HELP?
They can work for sure.
For many parents, they will feed their baby just before they go to bed and then baby sleeps for another long stretch, enabling parents to maybe only get up once in the night to feed.
Or baby sleeps through until morning.
For a parent, being able to give your baby a feed just before you go to bed, and either not having to get up during the night, or only get up once, is amazing.
And lots of parents implement dream feeds when their baby is 3 months when babies are naturally able to go longer stretches without milk, as their tummy grows.
Sounds too good to be true, right? So are there downsides to a dream feed? Or are there times a dream feed won’t work?
Absolutely, there are definitely cons to consider, which we will go through in more detail below.
WHEN DO DREAM FEEDS NOT WORK?
As a family and a sleep consultancy, we are actually not very pro-dream feeding. Initially, this came from a bad experience of trying to dream feed our eldest child.
We had read all the information on dream feeding, and how good it could be for our baby and as a family.
However, our eldest was immediately sick on the very first dream feed. Needless to say, we didn’t try again!
Now we have much more information and knowledge as experienced sleep consultants, and whilst we can absolutely see the benefits of giving a dream feed, we still don’t believe it’s the best approach and never recommend it to families.
In fact, if families come to us for help, and are doing dream feeds, the first thing we do is advise the family to stop the dream feed.
The reasons that we don’t believe in a dream feed, include:
- It’s more difficult for a baby to digest their milk when asleep, leading to excess gas in their tummies.
- This is especially an issue for babies with reflux.
- Babies are being fed, irrespective of whether they are hungry or not, and this can lead to a habitual feed further down the line, which is very difficult to get rid of.
As such, we believe much more in being baby-led in teams of night feeds.
We just focus on helping families that they are feeding primarily for nutrition, and not as a way to help their baby sleep.
WHEN TO STOP DREAM FEEDING?
We get asked this all of the time – when should I stop the dream feed?
And to be honest, it’s never an easy question to answer.
If the dream feed is currently working for you and your baby, then it’s probably best to continue until you are ready to drop it.
Because when you drop it, your baby probably won’t be very happy as they will wake up hungry due to the metabolic memory of being fed around the same time each night, even if they don’t really need the feed.
So you have to be ready for that push back from your baby.
Most pediatricians and sleep consultants will say 6 months – when a baby starts weaning – is when a baby no longer needs night feeding.
We don’t really hang our hats on that theory as all babies are different.
For example, in first-stage weaning, babies aren’t really getting any substantial calories, so milk shouldn’t be compensated.
Also, some babies need milk in the night because they aren’t taking enough in the day (albeit that can be a chicken and egg situation, whereby they aren’t taking it in the day because they know they can get it at night).
These are just two examples of it not being a simple “babies of 6 months shouldn’t be fed during the night”, and it has to be a decision taken at a more holistic level.
DO BABIES SLEEP LONGER WITH A DREAM FEED?
In an ideal dream feed schedule, the baby will feed around parents’ bedtime, e.g. 10pm, and will then either feed once more in the middle of the night or sleep through the night.
Does it mean they sleep longer?
Technically, they should sleep longer, because if they are having their tummy filled up then they shouldn’t wake for a feed if they only wake with hunger.
However, what if your baby doesn’t actually need that dream feed? What if they were left to sleep until they naturally woke up?
SHOULD YOU REALLY RISK WAKING A SLEEPING BABY?
Many parents will do the dream feed in a very gentle way, where the baby simply rouses as they are picked up.
Once they are onto the breast or bottle for feeding, they should stay asleep.
One potential downside to a dream feed is that if the baby wakes, parents may have some challenges getting them back to sleep.
Ideally, when doing a dream feed, your baby shouldn’t be woken, but gently picked up and fed, whilst keeping them in a drowsy/very sleepy state.
That dream feed should be in a dark room, with little light and stimulation.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR BABY WAKES AFTER A DREAM FEED?
If your baby wakes during a dream feed, we would recommend you take the opportunity to wind them.
A baby who is winded is usually more comfortable, which is a big factor in how well they sleep.
Once winded, you would ideally put them back in their crib to self-soothe back to sleep.
Or you would replicate what you do at bedtime in getting your baby to sleep.
SHOULD YOU DREAM FEED NEWBORN BABIES?
Newborn babies should be fed regularly through the night, as per the advice of your midwife or health visitor.
Once you stop waking them for regular night feedings, our advice would be to let them wake naturally for night feeding.
If you setup good sleep foundations, a baby’s sleep will tend to stretch longer at night after 2-3 months, usually waking only when they need fed.
This is more likely going to lead towards them sleeping through the night, without any feeding once they are ready to do so.
OVERALL OUR VIEW OF DREAM FEEDING…
Whilst we believe there are obvious pros to dream feeding your baby, we very much advocate feeding being led by your baby, i.e. they wake naturally for a feed.
Otherwise, you can end up creating a metabolic habit that continues even after your baby doesn’t actually need night feeding.
If a baby is waking multiple times in the night for small feeds, then our advice would be to focus on helping your baby learn to self-settle – age-dependent – rather than introducing a dream feed as we don’t believe it will help you or your baby longer-term.
You may also be interested in reading: Are Dummies Helpful For Sleep?