Should I do a Dream Feed?
Can a Dream Feed help my baby sleep longer at night?
What is a dream feed?
Many people confuse a late feed with a dream feed, a late feed if just when your baby wakes for a feed around 10/11pm at night, you feed them and pop them back to bed. A dream feed though is when you go in while your baby is sleeping and feed them, they don’t wake up. If they wake up, it’s not really a dream feed.
You might wonder how this is possible?
But most babies if you simple rub a bottle or nipple near their top lip will latch on and start to drink whilst asleep! Unfortunately, some will simply refuse to latch and feed, and just turn their head in protest and fall back to sleep.
Why would you do a dream feed, should I do a dream feed?
Dream feeds are a 50:50 in my opinion and experience, you would do a dream feed with the intention that your baby would quickly learn or be taught to consolidate the rest of their night sleep, and you are going to bed after the dream feed and not waking again before morning. ( Or at least this is the goal!).
In a way you are teaching your baby to have their one feed (once age appropriate) before midnight instead of after midnight, so we adults can get our decent chunk of sleep in one hit. This has the added benefit of your baby waking hungry at 7am, not full from their 3am feed, and allows you to start your routine off on the right foot. (See our free routine cheat sheets HERE.)
Why not do a dream feed?
Some babies as mentioned above, won’t latch on and take a dream feed. Other’s will latch but not take a full feed. For example, a 60ml bottle, or a quick breastfeed and refuse to take anymore. This is essentially setting your baby up to snack all night long, and you would be better off not doing this feed and allowing your sleeping baby to wake later when they are hungrier and will feed better.
Some babies will take a full dream feed and then wake as soon as 1/2am!
This is the dream feed not working!
If you have tried the dream feed and you are trying to re-settle through this 1am wake up, and your baby is not starting to sleep longer than this 1/2am, then I suggest you stop the dream feed and let your baby have its longest stretch of sleep form 7pm-12/1am, when they will probably wake for a feed naturally.
Ideally you would be getting 5-6 hours minimum after a dream feed once your baby is 12 weeks old. If you aren’t getting close to this, the dream feed isn’t working as it should.
Some babies will wake every 2 hours after a dream feed! This is a sure sign you need to drop the dream feed and allow your baby to naturally sleep longer.
If your baby is much past 6 months old, it’s time to start thinking about dropping the dream feed, as from here on we run the risk of it disturbing their night sleep patterns and encouraging further wake ups. If your baby needs a night feed and is well over 6 months, its best to allow them to wake naturally hungry, than schedule a night feed.
When can I start a dream feed?
I don’t routinely recommend dream feeds for newborns, as they often wake as early as 9.30/10pm for a feed anyway. They also are often very very sleepy around the 10pm time, and the dream feed makes no difference to how long they sleep for at night. Newborns are also commonly cluster feeding until 5/6 weeks old, so won’t even be in bed earlier enough for a dream feed.
Once your new-born is a bed time routine, and settling easily between 6-7pm, and you are noticing that wake up for the first feed is pushing out a little later, than 10pm, you can try a scheduled awake feed and see if this helps you newborn to consolidate another big chunk of sleep for you. I would suggest a good 45-60 minutes awake time around 10/10.30pm for a baby aged 6-12 weeks, and in this window you can do a full feed and nappy change, allowing your baby to fully wake up before even starting the feed to ensure they are awake enough to take a good full breastfeed. If this encouraged your newborn to then sleep for a good 3-4-5- hours (depending on age and size), then this style of feed is working, and you should only have to get up once more before morning!
What time is best for a dream feed?
If you are going to attempt a dream feed, you want to catch your baby in their first and deepest stage of sleep over night. This runs from 6/7pm through to 11pm. So the ideal window to dream feed in, is 10-11pm, before that stage of sleep ends. If you happen to fall asleep and you miss your dream feed and notice its 11.30pm, go back to sleep! Forget about the dream feed tonight and wait for your baby to wake naturally hungry at some point. Dream feeding prior to 10pm only encourages the bed time feed to not be as full/complete as it could be, as your baby’s digestive system learns they get another feed in a couple of hours, so no need to have a full feed at bed time.
When should I drop my dream feed?
Once you start solids you can begin to reduce your dream feed down (assuming your baby sleeps through from their dream feed, otherwise work on dropping that feed!), once you feel they are well established on 1-2 meals a day (1/4- ½ a cup) you can safely drop that dream feed all the way to nothing, knowing they won’t wake hungry as you have replaced those calories with solids. This is usually around 6 and half months.
So in conclusion?
Dream feeds work about half the time, it also depends on whether you as the feeding parent are happy to wait up until 10.30pm, or if you would prefer to go to bed early and get some much needed shut eye! If your night sleep is already very fragmented and your baby is over 16 weeks, very rarely does introducing a dream feed help. Your baby more likely needs to begin to work on self-settling skills in order to consolidate some chunks of his/her night sleep, and adding in another feed will not do this. If you have a new-born and you are thinking ahead to the future, try the awake late feed I mentioned above, and wean onto a sleepy dream feed around 12-16 weeks. This should encourage your baby to consolidate the second part of their night as soon as they are ready.
Emma Purdue is the owner of Baby Sleep Consultant NZ/Aus and a certified infant and child sleep consultant, and international educator of sleep consultants.
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