Dream Feeding: What It Is And How To Do It
You’ve prepared for the journey of helping your baby sleep through the night. You’re ready. But then you come across a concept you’ve never heard of: a dream feed.
In this article, learn what a dream feed is, how to do it, and if it’s right for you and your baby.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Dream Feeding?
- Benefits Of A Dream Feed
- Potential Risks Of A Dream Feed
- How Do You Dream Feed?
- Getting Baby Back To Sleep
- When To Stop Dream Feeding
What Is Dream Feeding?
A dream feed is when you feed your baby while they are still sleeping. Sounds confusing, right? But it’s not as tricky as you think.
Dream feeding consists of rousing your baby without fully waking them up before you turn in for the night, typically around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Because little ones usually go to bed between 6-8 p.m., they are bound to wake up hungry within a couple of hours, making this the perfect time.
Research has shown that sneaking in a dream feed between 10 p.m. and midnight can reduce the frequency of your little one’s night wakings, which sounds, well, like a dream.
Benefits Of A Dream Feed
Now that you know what a dream feed is, let's talk about its benefits.
One of the best parts of dream feeding is that it doesn’t interfere with your baby’s need to feed at night. It simply adjusts their feeding schedule to make it more conducive to your sleep schedule.
This alone could make anyone happy. But there are even more benefits, such as:
- Your baby eating a meal at a convenient time helps you to sleep longer
- Your baby getting the extra calories they need to sleep better
- Your baby waking up less, which can encourage them to eat less throughout the night
- Eating less through the night, which boosts their daytime feedings
Potential Risks Of A Dream Feed
To start, dream feeding is considered safe as long as you take your baby out of the crib, wake them up enough to eat, and avoid feeding them while they’re flat on their back. It's best to dream feed your baby in a semi-upright position with their head cradled in the crook of your arm.
But with anything comes a risk or two, and as the attentive parent you are, you probably want to be familiar with the risks of dream feeding. Let’s take a look at some of those risks.
Just reading this word is scary. But, as we mentioned above, this shouldn’t be an issue if you keep your baby in a semi-upright position while you dream feed.
There is the chance that your baby may not even be hungry when you gently rouse them to dream feed. Feeding them anyway could cause them to be overfed.
As a result, they could spit up, get fussy, or increase their dirty diapers overnight, which could then lead to diaper rash.
Middle Ear Infection
If you are bottle feeding your baby with them on their back, the milk could seep into the Eustachian tubes in their ears and cause an ear infection.
Chances are, you are no stranger to a gassy baby. But keep in mind that because their digestive systems are immature, little ones tend to swallow air during feedings.
A dream feed can make your baby extra gassy, especially if you aren’t burping them afterward or if burping isn’t effective.
When To Call A Doctor
There’s no need to fret if your baby isn’t taking to dream feeding. It isn’t required in order for your baby to get a good night’s sleep.
But if you’re interested in trying dream feeding, it doesn’t hurt to ask your pediatrician at your next checkup whether you should incorporate a dream feed into your baby's schedule.
How Do You Dream Feed?
The beauty of a dream feed is that it can help babies stay asleep until a little later in the morning and help mom sleep better. With consistency, this can become part of your little one’s regular sleep schedule.
Even so, timing is everything. Remember you want to maximize your sleep, so helping your baby sync up to a longer overnight sleep stretch can work wonders for both of you.
Also, it’s ideal to dream feed your little one no sooner than two to three hours after they last ate. As we mentioned before, any sooner and they may be too full to take in enough milk for it to have the right effect.
Here are some other things to keep in mind.
1) Dream Feed During REM Sleep
It’s fairly easy to spot when your little one is in REM sleep. REM sleep is when you see your baby twitch; move their arms, legs, or fingers; or flutter their eyelids. They sometimes even change their facial expressions.
When you catch your little one in this sleep stage, it’s time to take action on your dream feed so they are more likely to consume enough milk.
2) Take Your Baby Out Of The Crib Or Bassinet
Keep the room dim and quiet and gently pick up your baby. If they don’t wake up, you can slowly unswaddle them, change their diaper, softly sing, or gently massage them.
3) Touch Your Baby’s Cheek With Your Breast Or The Bottle
Performing this action will wake up your baby’s rooting reflex so they can start sucking. Encourage nursing for five to 10 minutes on each side. And for bottle-fed babies, aim for about three ounces.
4) Burp Your Baby
We discussed this earlier, but whether your little one has fallen asleep during the dream feed or not, you should always burp them to relieve any potential gas.
Once your baby finishes taking milk and burping, simply place them back in the crib on their back.
Getting Baby Back To Sleep
What if your baby won’t fall back asleep? Try some of the pediatrician Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s: swaddle, side-stomach position, shush, swing, and suck.
It’s beneficial to play low white noise all night, but you can turn up the volume as you’re putting your little one back down. The most effective white noise for sleep is continuous, monotonous, and at a low pitch.
Other time-tested tricks that can help your baby sleep after a dream feed include the traditional rocking in a rocking chair, walking with your baby in your arms, and offering a pacifier. Pacifiers fulfill the sucking need, and research suggests a bedtime paci may help lower the risk of SIDS.
When To Stop Dream Feeding
You’ve gotten so used to dream feeding and are loving it! Your baby (and you) have never slept better. But, eventually, your baby won’t need dream feeds anymore. The good news is as your baby gets older, they’ll start to sleep through the night on their own.
You can usually say goodbye to the dream feed two to four weeks after your baby is sleeping well. Typically, this is when they sleep all the way from dream feeding until morning.
However, age shouldn’t be your only indicator for when to stop dream feeding. Sometimes, dream feeds don’t have the desired outcome.
The goal is to fill your baby up so they’ll sleep longer at night, but there are times when this could backfire and cause your little one to wake up more often instead. If that’s the case, it’s probably a good idea to stop dream feeding.
Better Sleep For You And Your Baby!
Dream feeding doesn’t work for every baby, but if your little one is a frequent fan of snacking in the middle of the night, it could help you both get a bit more quality shut-eye.
However, it doesn’t work for every baby, so don’t force it. Ultimately, the choice to dream feed is up to you and what works best for your family. If you do decide to try this feeding method, don’t forget to have what you need to lull your little one back to sleep on hand.
With these tips in mind, you and your little one can become the “dream team” and both get better sleep!