Sleepytime: What is a Dream Feed and How To Do It
In those early months with a newborn, sleep is a luxury. Babies are getting used to this new world that is bright, big, and overwhelming as opposed to the little dark cocoon inside mommy’s belly. As a result, internal clocks are all over the place, feeding times are every few hours, and parents (especially moms) are getting no sleep.
Wish there was a way to make any of this easier or at the very least, a break every once in a while? A dream feed might be the answer. But what is it, how do you do it, and is it even something to consider? Read on to get the scoop on this sleepytime trick that extends the time your baby is sleeping. It might end up being a game-changer.
What is a Dream Feed?
In a nutshell, dream feeding is when you gently feed your baby, without fully waking, one more time before you turn in for the night. Newborns that go to sleep between 6 and 8 p.m. usually wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
Sneaking in an extra feed may reduce night waking, helping babies (and you) get a little extra sleep. Many parents swear by dream feeding as a game-changer in those early, sleepless nights.
It’s important to note that dream feeds are initiated by parents, not babies. So if you are taking a baby-led approach to your little one’s first year, this technique might not be right for you.
Most parents start using a dream feed between 6-8 weeks and 4 months old, once you can see that your baby no longer needs to eat every 3 hours at night. It’s also important to note that dream feeding can happen with breastfed and bottle-fed babies.
How long to continue dream feeding also depends on your baby. Most bottle and breastfed babies can stop dream feeding around 6-8 months, with breastfed babies possibly stopping around 9-12 months old.
So should you try a dream feed? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this technique.
- The baby is able to get the extra calories needed to sleep better.
- Convenient for you (so you can sleep longer). Even an extra half-hour can have an impact on your health and wellbeing.
- Eating less during the night leads to being hungrier in the morning, boosting daytime eating.
- It can ultimately help speed up the development of more mature nighttime sleep patterns.
- Dream feeding may wake your baby up more and lead to trouble falling back to sleep.
- The baby may get used to having an extra feed overnight.
- Overfeeding- which leads to spitting up, fussiness, or dirty diapers at night, which can lead to diaper rash.
- Gas- babies tend to swallow air during feedings due to immature lungs, which can lead to gas, especially if burping afterward is challenging.
How to Do It
Think you might want to give dream feeding a try? It’s pretty simple to do.
It’s important to try to dream feed when baby is in active REM sleep. He/she will get a fuller feeding that way. Try to time it to maximize sleep so the longer stretch of your baby’s sleep happens when you want to sleep as well. This way, everyone wins. Don’t try to dream feed any sooner than 2-3 hours after the last feeding.
When you’re ready to dream feed, gently pick up your baby from the crib or bassinet. If he/she doesn’t wake up, slowly unswaddle (if swaddled). You can change the diaper, hold upright, talk/sing softly or gently flicker lights.
Put the breast or bottle to the corner of the baby’s mouth, which should stimulate the latch and sucking reflex. Make sure to prop your baby up in your arms when feeding to avoid swallowing air. When baby is finished, put him/her back in the crib on their back, making sure to burp first. Hopefully the baby falls back asleep, full and ready to sleep longer.
Here’s a simple example of how the night would go:
Baby goes to sleep around 7 p.m after regular bedtime routine
Dream feed around 10 p.m
Baby sleeps until 5-6 a.m
The example above gives you 7-8 hours of glorious, continuous sleep that can do magical things for your body and mind. Parents rejoice!
Always burp after a dream feed (or any feed for that matter) before putting baby back down on their back. It helps reduce gas, fussiness and overall discomfort.
If dream feeding is going well, the general rule is that you can stop around 2-4 weeks after baby is sleeping well from the time of your dream feed to the morning. Some recommend they should stop around the 16-week mark, but others have continued until around 6 months. Listen to your gut and your baby to figure out the right time to stop.
Whether or not to change the diaper is a big question that comes up a lot. If the baby is already awake and has a dirty diaper, changing it is a good idea. If he/she is asleep, as long as it’s not dirty it’s fine to leave it on.
Dream feeding is a popular technique that many parents swear by. But it’s not for everyone. Some babies are able to sleep through a dream feed with no issues and parents revel in the extra sleep. Other babies wake up with the slightest movement, making dream feeding a nightmare as parents basically have to go through the sleep routine again.
The early months of a baby’s life are new and exciting and exhausting. You and your baby are getting to know each other, figuring out how to mold your daily lives together. If the idea of dream feeding sounds like something that may benefit your family, try it out! If you tried it and it doesn’t work, try something else. This is motherhood. Cue the pajamas and comfy robes. You got this.