What Is a Dream Feeding A Baby And How To Do It Carefully?

Incorporating this feeding technique can help avoid breaking your baby’s sleep cycle.

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A dream feeding is a late-night feeding that is given to the baby at around ten or 11 pm or just before you go to sleep. It is done by rousing the baby in their semi-awake state and not waking them up. It is done with the aim of encouraging the baby to sleep longer. Dream feeding helps reduce night wakings for the baby. It is like a late meal that keeps the baby’s tummy full and helps parents sleep for longer hours during the night. In this post, we talk about what dream feeding is, how it helps, its drawbacks, and when to stop dream feeding the baby.

What Is a Dream Feed?

Dream feeding is a method where a sleeping baby is topped up with milk once more before the mother turns in for the day (1). In other words, a sleeping baby is picked up and encouraged to feed, while taking care not to wake them up. Dream feeding works well for both breast and bottle fed babies.

How does Dream Feeding help?

Dream feeding helps you avoid a broken sleep cycle. You and the baby can sleep uninterrupted in the night as a top-up of milk, just before you sleep, keeps the little one’s tummy full for a longer time.

Newborns wake up multiple times at night because they have shorter sleep cycles. Also, as they have a high metabolic rate and low stomach volume, they tend to feel hungry in the middle of the night. This leads to a disturbed sleep cycle for you as well as the baby.

The below example explains how dream feeding can help you tackle this problem.

Your baby has slept at 8pm after completing the last feed for the day. Let us analyze the situation with and without dream feeding.

Without dream feeding:

8pmThe baby completes the last feed and you make them sleep.
10:30pmYou turn in for the day.
12amThe baby wakes up crying. You wake up, finish feeding and the baby sleeps.
1amYou drift away to sleep.
5amBaby wakes up again.
6amFinish feeding, baby is back to sleep, but your day begins.

In this situation, neither you nor your baby might have a good night’s sleep.

With dream feeding:

8pmThe baby completes the last feed and you make them sleep.
10pmYou dream feed the baby, and the baby is back to sleep.
10:30pmYou turn in for the day.
2:30amBaby wakes up for a feed.
4amFinish feeding, baby back to sleep, and you also get back to sleep.
6-6:30amThe baby wakes up for another feed; you wake up refreshed, feed the baby and start your day.

By dream feeding, the baby had to wake up only once in the middle of the night. It means that you have moved one wake-up time to be in sync with your sleep, thus giving both you and your baby a peaceful night.

Here are some other benefits of dream feeding:

  • The baby will get the food they need while sleeping better.
  • You can feed the baby at your convenience. Hence you will sleep better.
  • Dream feeding helps to tank up your baby’s belly without the fear of inducing sleep association. Since the baby is asleep while feeding, he/she will not associate that feeding with falling asleep.

However, the decision to dream feed or not depends on you because it is not fool-proof.

What are the Drawbacks of Dream Feeding?

Dream feeding may not work for all the babies because it is mostly unnecessary. It might not be a sure-shot way to prevent your baby from waking up at night. Here is why:

  • Even after dream feeding your baby, they may wake up multiple times out of habit or due to other reasons such as a full diaper.
  • Some babies tend to wake up more frequently after starting dream feeding, and this could lead to sleep association.
  • The baby may not be hungry enough to feed once more during the dream feed.
  • You may accidentally wake up the baby during the dream feed, and the baby might refuse to go back to sleep immediately.
  • Dream feed may not work for older babies because as they grow older, they are capable of having long breaks between feeds.

If you want to give dream feeding a try and see if it works for you and your baby, then you may go ahead with it.

At What Age Can You Dream Feed A Baby?

You may start dream feeding when the baby is ready to feed while sleeping and keep their stomach full for a longer time.

Dream feed may not work for the first few weeks (around eight weeks) when the baby wakes up more frequently (sometimes every two hours). During the initial months, dream feeding may not be effective as the baby would continue to wake up even after a dream feed.

At What Time Should You Dream Feed Your Baby?

Choose a time when you are about to sleep and your baby has been asleep for about two to three hours. This way, you are ready to finish feeding and get to bed, while the baby also has space in the tummy for a light feed.

Here is an example: If your baby has slept at 8pm, you can dream feed him/her between 10-11pm which is also the time you turn in for the day.

How To Dream Feed?

The biggest challenge in dream feeding is to do it so carefully that the baby does not wake up. Also, if your baby is in deep sleep, they would not show interest in feeding. So, how do you feed a sleeping baby?

Breast feeding:

  • Gently lift the sleeping baby and place him/her in your lap.
  • Bring your baby’s lips close to your nipple.
  • If the baby does not latch on, then squeeze a little milk and rub it on to your nipple; the smell of the milk could make the baby start sucking.

Bottle feeding:

  • You may either pick up the baby or prop the bottle upright in the crib.
  • You may involve your partner in the task.
  • Make sure there is sufficient milk in the bottle.

Other techniques common for both types of feeding:

  • Gently tickling the baby’s cheeks and toes.
  • Placing a wet washcloth (not a cold one) on the baby’s cheeks to awaken the baby.
  • Not making any swift movements that could wake up the baby completely.

Once your baby has finished feeding, place them gently in the crib again. There is no need to burp the baby after dream feeding as the possibility of swallowing air is less (since the baby is asleep while feeding).

At What Age Can You Stop Dream Feeding?

You may stop dream feeding the baby around four months of age (2). However, it depends on your baby’s sleeping habits and your convenience. If you notice that your baby is able to sleep for a longer period without being fed in between, then, it is time to stop the dream feeding.

Usually, babies sleep without in-between feeds once they start having solid foods.

How To Stop Dream Feeding?

You must not suddenly stop dream feeding, as it might disturb your baby’s sleep pattern. Wean them gradually. Here is how you can do it.

  • If your baby has a usual midnight feed routine, then push the dream feed later by 15 minutes every day so that it gradually coincides with the midnight feed time.
  • Alternatively, you may gradually reduce the volume of milk in the dream feed.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I know if the dream feed isn’t working?

You should be able to sleep at a stretch for five to six hours after dream feeding a baby above 12 weeks. If that is not happening and the baby wakes up frequently, it may mean that dream feeding is not working.

2. Can a dream feed disrupt sleep?

Sometimes, dream feeding does the opposite of what is expected. Some families may find their babies waking up more all night, often after dream feeding. If you find your baby finding it difficult to fall back asleep or wake up altogether after a dream feed, it is better to drop the idea.

3. Should I change my baby’s nappy during dream feed?

You can change your baby’s nappy only if you find it necessary. Changing your baby’s nappy might wake them up. You may have to try dream feeding for some nights to know when your baby needs a change of nappy. However, if you think they would need a diaper change a couple of hours after dream feed, it is better to change them, feed them, and put them to sleep.

Dream feeding a baby is a procedure in which babies are fed later at night without awakening them fully. This feeding method aims at facilitating an uninterrupted and peaceful sleep in the parents and babies. In addition, late feeding could keep the baby full for longer and prevent them from waking up with hunger at night. Nevertheless, this method may not work similarly for all babies, so you may try it for a few days and continue if it works well for your baby. However, if you and your little one are getting enough sleep at night, you may not need to use the dream feeding technique.

Infographic: Some More Interesting Facts About Dream Feeding

Dream feeding may work well for most babies, but not all. Read through this infographic to learn about the unknown benefits and problems that may arise if dream feeding is done without following certain breastfeeding and bottle-feeding basics.

things you should know about dream feeding [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

References

1. Amy Semple; What influences baby-sleeping behaviour at night?; NCT, UK
2. Ian M. Paul, Jennifer S. Savage, Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, et al; Responsive Parenting Intervention and Infant Sleep; Pediatrics

 

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