Parents who are sleep deprived are often looking for quick tricks or fixes to help their baby sleep through the night. As a Pediatric Sleep Specialist, one of those tricks I am often asked about is the dream feed.
So, what is a dream feed? Does it actually work? Should you do a dream feed?
Keep reading to find out!
What is a dream feed?
Most parents refer to a dream feed as that feeding when your baby is mostly asleep, but you rouse her just enough to feed her, in an attempt to reduce night wakings and feedings. This is usually a feed that happens a few hours after the bedtime feeding, somewhere between 9-10:30pm.
For example, your baby eats at 7pm during her bedtime routine and is in her crib for 7:30pm. Then before you go to sleep, at 10:30pm, you do one more feeding in an attempt to “fill up her tank”, allowing for a longer stretch of sleep around the time you are going to bed.
How do you dream feed?
Let’s say your 8-week-old is giving you beautiful 6 hours stretches (Good job, Mama!)…
So around 6:50pm, you start your bedtime routine with a bath, lotion massage, and PJs, feed, swaddle, then into her crib, drowsy but awake.
So she’ll eat around 7pm and that six-hour stretch lands you feeding her again somewhere around 1am.
Or if you add a dream feed to your routine, your night might look something like this…
Baby eats at 7pm, dream feed at 10pm, then baby sleeps her six hours all the way until 4am! VICTORY!
Does dream feeding actually work?
For some babies yes…this dream feed is quite dreamy for some parents. Because baby’s 6-hour stretch, that long stretch of sleep, aligns with your own because most parents aren’t going to bed at 7:30pm with their babies.
Unfortunately, this dream feed isn’t always so dreamy.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m not a big fan of these. And despite your best intentions, I find that dream feeds typically do more harm than good.
Why I don’t suggest dream feeding.
In my experience, if the dream feed is working, it’s usually short-lived. It rarely buys parents any more shut-eye, and it can lead to the disruption of your baby’s natural sleep cycle and reduce the amount of consolidated sleep she gets during the night.
- That first stretch of sleep at night is generally the best, most restorative, deepest sleep and that initial stretch of sleep are what turns into a consolidated, full night’s sleep. So if you’re constantly interrupting that, you’re interrupting your baby’s natural process of learning to sleep through the night. Not to mention, if you’re waking your baby out of a deep sleep, it can be very difficult for her to fall back asleep.
- Waking your baby from a deep sleep to feed may also disrupt your baby’s natural wake/sleep rhythm, interfering with your baby’s natural circadian rhythm and 24-hour body clock, which can result in your baby waking habitually around the same time each night, even when night feeds are no longer necessary.
- A dream feed can create and/or perpetuate a feed/sleep association, and this is something you want to avoid when teaching independent sleep skills. This is a hard association to break. If your little one relies on a feeding to fall asleep, whether at bedtime or for a dream feed, they are going to be dependent upon this feeding to get back to sleep in the middle of the night as they transition from sleep cycle to sleep cycle, causing more frequent night wakings.
So, should you dream feed?
If you have a baby who needs to eat every 2-4 hours at night, your baby will likely wake up around “dream feed” time anyways so my advice is to let your baby wake naturally. That way, developmentally, when she can go longer at night without eating and she will naturally sleep longer because she wasn’t taught to habitually wake at the same time each night.
I suggest dropping the dream feed if your baby begins struggling to go back to sleep after the feed or if your baby begins waking more frequently in the night, which makes the dream feed irrelevant.
Ultimately, you are the expert on your baby.
If you did a dream feed with your first, or you are currently doing this and it’s working, great! I’m not here to tell you that you are wrong. Don’t fix what ain’t broken, right?
If the dream feed isn’t working, you’ll know…
If the dream feed has backfired and you are ready to extend your baby’s night’s sleep, you know where to find me!