Firstly What Is A Dream Feed?
A dream feed is a method used by some parents to offer a late-night feeding, usually between 10 and 11pm, initiated by you just before you may be going to bed yourself. The idea is to feed your baby while they are still sleepy and not fully awake, however, it's important to note that not all babies will benefit from a dream feed which I will explain later in this blog.
Why Do It?
There are a few reasons why some parents want to offer a dream feed -
1. Often parent’s wonder/find offering a dream feed will help their baby sleep longer stretches at night
2. In theory your baby’s stomach will be fuller and they will not wake so frequently for feeding and every one can have less broken night’s sleep
3. It may help stop the early waking the following morning therefore your baby may establish a more consistent daytime schedule that works better for them and you
Why May It Not Work?
Some babies totally rock the dream feed and it works, taking them through to 6 or 7am in some cases and others not so much. I often say try it for 5-7 nights to see if it works.
1. Some babies are really hard to rouse and they just won’t feed well at all
2. Those multiple waking’s are happening not out of hunger, there will be another reason and the dream feed is not resolving it.
3. They are in such a deep sleep (remember the first part of the night up to around 12/1am is the deepest part of the night’s sleep) and after the feed they find it incredibly hard to go back to sleep peacefully
4. If your baby is taking a dream feed and still waking multiple times you are best to let your baby wake naturally for a feed.
5. If they sleep for at least another 5-6 hours then the dream feed is working and you may like to continue with it but please remember a baby who is ready to sleep longer stretches through the night will be developmentally ready, not because they got an extra feed at 10pm!
6. Reflux babies may really struggle with this dream feed so please seek advice from your paediatrician first.
7. Also it can become a habit and as the body is busy digesting milk it may have not necessarily needed and that causes more waking’s and disturbed sleep and stomach issues.
It is important to know that not all babies will benefit from a dream feed and you must be careful when offering the dream feed as some babies are so sleepy they can choke due to their muscles being so relaxed.
What Age Do I Start And Stop The Dream Feed?
Dream feeds are best for babies aged between 0-6 months. That 4th trimester is more feed on demand and you may find this is a natural feed time anyway. I often recommend to stop the dream feed from 6 months because in my experience I have found babies tend to start sleeping longer stretches to 12-2am or more at this age. Assuming calorie intake is optimal in the day they are capable of doing it.
How Do You Do It?
Keep it simple and smooth! Ensure you have all the things you need such as muslin, the milk (if bottle feeding, and yes this is obvious but how many dads have sat down to give the feed and then realised they forgot the bottle…and then shout “darling I forgot the milk can you bring it please…” and then of course disturbs baby and then this is another ball game to manage…
Keep the lighting off or use a red light so you can somewhat see!
Gently lift your baby, un-swaddle / remove sleep bag and if you want to change their nappy do it now, then offer the feed.
Keep stimulation to an absolute minimum.
After the feed ensure you burp your baby before you lay them down into their cot.
Is The Dream Feed Really A Good Idea?
If your baby is in the REM stage of sleep when you rouse them for this dream feed their muscle tone will be very relaxed. More so than during another sleep stage. This means your baby is more likely to choke and be less able to swallow as I mentioned above. Sometimes babies are so relaxed they don’t often burp but do try. Remember they may lie down and milk pops up and they can then choke so ensure that burp has happened and you feel confident to lay your baby down.
You may have even had your baby projectile vomit the feed you reluctantly crawled out of bed to offer… If you do choose to offer the dream feed it is advisable to wake your baby fully so they have the muscle tone to swallow but of course once baby is fully awake, they may think it is time to party and can be hard to get back to sleep again.
For those who experience more waking’s during the night or even the dreaded 5am early rising, this will be because you have interrupted the night time sleep cycle, the digestion of this “forced” feed is contributing to more work the stomach is having to do at night when it can be sleeping and the sensations will be disturbing your baby’s sleep.
Remember hunger is not the only reason babies wake in the night so a dream feed is not going to resolve those multiple night wakes, it could be fuelling them. If your ultimate goal is to reduce those night waking’s and you are not sure where to start or how to do it get in touch with me HERE! Your free sleep assessment call is waiting for you and I can help you work all this out with ease!
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant