Zealous Baby Care

Practical (and judgment-free) advice on caring for your newborn from the baby pros

Dream Feed

Sleep is the hottest commodity for new parents in the early days after bringing your baby home. A newborn feeds every one to three hours for the first month of life depending on if you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, which doesn’t leave much time for mom and dad to sleep properly. As your baby begins to eat more at each feed and reaches a certain weight, getting them to sleep long hours during the night is crucial to you new parents getting the rest they so desperately need.  Luckily this is where a dream feed comes in.

What Is A Dream Feed?

A dream feed is exactly what it sounds like; you’re feeding your baby while they are still sleeping/dreaming. More specifically, a dream feed is when you feed your baby while she or he is still asleep by gently rousing your baby enough to feed or nurse your baby in an effort to reduce middle-of-the-night waking for feedings.

Dream feeding involves rousing your baby from sleep to feed him. The idea is that giving your baby a late meal may fill him up enough to get him to sleep for a longer stretch overnight, so that you can get more sleep yourself.

Your baby might be too sleepy to make it through a full meal, but having that late-night snack could hold him off from wanting the next one for at least another hour or two. As a result, both you and your baby could have longer, uninterrupted sleep.

Also, some babies who need to gain weight may require extra calories. A dream feed can help your baby get in the extra nutrition he needs.

When Should You Dream Feed?

Newborns have small stomachs and need to eat often. Once your baby starts showing signs that he or she can sleep for longer stretches without a feed (usually around 2 to 3 months old) then you could give dream feeding a try.

Usually, you would do a dream feed some time between 10pm and midnight. Parents choose the time of the dream feed based on when they are going to bed themselves and what seems to work the best for their baby. The idea is that if you feed your baby (without fully waking them) before you go to bed, they will be full enough to sleep a longer stretch at night and/or until the early morning, which means you could potentially avoid a 3am wake up!

Once babies reach 3 to 4 months of age, they’ll eat 8-12 times throughout a 24-hour period, and most are capable of going 8 to 10 hours without a feed. Many babies will still wake up multiple times for a feed out of habit, since as a newborn, they were fed more frequently to keep their tiny stomachs full. Until you’ve weaned night time feedings, your baby won’t be sleeping through the night. But even after they reach the point when they can go a long stretch without a feed, if their last feed is between 7 and 8pm before bed, and they sleep 7-8 hours, that puts them waking between 2:30 and 3:30am.

Some babies might still wake at 3am out of habit, if they’re used to usually being fed at that time. If you do a dream feed at 11pm and they wake around 2:30-3am, try to help your baby get back to sleep without a feed. Even if you can push it another hour and you feed them at 4am instead, you can keep pushing the second feed later over time until you get to your desired wake up time!

How to dream feed you baby

Dream feeding your baby is fairly easy. Here’s how:

  • Dream feed shortly before you plan to go to bed.
  • To maximize sleep for both you and your baby, you shouldn’t dream feed your little one sooner than two to three hours after they last ate. Otherwise, your baby may be too full to take enough milk to make a dream feed effective. That could mean timing the dream feed to happen between 10 and 11 p.m., though it depends on your baby’s schedule. If you go to bed at 11 p.m., aim to feed your baby at about 10:30 p.m.
  • Try to dream feed when your baby is in an active sleep period. Known as REM sleep, this phase will be fairly obvious because your baby will twitch, move his arms, legs, fingers and feet, flutter his eyelids and sometimes even change facial expressions. If you can catch him at a time when he’s stirring, that’s ideal — he’s more likely to get a fuller feeding in that case.
  • Put your breast or the bottle to the corner of baby’s mouth. This should stimulate a latch and the sucking reflex, so your baby will get in a late-night snack. Once your baby is finished taking milk, put him back in the crib on his back. Whether he’s fallen asleep during dream feeding or not, try burping him to relieve potential gas before putting him back to bed.

The choice to dream feed or not is ultimately up to you, though it shouldn’t be forced if your baby doesn’t seem interested or hungry. Dream feeding could wake up your baby and lead to trouble falling back to sleep.

Rose’s Personal Opinion

I found that dream feed is more effective for mothers that are breastfeeding their baby. A more effective strategy is to eliminate a feed slowly. Starting with the one you find the hardest to wake up for. Start by delaying the feed you want to eliminate by half hour for until the baby only wakes up that half hour later, then do the same again pushing for another half hour. You repeat this process until the baby no longer wakes for that feed. This should mainly be done when the baby has enough birth weight for it to be safe to miss a feed. This is when the baby is approximately 12 pounds or more.

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