It's no secret that two of a young baby's favorite things (besides you, of course!) are to eat and sleep. In the earliest weeks, sometimes it seems as if this is all they do. For the most part, your baby will cue you when they are hungry and they will fall asleep when they are tired. Generally, it's best to let your baby lead the way in regard to eating and sleeping to ensure they're getting enough of both. But sometimes, mom and dad may intervene to help everyone in the house get a bit more sleep. One way this is done is through something called the "dream feed."
So, what is a dream feed? A dream feed is a feeding that takes place while your baby is still "asleep". No, they can't really be completely asleep, or they wouldn't be able to eat. But the reason it's called a dream feed is because it happens late, long after your baby has gone to sleep for the night, but before you hit the hay. There are a lot of advantages to including a dream feed into your baby's daily feedings.
Here we'll explain what a dream feed is exactly, how it can help you and your baby, and what to do if it's not working.
Understanding the Dream Feed
The name "dream feed" comes from the fact that when it occurs, your baby has been fast asleep for hours and therefore already off into a night of blissful dreaming. If parents can make it work, they'll get to experience a lot more dreaming themselves. The goal of the dream feed is to help get your baby's tummy nice and full before you go down for the night to help your baby sleep as long as possible. You might be thinking...is this best for the baby or the parents?
Honestly, your baby would be fine waking up at whatever hour of the night to get the milk they're hungry for. Which makes the dream feed sound a bit selfish. But it is NOT selfish as a new parent to want to get a good night's sleep.
Getting enough sleep is important for good health. And though new parents do have to sacrifice precious sleep for a while, it's important to start getting your sleep schedule back to as normal as possible as soon as your baby shows they are ready for this step. And guess what? Long stretches of sleep are really important for your baby's growth and development, too. Win-win.
The dream feed usually happens between 10-11 at night. You'll have fed your baby around 7 pm or so, prepped them for a night of sleep and then laid them down. A few hours later, you'll go in and get your baby to feed them one last time before you head off to bed.
Image credit: Maria Garzon Pixabay
Implementing the Dream Feed
In order for the dream feed to work, your baby should have defined circadian rhythms - where they know that day is for being awake, and night is for sleep. This will probably be around the age of 3-4 months.
Dream feeding can work for both breastfed and bottle-fed babies (though bottlefed babies can typically go longer stretches of sleep during the night.)
The dream feed is definitely not something you have to do, but will get you a longer stretch of sleep. Your baby will likely sleep their longest stretch at night either way (maybe 6-8 hours at this point), but if you feed them at 7:00 pm and don't do a dream feed, you're waking up with them around 2 in the morning to feed them again. The problem is that you probably don't go to bed at 7 pm, so you didn't get a good stretch of sleep yourself. By adding the dream feed, you get a long stretch of sleep during the same time your baby does.
Here's how a dream feed might look for a baby who normally eats every 3-4 hours during the day:
7:00 pm - Feed your baby (this will be the last feeding of the "day")
7:15 - 10:15 pm - Your baby sleeps while you get quiet time to yourself or with your significant other. You prepare yourself for bed but don't yet go to sleep.
10:15 pm - You go in and get your baby and rouse them just enough to do one last feed before you head off to bed. You don't want to fully wake them. They should still be half asleep...just enough to latch on and eat. Some babies will begin to feed immediately upon feeling the nipple of your breast or a bottle against their lower lip. If after a few attempts your baby isn't waking enough to eat, try:
- changing your baby's diaper
- touching a cool washcloth to your baby's forehead or cheeks
The feeding will be done around 10:30. Reswaddle your baby, rock them closely to your body, and then gently lay them back in their crib. The hope is that now you and your baby will both go to sleep for a nice 6-8 stretch of sleep.
*Cue angels singing" Hallelujah!
The dream feed can be a gamechanger for becoming a much more well-rested mama!
Image credit: Candelario Gomez Lopez on Pixabay
Why the Dream Feed Doesn't Work for All Babies
Dream feeds work very well for many babies, especially when you give them a few nights to get the hang of it. But, dream feeds don't always work. These are the top reasons why the dream feed may not work well for your baby:
- She won't wake up to eat. (Try the techniques listed above if this is the case. But some babies are just really deep sleepers!)
- It's actually interrupting his sleep and making him sleep worse. If your baby struggles to go back to sleep after a dream feed, you may need to rethink it. Though using the Dreamland Weighted Swaddle to help them go back to sleep faster will help.
- You aren't seeing any improvement in your baby's stretches of sleep. The point of the dream feed is to get your baby and you both on the same sleeping schedule at night. If that's not happening, there may not be a lot of point in continuing it.
It's recommended to continue trying with the dream feed for about a week. If you still aren't seeing that it's working well for your little one, it's best to drop it for a bit and then try again in a couple of weeks when they are a bit older. Babies grow and mature in such a short time that they may just be ready when you try again. The sleep advantage it can bring definitely make it worth another go!