April 12, 2021

What is Dream Feeding and Does it Work?

Babies, Newborns

dream feedingIf you’re a new or seasoned mom, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of dream feeding. To be honest, I had heard the term when my oldest was born, but I really didn’t understand what it meant.

So let’s talk the ins and outs of dream feeding! First…

What is a dream feed?

A dream feed is a parent-initiated feed that happens around two to three hours after you’ve put your baby to bed for the night.

It is most commonly done with newborns, however some parents of four, five, and six month olds still dream feed.

The idea behind dream feeding is before you (the parent) go to bed at night, you get your baby up while he is sleeping and keep him sleeping while you feed him.

It’s done in attempts to top your baby off one last time before you go to bed, and the hope is that dream feeding your newborn will keep him from waking shortly after your head hits the pillow, giving you all some extra sleep before the next night feeding!

Example of a baby’s schedule with a dream feed:

  • 7:00 pm last feed before bedtime
  • 7:30 pm bedtime
  • 10:00 pm dream feed (and parents’ bedtime)
  • 12:30 am wake for feed
  • 4:30 am wake for feed
  • 7:30 am wake for the day and feed

Example of a baby’s schedule without a dream feed:

  • 7:00 pm last feed before bedtime
  • 7:30 pm bedtime
  • 10:00 pm parents’ bedtime (no dream feed)
  • 11:30 pm wake for feed
  • 3:30 am wake for feed
  • 7:30 am wake for the day and feed

Note that the above schedules are just examples, your baby is in no way expected to follow this schedule! 

Does dream feeding help babies sleep longer?

sleeping babyWell, a dream feed certainly gets some milk into baby’s belly. And in the short term, it might help your baby sleep a bit longer.

But it might not!

Some newborns still wake shortly after a dream feed because they just need some snuggles and/or aren’t used to longer stretches of sleep just yet. And some older babies have trouble getting from one sleep cycle to the next, regardless of hunger, so they may still wake up shortly after the dream feed, as well!

And as a sleep consultant, my goal is to teach babies and children independent sleep habits. That can absolutely include night feedings, but I don’t suggest giving them by way of dream feeds.

Why I don’t recommend dream feeding, especially when sleep training

Whether your baby is six weeks old or six months old, I don’t recommend dream feeding, and here are five reasons why:

We want to focus on full feedings.

If your newborn is asleep while feeding (the goal of a dream feed), he’s very likely not going to get a full feeding. Babies need to be awake for a nice, full feeding.

And if your baby isn’t getting a full feeding, he will likely be awake again soon for another feed.

We want babies to be aware when they’re feeding.

We also want babies to be aware of when they are eating so they can feel the satisfaction of being full, connecting what’s happening in their little stomachs to their brain. Here’s how I think about it…

I’m not a sleep walker, but I’ve certainly heard of sleep walkers, and some will even eat in their sleep!

But think about it: you’re asleep and you eat an entire bag of chips. You’re brain isn’t actually aware that you’re eating at all, so you’re not registering hunger or fullness, you’re simply going through the motions.

That’s similar to the experience of a dream feed – your baby is likely consuming calories, but their mind isn’t registering hunger versus fullness, and that’s important for our babies to learn to differentiate.

You might accidentally wake your baby.

The idea of a dream feed is to keep your baby asleep while you’re feeding him so you can lay him right back down and he’ll continue sleeping.

But if you accidentally wake your baby in the middle of a sleep cycle, you’re likely going to have a cranky babe and you will have to work really hard to help him back to sleep. Definitely not the result you were hoping for!

You might be starting a habit of waking at that time.

By giving a dream feed every night around 10 or 11 pm (your bedtime, as parents), you could be unnecessarily teaching your baby to wake up at that time, when in fact, he does not actually need to wake up for a feed.

So future night wakings might occur out of habit from dream feeding rather than an actual need to eat.

Food is for nourishment, not for sleep.

When offering a dream feed, you are teaching your baby, and instilling the idea that food is for sleep.

However, one of the most common taglines you’ll hear from sleep consultants is that food is for nourishment, not for sleep!

If our goal is to teach babies to fall asleep independently and stay asleep all night (when they’re physically ready), separating feeding and sleeping is a necessary step.

So when you are feeding your baby, during the day or night, try your best to keep him awake (note that this is especially challenging the first few weeks of newborn life!). You can tickle his toes, blow on his face, feed him in just a diaper, even run a washcloth on his head and neck to help keep him alert.

One, this will help ensure he can get a full feeding, and two, this will help nursing or bottle feeding from becoming necessary in order to fall asleep.

What if the doctor recommends I wake my baby up for night feeds?

It’s important to note that some doctors recommend waking babies up every few hours at night to feed them, due to weight concerns or other health issues. If your doctor says to wake your baby at certain intervals, absolutely listen! Your baby’s health is of utmost important.

However, if you need to have a specific feeding schedule at night, try your best to make sure your baby is actually awake rather than dream feeding.

Additionally, make sure you keep following up with your doctor at each visit, asking if you should continue to wake your baby for feeds; many doctors forget to mention it and we forget to ask, resulting in parents waking baby every few hours for weeks or months on end when it’s no longer necessary!

So how do I stop dream feeding?

You just stop! This does not mean you stop giving your baby night feedings, but now we want him awake for those feeds, aware that he’s hungry, aware that he’s eating, and aware that he’s being laid back down in his crib or bassinet.

Can I sleep train if my baby still needs night feedings?

YES! Your baby can absolutely learn to fall asleep independently and connect those sleep cycles (that’s the goal of sleep training!) while still needing one or two night feeds!

But notice I said night feeds, not dream feeds.

Read this blog post about how to give night feedings and still promote sleep skills. 

Conclusion

There are SO many choices to make when it comes to our little ones – how to feed them, what to feed them, what products to buy, what books to read, etc. And the overwhelm certainly doesn’t stop at baby sleep!

If you are reading this blog post and are currently dream feeding your little one and it works for you, great! I always want you to do what you feel is best for your little one.

If you’re reading this and have considered dream feeding, or are currently dream feeding but it’s just not working or you want to move away from it, great!

And if this is all just overwhelming, I hear you!

Making decisions around your little one’s sleep can be hard, because it inevitably affects your sleep, too. Whenever making decisions around your baby’s sleep or you’re making a change to your little one’s sleep, I always recommend having a plan.

And that’s why I love working one-on-one with families. I write a personalized sleep plan that meets their child’s and and family’s unique needs and I walk alongside them as they implement the plan. So families don’t have to do it alone!

If that sounds like something you’re interested in but you want to hear more, sign-up for a FREE discovery call today so we can chat more!

With Grace,

Lauren

dream feeding