Those sleepless nights in the early weeks of your baby’s life can be one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood. Some babies have a wonderful long stretch of sleep in the day then wake every hour in the night searching for food and others wake the whole house screaming whilst waiting for their 2am bottle. Sleep deprivation can really take its toll on already tired parents and many question if there’s anything they could be doing differently to aid their baby’s nighttime sleeping pattern.
According to some, dream feeding a baby may be the remedy for those longer chunks of sleep you’ve been so desperate for. We will explore what dream feeding is, the benefits of implementing a dream feed as well as how to carry out a successful dream feed.
What is dream feeding?
Dream feeding is the process of nursing or bottle-feeding a baby during the night whilst they are still asleep and not fully awake. The action involves picking up your baby from their cot, whilst they remain asleep, and feeding them. The baby will suck whilst sleeping and then be placed back in their crib to continue sleeping; this time with a full stomach. Most commonly dream feeding is carried out by parents as a means of manipulating their baby’s sleeping and feeding routines. The main aim of dream feeding is for baby to sleep through the time they would normally wake. Thus allowing you to sleep for longer.
Should babies sleep through the night?
With the primary aim of dream feeding to be that your baby will sleep through the night quicker, we need to question and explore whether babies should sleep through and how healthy it is if they do. Parents understandably would want babies to sleep through the night, but if they don’t is it actually ‘normal’ or a ‘problem’? is it right for parents to force babies to behave like we want them as opposed to responding to what they want?
Related: How to get a baby to sleep
Each baby’s sleep pattern is different of course, but sleep experts explain that it’s most likely between the ages of 6 to 9 months that your baby stops requiring night feeds and starts sleeping through the night. It may be worth holding out on the dream feeding and enduring the broken sleep to follow baby’s natural patterns. However if you feel that the broken sleep is hindering your own wellbeing negativity then dream feeding could be a strategy worth implementing.
History of Dream Feeding
After many hours of research, the origins of dream feeding are not clear there have not been any medical studies involving this process. It’s most likely down to more pressures on women in society to get back to work sooner and therefore their need to get a good night’s sleep at an earlier stage of baby’s life.
Dream feeding theories
Dream feeding is based on the theory that after a bigger feed babies can sleep for 4-6 hours. The idea is that you feed your baby just before you would go to bed so that once you have fed your baby and returned your baby to their crib, you will be able to get 4-6 hours undisturbed sleep. Sounds perfect! However this is based on your baby sleeping for 4-6 hours after a feed which your baby may not do. Also, the theory is based on babies remaining asleep or at least in a sleepy state and they fall straight back to sleep after this feed. This also isn’t guaranteed to happen and your baby may end up being wide awake after you have attempted a dream feed.
Who does dream feeding benefit?
With the main aim of dream feeding being to match baby’s longest sleep stretch to your own night’s sleep it stands to benefit the whole household if baby’s cries are preventing undisturbed rest for all. Primarily, in the long term and once successful, dream feeding benefits whoever was getting up to do the night feeds as they will no longer have to do this once baby learns to sleep through. In the short term baby benefits as their stomachs are constantly full and baby won’t be waking up hungry.
Should I dream feed my baby?
Benefits of dream feeding a baby.
If you can successfully bring your baby’s longest stretch of sleep in line with when you would sleep naturally this will benefit the quantity and quality of your own sleep allowing you to function better the following day. If baby isn’t waking up crying with an empty stomach, it means everyone else in the house can remain asleep and not be disturbed. This latter point is especially beneficial if you have other young children who may be just mastering sleeping through independently themselves.
Drawbacks of dream feeding a baby.
The main drawback to dream feeding a baby is the fact that you’re disturbing your baby’s natural sleep pattern. You may find that your baby is too sleepy to feed them or even that the gentle wake up and an unnatural time in their sleep pattern causes them to become overwhelmed and cry more. There’s also the chance that, despite their full tummy, they’ll still wake up at the time they would have anyway and even wake up more than they would have originally because of the disturbance.
Breastfeeding and dream feeding.
One of the benefits of dream feeding when breastfeeding is to maintain milk supply Also, breastfed babies tend not to take in much air so will not need to be winded for very long after a feed and instead can be placed back down without much disturbance. Once latched onto you, the baby will feed calmly and come off the breast when full. Another option is to express milk at night to maintain supply or relieve full breasts and you or your partner could dream feed your baby a bottle of your expressed milk.
Related: How to support a breastfeeding mum
Formula bottle feeding and dream feeding.
Perhaps most importantly the dream feeding your baby with formula milk is to ensure you have made enough. Running out of milk before baby is full can make baby wake up fully and become quite grumpy. Make sure you gently slip the teat of the bottle into baby’s mouth and the taste of the milk will motivate them to drink.
Related: Best Baby Bottles
Dream feeding and waking up partner.
Dream feeding can be done to suit you and your partner’s own sleeping routine which can be especially helpful if your partner is back in work and requires a better nights rest. For example, if baby has been asleep since 8pm and would normally wake around 12pm or 1am for a feed, you could dream feed at 10pm as you and your partner head to bed yourselves to give you a longer stretch of undisturbed sleep. If you’ve expressed a bottle or you formula feed, your partner could do the dream feed to give you a head start on getting some rest.
How do I dream feed my baby?
Once you have decided that you would like to dream feed there are several steps to carefully consider to help make the process a success. Firstly, choose the time based on your baby’s last feed and the time you would want to go to bed. Then create the best environment: keep the lights low, play white noise, keep baby wrapped up and warm. Be gentle with your baby and try to keep them asleep as you pick them up, during the feed and as you place them back down. If your baby does not wake enough for a feed try gently stroking their cheeks or even tickling their feet. If these don’t work, it may be best to let your baby sleep and attempt the dream feed another time.
Will dream feeding work for me and my baby?
There’s no guarantee that dream feeding will work for everyone. For it to be successful your baby needs to be able to sleep for 4-6 hours when full and be able to return to sleep easily after a feed. If dream feeding is a process that you are keen to implement then be patient and trial dream feeding at different times until you find a pattern that works for you and your baby.