Oh, the dream feed! Imagine carefully picking up your sleeping infant and gently putting the bottle to her mouth or latching her to your breast. Then she peacefully eats while staying asleep, and once finished you place her back into her crib where she continues sleeping like nothing happened. Only something did happen, you filled her cute little belly so she can extend her next feeding out later and you can get more sleep. It sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? But does it work? And should you try this with your baby?
Let’s Start With, Does it Work?
For some babies, yes! The benefit of doing a dream feed is to help extend the timing of the child’s next feed so you, parent, can get more sleep. Most parents are putting their little ones down for the night around 7 or 7:30 which means the bedtime feed occurred shortly before that. The dream feed then usually takes place right before YOU go to bed, around 9:30, 10, 10:30, or 11. By feeding your child while they are sleeping, the hope is that rather than waking again at midnight, 1:00, or 2:00 for their next feed, they won’t wake up until even later because they have full tummies.
When it works, it’s a great temporary strategy to help get you more sleep, but it doesn’t work for all newborns and infants. Some babies don’t handle their sleep cycle being disrupted, so they become fully aroused and then struggle to fall back asleep. Other babies just aren’t able to consume enough milk while they are sleeping (or very drowsy) that it really isn’t worth it. Then there are others who will seem to take the dream feed just fine, but it doesn’t actually extend their next wake up later. They continue to wake at midnight, 1:00, or 2:00 am anyway.
Should I Try a Dream Feed with My Baby?
That depends. What are your goals with your baby’s sleep? Dream feeds are great to try when your baby is a newborn or very young infant, and you are trying to help yourself get more sleep. As I mentioned before, it is a great temporary strategy. I did a dream feed with our daughter when she was a newborn. She took to it really well, and it helped me get by until she was old enough to sleep train. For me, it worked when I needed it to.
Dream feeds are not a great long-term solution, however. For most babies the dream feed does not continue to work for an extended period of time. The reason for this is because when we offer a bottle or the breast to a sleeping baby, their sleep cycle is altered. We are basically rousing them and then feeding them back to sleep. Their body also starts to expect food at around the same time every night.
When the dream feed strategy has been used for an extended period but starts to backfire, there are usually three things I see happen most.
- The feed is no longer easy and peaceful and the child struggles to fall back asleep.
- The child continues handling the actual dream feed fine but can’t make it through the entire night until morning. They continue to wake up around 3:30 or 4:00 am crying for food.
- The child will start waking earlier and earlier in anticipation of the dream feed.
When you start to see any of the above scenarios happening, the dream feed has probably run its course.
When do I Not Recommend a Dream Feed?
Obviously if you have tried and it’s not gone well, I wouldn’t suggest continuing to try! I also don’t recommend a dream feed once you are ready to work on sleep. Again, it’s a great temporary strategy if it works for your baby, but I’ll go back to what your goals are regarding sleep with your little one. If you are ready to teach your little one to be an independent, peaceful, consistent sleeper, it’s time to drop it.
If you are working on teaching your newborn healthy sleep habits right from the start, I wouldn’t recommend using a dream feed, and once you are ready to sleep train your baby, I would suggest eliminating it. Trying to keep it in only causes confusion, crying, and a much longer sleep training process.
So, is the dream feed a dream come true? Maybe not, but if it works for you when you need it to, it’s all good.