I have been getting a lot of questions recently about the infamous "Dream Feed."
So what is a dream feed?
Should I dream feed?
Let's start with understanding with defining a dream feed. The practice of 'dream feeding' is incorporating a feed in the first core night stretch of a baby's night to get an even longer stretch by rousing your child (only slightly) to feed them before you go to bed. Let me explain. After six weeks of age, you may see that your baby starts to sleep a longer stretch at night, but only for the 'first shift' of the night. Meaning, you may notice that your baby can do one long stretch, about 4-6 hours, once you put them down for bedtime, and then see awake every 2 hours for feedings. By incorporating a dream feed, you could "restart" your core night to extend it starting at the time you dream feed so that you can reap the benefits of the core night stretch at your bedtime, rather than baby's 7 pm bedtime.
And this isn't just my 'opinion' or your auntie's wives' tale...it's research. Research shows that incorporating an extra feed (in addition to swaddling, diapering, and walking during the day) between 9 p.m. and midnight can reduce night wakings and help babies sleep till later in the morning. It showed that babies might be sleeping better between 12 am - 5 am with the incorporation of a dream feed.
That does sound like a dream, doesn't it?
I am personally a fan of a dream feed, but only when it's appropriate because it's not always the best method for every child!
Dream Feed Cons
It sounds too good to be true. The ability to control when your child has the longest stretch, so you can have a nice long stretch at night and finally get some rest, right? Well, make sure you understand the cons of this dream.
- If you begin to awaken your baby to administer a feed regularly, you might be creating a new wake habit at that time, causing them to want to wake for the dream feed naturally.
- It's not forever...it's recommended a dream feed end in 6 months, and that can require a new process and method on its own.
- It can disrupt your child's sleeping cycle and sometimes have an adverse effect, and cause more night wakings when not administered at the right time.
- Dream feeds do no work for EVERY child.
Dream Feed Pros
What are the pros? While these cons are to be considered, the decision should also be weighed by what you can benefit from a dream feed.
- Adding the dream feed can give you more NREM3 sleep.
- If successful, getting your child that extra time has an essential impact on your health and well-being as a parent.
- If this is used in combination with other healthy practices, like independent sleep skills, it can be a reliable way to better establish good sleep habits for your child and provide them more rest.
What's the verdict?
It depends on the child and the parent, and more specifically, how your child reacts to the dream feed. You will want to try it for a couple of days before you decide whether it works or not and keep track of its impact on sleep. Did sleep get better, or did it get worse?
Before you start the dream feed, however, you should ALWAYS discuss it with your Pediatrician. The dream feed is usually not recommended for those babies who are underweight.
The deciding factor becomes easy. If you incorporate the dream feed and you see your child consistently can sleep longer stretches after that one feed over 3 days, then it will work for you! If you see that your child fusses after three days, fights the feed, or starts to wake up earlier or more often, I do not recommend the feed.
Another thing to understand is the dream feed is not a silver bullet. You will need to wean off the dream feed before six months, as it has shown to start developing a natural waking cycle for your baby, which will only support more frequent wakings.
Second, the dream feed is only one piece of healthy sleep habits. To see the success of a dream feed, you should have all the factors in place,, including independent sleep skills, a good feeding and nap schedule, and an appropriate bedtime. Everything starts with a foundation.
How do you administer a dream feed?
If you are ready to incorporate a dream feed, here are the steps you can take. Remember, stick with this for at least three days before you decide it is not working for you.
- Go to your child's sleep space between 9 pm - 12 am, preferably about 2-3 hours after your child has gone to bed.
- Keep the lights low or off if you can do this safely, and pick them up. You do not need to rouse them.
- Feed them a full feeding.
- Burp them if you need to do so.
- A note about diapers: If you notice your child has a dirty diaper, use your discretion to change it. If it's wet, know that your child is usually accustomed to sleeping through a wet diaper. (Zotter et al. 2007)
- Quietly put them back into their bassinet or crib.
This can be an excellent tool to help you and baby get more zZz's. But keep in mind, that when you hear other parents grab about their child who "sleeps through the night," EVERYONE wakes in the night, but it's the infant that is keeping quiet and falling sleep back on their own that is truly "sleeping through the night." The dream feed tool can be one of those to decrease those disruption in wakings, but it’s probably just one of many other factors. To ensure you are successful, you should combine the dream feed with various strategies, and if you see the dream feed isn't working, it's time for a different strategy!
Exhaustion is Optional,
Rested Mama, Happy Baby Founder
Zotter H, Urlesberger B, Pichler G, Mueller W, Kerbl R. 2007. Do wet diapers induce arousals in sleeping, infants? Acta Paediatr. 96(3):452-3.
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