Hey momma, I know that navigating the world of newborns can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to their sleep patterns. One term that you might have come across is “dream feed.” What exactly is it, and should you consider incorporating it into your baby’s routine? Let’s dive into the science, benefits, and factors to consider when deciding if a dream feed is right for your little one and why I chose to dream feed.
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What Is a Dream Feed?
A dream feed is a late-night feeding strategy where you gently rouse your sleeping baby to feed them while they are still in a deep sleep. Typically, this occurs between 10 pm and midnight, just before you head to bed. The goal is to offer your baby a full feeding session to help them sleep longer stretches at night, ultimately giving you some precious hours of uninterrupted rest.
I first learned about the dream feed while taking one of Taking Cara Babies courses, “First Five Months Bundle”. I first started incorporating the dream feed as more of a “snack” to top off my baby, slowly working up to a full feeding now at 16 weeks. I personally see the difference with the added calories during the “day” to help my little one get a longer stretch of night sleep.
The Science Behind Dream Feeding
Dream feeding taps into the natural sleep cycles of infants. Newborns have shorter sleep cycles compared to adults, lasting around 50-60 minutes (I could clearly tell mine was 45 minutes). During these cycles, they briefly wake up and can become hungry. By offering a dream feed before this natural waking point, you aim to fill their tummy while they’re still in a drowsy state, minimizing disruptions to their sleep.
Research on dream feeding is limited, but some parents have reported success in extending their baby’s nighttime sleep. However, it’s important to note that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.
Benefits of Dream Feeding
- Extended Sleep: One of the primary benefits is potentially getting your baby to sleep longer at night. This can mean more rest for both you and your little one.
- Better Feeding Sessions: Since your baby is in a deep sleep, they might feed more efficiently during a dream feed, as they are less likely to be distracted or fussy.
- Establishing a Routine: Dream feeds can help establish a predictable nighttime routine, which can be comforting for your baby.
One more added benefit that I personally found, is bonding time with baby. The Dream Feed is one of my favorite times of the day. She is still sleeping in her crib in our bedroom and I am pumping and bottle-feeding her expressed breastmilk. My routine, I quietly take her out of the crib, still swaddled, and sit in my bed to feed her while I do my final pump of the night, hello mom multitasking. (Mom hack, get one of these pillows to help support yourself!).
When she’s done feeding, she simply lays in my lap at an incline while I finish pumping. That moment, watching her sleep is my absolute favorite. I get to feel her breathing, watch her active sleep smiles, and wonder what she’s dreaming about. I have sat there for an hour not wanting to put her back in her crib when I should be going to sleep myself.
Factors to Consider Before Dream Feeding
While dream feeding may sound like a dream come true, it’s not suitable for every family or baby. Here are some factors to weigh before deciding to incorporate it into your routine:
- Age: Dream feeding is typically more effective for babies under six months old. As your baby grows, they may naturally start sleeping longer stretches at night and you can drop the extra feed.
- Feeding Method: If you’re breastfeeding, you might need to pump to maintain your milk supply if you skip a feeding. For formula-fed babies or bottle-fed, it might be more convenient.
- Baby’s Personality: Not all babies respond well to dream feeds. Some may wake up more fully and find it harder to settle back to sleep.
- Your Sleep Needs: Consider your own sleep needs and whether waking up for a dream feed aligns with your ability to rest. I personally am a night owl so feeding between 10 and midnight works with feeding her right before I go to bed.
- Consulting a Pediatrician: Always consult with your pediatrician before starting any new feeding or sleep routines to ensure it’s appropriate for your baby’s needs.
- Proper feeding safety: Ensuring safety during a baby dream feed involves gently taking your baby out of the crib, and feeding them in a secure, semi-upright position.
How do I offer a dream feed?
Before going to bed, you can give your baby a dream feed which involves offering one more feeding. To do this, take your little one out of the crib or bassinet about 2-3 hours after the bedtime feeding and provide a full feeding. It is a simple way to ensure your baby is well-fed and might help them sleep better.
If your baby needs a diaper change, make sure to do it. You can keep your baby swaddled during feeding if they take it well. However, if they need to be unswaddled to eat properly, then make sure to do that. It’s completely normal for babies to wake up during the feeding, so don’t worry. Keep the lights dim and minimize stimulation.
Should I Dream Feed?
Dream feeding can be a useful tool for some parents looking to get a bit more sleep during those early months. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and what works for one family may not work for another. Before you start dream feeding, consider:
- is your baby waking up multiple times during the night?
- is your baby hungry enough to take a full feeding 2-3 hours after their last “day” feeding?
- is your baby able to easily fall back to sleep after their dream feed?
- does the timing work for you to line up your first stretch of sleep at night with your baby’s longest stretch?
Should I Burp My Baby During a Dream Feed?
Burping is essential to release trapped air in a baby’s stomach, reducing the likelihood of discomfort and spit-up after a feeding. However, during a dream feed, the goal is to minimize disruptions to your baby’s sleep.
The decision to burp your baby during a dream feed depends on your baby’s comfort level. Some babies are more prone to gas and may benefit from a gentle burping session midway through the feeding to ensure they’re comfortable and less likely to wake up due to gas pains. Others may sleep soundly without needing a burp during the dream feed.
It’s essential to pay close attention to your baby’s cues. If your little one seems restless, uncomfortable, or if you notice signs of gas (like squirming or fussiness), a brief burping break might be helpful. On the other hand, if your baby remains calm and content throughout the feed, you can opt to skip the burping to maintain the uninterrupted sleep pattern.
Ultimately, trust your instincts as a parent and adapt your approach to what works best for your baby’s individual needs and sleep routine.
Some nights my baby needs a burp and other nights she doesn’t. Now that I am incorporating a full 5 oz feed, I try to burp her once during and once at the end of her feed. I know I am lucky and 9 times out of 10, she falls asleep easily in my arms even after burping.
The Decision Is Yours Mama
Remember, you’re doing an amazing job as a mom, and ultimately, the decision to try dream feeding or not should be based on what feels right for you and your baby.
If you have more questions, drop them in the comments and I’ll continue adding to this blog with answers and my experiences. May your nights be filled with sweet dreams – for you and your little one!
- Mindell, J. A., Li, A. M., Sadeh, A., Kwon, R., & Goh, D. Y. (2016). Bedtime routines for young children: a dose-dependent association with sleep outcomes. Sleep, 39(2), 385-391.
- Middlemiss, W., & Granger, D. A. (2015). The science of mother-infant sleep. In A. L. Scott (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior (pp. 57-70). Oxford University Press.