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November 06, 2022 4 min read

Dream feeding is the practice of feeding a sleeping baby, with the aim of encouraging the baby to sleep longer. The term has also been used to describe any big meal (delivered during sleep or waking) that is timed to occur immediately before the parent falls asleep at night.

Either way, the ultimate purpose of dream feeding is to provide parents with longer stretches of time to sleep — uninterrupted by night wakings.

There is reason to think that dream feeding can lead to longer stretches of sleep for both babies and parents. However, dream feeds — by themselves — probably play only a modest role in your baby's sleep development. To promote mature sleep patterns, the most promising approach is to combine dream feeds with other, sleep-friendly practices.

Benefits of dream feeding

A dream feed is beneficial for helping parents and caregivers get a longer stretch of unbroken sleep by lining up the baby’s sleep with the parents. A dream feed does not make your baby sleep for a longer period of time, however it will move the longest stretch of sleep. Meaning, that the quality of sleep experienced by the parents is better thus, improving the parents’ overall health and wellbeing. Eventually, when your baby is biologically ready, they may drop one of the night feeds.

The Pros and Cons of dream feeding

Pros:

  • Crucial relief for parents.The post-feed sleep bout may last longer than usual, giving you more opportunity to grab some of that NREM3 sleep. Even an extra half hour could have an important impact on your health and well-being.
  • Potential support for the development of infant sleep patterns.In combination with other tactics — like gradually lengthening the intervals between nighttime feedings — the practice might help speed up the shift to a more mature sleep schedule. 

Cons

  • May not be appropriate for babies with special needs. For babies who are underweight or suffering from certain medical conditions, dream feeding might not be a good choice. Always consult your maternal nurse or pediatrician before attempting dream feeding.
  • Can be disruptive for some babies — if you are regularly awakening them for that last, focal feed.If this is a personal concern for you, you may choose to schedule focal feeds so that they coincide with a time when your baby is already awake.
  • The “feed-them-while-they-sleep” version of dream feeding might be a bad fit for babies prone to reflux. It may be better for them to assume an upright position after feeding.
  • If babies are allowed to fall asleep during a dream feed, this might contribute to delays in the development of self-settling. Not every family will see this as a problem, but for some families, it’s an important consideration.

     

    How do I know if dream feeding is right for me and my baby?

    Dream feeds are not always appropriate nor do they work for everyone. If you try to implement a dream feed and it is not making any difference to your baby’s sleep times or wake times after one week it may not be the right approach. However, it is advisable to speak with a sleep consultant, maternal nurse or paediatrician to seek further advice.

    When should I start dream feeding? 

    Dream feeding is best for babiesbetween 0-6 months old and can be introduced at any time during that age bracket. 

    Lauren Brenton @onemummamidwife recommends to introduce dream feeds before four months of age. 

    How exactly do you do a dream feed?

    You should plan to do a dream feed just before you go to bed. Gently lift your baby out of their cot or bassinet and wake them just enough to get them to latch onto the breast or bottle. 

    You gently hold your sleeping baby in a feeding position, and try to stimulate the rooting reflex by stroking your baby’s mouth and offering your baby a breast or bottle. Many babies can feed in this way without waking up. Although, just how much you must wake them will depend on the individual baby.

    When you are latching your baby to the breast or bottle, try to have as minimal stimulation as possible by keeping the lights off or dim and reducing noise/talking to your baby during this feed.

    If your baby is still using a swaddle, unwrapping your baby to latch them onto the breast may cause the baby to wake up too much and become overstimulated. Consider using a swaddle that is not restrictive on your baby's arms. The Sleepy Hugs sleep sack enables your baby to wrap their arms around the mother’s body naturally so that they can latch onto the breast effectively, meaning that they do not need to be unswaddled and this can help reduce stimulation during the dream feed. 

    Here's a dream feed example by Lauren Brenton @onemummamidwife:

    Your baby is 10 weeks old and normally feeds every 4-6 hours.

    You normally feed your baby at 8pm and then 12pm, however you normally go to bed at 10pm so you are only sleeping for 2 hours before being woken again.  

    If you feed your baby at 8pm and then do a dream feed at 10pm when you are going to bed, your baby should sleep until 2am. Meaning that you are getting a longer stretch of sleep and therefore getting better quality sleep.

    When should I stop dream feeding?

    We recommend dropping the dream feed around 6 months because at that age, it can start to negatively affect your baby's nighttime waking and in some cases, can become a habit wake.

    Help and support

    If dream feeding is something you are interested in starting and want to find out more information, it is recommended to speak to a reputable sleep consultant or maternity nurse or pediatrician is a good start. There's no right or wrong answer and only you can decide what is best for you and your baby.