Do Dream Feeds Help or Hinder
Could sneaking in an extra feed help your baby sleep through the night? Sometimes this technique works, but it can also cause sleep disruptions.
When a new baby arrives, sleep seems to become a distant memory for parents. An infant will be up multiple times per night needing to be fed. One important goal that all new parents share is getting the baby to sleep through the night, or, at the very least, to doze for longer stretches.
A “dream feed” is an extra feed that parents give the baby before their own bedtime. For example, a mom may nurse and put the baby down at 7 PM. Then at 11 PM, she’ll go in and dream feed. The idea is to get in some more calories so that baby can make it until morning.
Dream feeding sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t always work. In fact, this technique can result in a baby who wakes more often than he does without it.
The first stretch of nighttime sleep is the deepest sleep. Interrupting this sleep period is not always wise. Often a baby whose sleep is interrupted before midnight will wake once or twice more in the wee hours. Generally, parents will get the best results letting baby stretch the first period of sleep and putting up with a late night feed for several months.
Dream feeds can work with some babies, and there is no harm in trying one. However, after about two to three months old, a healthy baby should not have a problem sleeping eight hours in a row. If this is not happening, it may be best to drop the dream feed and allow the baby to wake on his own.
There are some instances where dream feeding works well. And there are some tips to help this make technique successful.
If you attempt a dream feed, do not wake the baby up. Lift her stealthily from the crib and brush the bottle or breast on her upper lip and stimulate the sucking reflex. If you can do this without stirring your little one’s slumber, you may be able to bypass the potential sleep disturbances it can cause. Some parents find it’s easiest to use a bottle for a dream feed because they don’t even need to lift the baby out of the crib. Use parental discretion here to avoid choking issues. Other parents find that nursing is easiest for keeping baby asleep.
An infant’s age plays a big role in whether dream feeding makes sense. Newborns do best with a late bedtime, so you’d be waking them to feed around 9 or 10 PM. This is not a dream feed, it’s just a late bedtime.
Somewhere around twelve weeks old, you’ll want to have a much earlier bedtime. At this age, dream feeds have the least success. They can be attempted but should be abandoned if they do not help the baby sleep until morning.
Around six months of age, many babies can sleep through the night. Smaller-sized babies may not be ready for this. Babies who weigh less than 12-15 pounds may still need nighttime calories. This is the time where dream feeds will have the most success. As long as the infant has independent sleep skills (he can be put down awake at bedtime), “filling up the tank” at night will help him sleep until morning.
Sleeping through the night is about more than just filling up with milk. There are a variety of biological processes at work when our little ones doze, and many times it is best to let these things take their course. Dream feeds are ideal in theory, but in reality, healthy sleep habits make a bigger difference than caloric intake. So go ahead and try it, but don’t be discouraged if a dream feed isn’t your ticket to a good night’s sleep. There are other routes to that destination.