I get many parents asking me the what, why, how, and when of the dream feed. So let me share with you my response:
Put simply, a dream feed is commonly done between the hours of 10pm – 11pm (or before mum and dad’s bed time). It is a method used to fill the baby up with milk at night – without waking them. Because the baby is essentially asleep or drowsy during the dream feed, their sleep remains uninterrupted.
The intention of the dream feed is to minimise potential night wakings overnight due to hunger. Because the baby is drowsy/asleep whilst feeding, this means one less feed they are waking for (which may lead to longer stretches of sleep overnight, and less habitual wakings).
If breast feeding, gently lift your baby up while they are still asleep and put them on the breast. If bottle feeding, you can put the bottle to their mouth whilst they remain in their bassinet/cot. If your baby is too sleepy to feed, then you can gently rub their cheeks to encourage them to rouse slightly and begin sucking. For especially young and sleepy babies, you can change their nappy before the feed if this helps.
* There is no need to burp after the dream feed, as babies tend to take in less air when they are in a relaxed, sleepy state.
* Ensure this feed is adequate. The more milk the baby drinks at this time, the longer they will be able to go in between feeds overnight (which means more sleep for mum and dad!)
* Breastfeeding and formula can have the same result at the dream feed (i.e. achieving longer stretches of sleep overnight). Formula is digested at a slower rate than breast milk, which means some formula fed babies remain ‘fuller’ for longer, and require less frequent feeds than their breastfed counterparts. However, this is not always the case.
*The dreamfeed will not suit all babies; some babies may:
1) Start waking at the time of the dreamfeed (or just before)
2) May begin to wake 1-2 hours following the dreamfeed (when previously they slept)
3) May wake completely during the dreamfeed and be difficult to settle back to sleep.
The first 6-7 hours after a baby falls asleep is the most restorative sleep of the night, so sometimes introducing a feed during this time (even if the baby remains asleep) can disrupt their sleep pattern and actually create a regression in overnight sleep. Unfortunately, like most things, it may be trial and error to determine what is most suitable for your child.
WHEN TO INTRODUCE THE DREAM FEED?
– I recommend introducing the dream feed from birth, and then you can phase it out once your baby is capable of sleeping through the night without that last feed, (when solids have been well established). This is often somewhere around 7 months onward, although can be up to 9 months or older, as every child has unique needs and circumstances.
– There are many cases where I will re-introduce a dream feed when working with my clients for babies 8-12 months if they are waking frequently overnight. This is a way to rule out hunger as a cause for night wakings in older babies, especially when they may not be getting enough solids or milk during the day.
– I will also suggest to clients to introduce a dreamfeed for babies of all ages IF they are attempting to reduce night feedings (i.e. the baby is fed upon every overnight waking as a form of settling)
WHEN TO STOP THE DREAM FEED?
Once your baby can sleep through the night without any feedings for at least a week (and not due to illness) then you may consider dropping the dream feed.
There are two ways I recommend you can do this:
1: Bring the dream feed earlier by 15-30 minutes over a few nights: The final dream feed will be 1hr after their bedtime; so if your baby is going to bed at 7pm, then the last dream feed you will do before weaning completely will be at 8pm
2. Slowly reduce the amount of milk at the dreamfeed: If bottle feeding – Reduce the amount of milk given at each feed every 1-2 nights (by 20-30 ml). If your baby is drinking less than 60 ml at the dream feed, then you can consider eliminating this feed altogether. If breastfeeding, If your baby is feeding for longer than 5 minutes, then gradually reduce the time you are feeding by 1-2 mins every night (depending on how long they are feeding for)