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Can dream feeding be helpful for new parents recovering from childbirth?
I say YES!
In this post, we are going to discuss how dream feeding can help YOUR postpartum recovery!
Although there are definitely pros and cons of dream feeding, when you are recovering from birth during those early few weeks, I think there are mostly pros!
What is dream feeding?
Dream feeding is a practice of feeding your baby while he is in a lighter sleep state. The feeding is usually offered by a parent or caregiver immediately before that parent goes to bed for the night.
The theory is that this pre-bedtime feeding will allow the parents to sleep longer before baby’s next waking.
Does it work?
Some parents swear that dream feeds are “game-changers” for them. Others say that the feeding interrupts their baby’s sleep and actually backfires.
As far as scientific research, there is virtually none to speak of that either proves or disproves the effectiveness of dream feeding.
This leaves the decision to try dream feeding up to you, the parent.
In my opinion, I recommend “postpartum dream feeding” to my clients to help them get past the early weeks of recovery. Once the baby is past 6 weeks old, I tend to agree that the practice may interfere with baby sleep and may even encourage bad sleep habits.
What are the “rules” of dream feeding?
While there are technically no real rules about dream feeding, there are some typical dream feeding guidelines.
Check out my Dream Feed Q&A to discuss the most common questions about dream feeds.
How to dream feed your baby
- Offer the feeding in baby’s active sleep period. Babies spend half their sleep in a light sleep state known as REM sleep. It’s easy to recognize this “active” sleep because your baby will often squirm, twitch, flutter his eyelids and sometimes even smile! If you can catch him at a time when he’s stirring, that’s perfect since it’s easier for him to take a full feeding.
- Time it to try to maximize sleep. The best time for the dream feed is after your baby has already been sleeping and 2-3 hours after her last feeding. If your baby is too full from the last feeding, she may not take enough milk to make the feeding effective. Most dream feedings happen between 10 and 11 p.m., but it depends on your family’s schedule.
- Dream feed shortly before you plan to go to bed. Aim to feed your baby about 30 minutes before you want to head to bed.
- Keep the room dark This RED baby night light really helps!
- Use a sound machine I love this one!
- Try keeping baby swaddled This is my preference during dream feedings because the Velcro on most newborn swaddles can startle baby awake. Ugh! This is my favorite Velcro-free swaddle for night feedings.
- Gently pick up your baby from the crib or bassinet.
- Use a nipple to gently stimulate baby’s sucking reflex. Most babies will eagerly eat during “active” sleep and after 2+ hours of last feeding.
- Burp your baby gently
- Hold baby upright about 10 minutes or until baby is into deep sleep. Holding baby upright (after the feeding) will help her relax and digest the milk better. Being relaxed also encourages her to fall asleep faster. When your baby is in deep sleep, you will notice that her breathing slows and she becomes very quiet and still. This is the best time to lay her back down and the least likely way that she will wake up right away! Depending on how awake she was during the feeding, you may need to wait up to 20 minutes before she is into deep sleep.
How can dream feeding be helpful during postpartum recovery?
I suggest that new parents give dream feeds a try. Why? Because it gives them back some control with infant feedings.
If you are struggling with long cluster feeding sessions every evening, you may be feeling pretty out of control!
Giving your newborn a dream feed, may help you by allowing you to choose your own bedtime!
When you are able to “top off” your baby, then you have a better idea of when his next waking will be. You can time the feeding and (hopefully) go to bed knowing that you have a few hours to sleep before the next feeding.
Sleep-deprived new parents can find this to be a game-changer for them!
On the other hand, if your fussy baby finally settled down to sleep at 10 pm after 4 or 5 hours of screaming, will you want to wake her up to eat again? Probably not! So, use your best judgement and do what works best for you.
Restorative sleep periods
Did you know that the first stretch of night sleep is the deepest and most restorative sleep? This is true for babies and parents.
Sleep experts frequently recommend that we don’t miss out on this time of restorative sleep!
With babies, the first stretch of night sleep is usually the l-o-n-g-e-s-t stretch of sleep, as well.
In fact, it is not uncommon for a newborn to begin sleeping 4-6 hours during this sleep session. (However, don’t get too excited because after this longer sleep stretch, babies often return to 2-3 hour stretches for the remainder of the night.)
Once your baby’s doctor gives the green light for “on demand” night feedings, it’s a good idea to NOT disrupt this sleep stretch. Unfortunately, dream feeding can often do just that.
The pros and cons of dream feeding
While dream feeding may disrupt a baby’s natural sleep rhythm, the flip side is that it can also provide tired parents with an improved restorative sleep period.
This is why postpartum dream feeds can be really helpful.
During the first two weeks postpartum, your baby needs lots of feedings plus you will need the extra sleep. It’s a win-win.
As your baby gets older, however, you really need to weigh the pros and cons of dream feeding and decide if disrupting your baby’s most restorative sleep stretch is really worth it.
Try not to get dependent on dream feeding and consider tapering off these feedings as you recover and heal from birth.
If you have already introduced a bottle to your newborn, then this is a great time to have your partner do the feeding!
Mom gets to go to bed early while Dad or partner gives the dream feed. Think about it… 4 or 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep! Aaaahhhhh!!!!
When you combine this sleep hack with these other great new parent sleep strategies, you will find it much easier to get the sleep you need during this exhausting season!
Another great benefit of dream feeds during these early weeks, is that you can make sure that your baby is getting enough nourishment.
Is your newborn getting enough to eat?
During the early weeks with your newborn, it’s very important to keep track of your baby’s feedings and diaper changes. This is important to make sure that your baby is getting enough to eat.
Your doctor or midwife will usually provide you with a chart to track this information.
You can also download my FREE Newborn Care Log Sheet below… 😉
The amount of wet and soiled diapers is a strong indicator of how much milk your baby is getting. This is information that you and baby’s doctor really need to know. Weight gain is also a very important measure.
During the first 2 weeks, it’s very important to make sure that your baby is feeding every 2-3 hours to gain back the weight that was lost after birth.
Depending on baby’s weight gain, your doctor may request that you do not go longer than 3 hours between feedings… even at night. This is not easy during the early weeks.
Enter… dream feeds…
6 Pro-Tips for Successful Dream Feeding!
If you decide to give dream feeding a try with your baby, I have some tips to make sure that it doesn’t backfire on you!
I highly recommend checking out my 6 Pro-Tips for Successful Dream Feeding. With these tips, you’ll have the best chance of keeping your baby asleep after the feeding.
Best Postpartum Recovery Plan!
Speaking of postpartum recovery? Have you considered planning a postpartum baby-moon?
A postpartum baby-moon is a sweet vacation with your newborn! It’s an opportunity to rest, recovery and bond with your sweet baby…It’s the ultimate postpartum self-care!
As a postpartum doula, I have seen so many new parents struggle with the early weeks of recovery and parenting. 🙁
However, with proper planning and support, you can have a much easier recovery and adjustment to being a new mom.
Since many new parents are unable to hire a postpartum doula, I have created a very affordable online planning course to help. Find out how this course can help you!