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What are the pros and cons of a dream feed?
Plus + 6 Pro-Tips for Successful Dream Feeding! 🙂
If you are a new parent or parent-to-be, you may have already heard of dream feeding. Perhaps you have even been encouraged to give it a try with your baby.
But… can dream feeding be hurting your baby’s sleep?
Find out if dream feeding is right for your family…
*Disclaimer – The information in the post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Please make sure that you do your own research and talk with your baby’s doctor about the care of your newborn.
Dream feed pros and cons: most common questions…
Here are the most common questions about dream feeding…
- What exactly IS a dream feed?
- Will dream feeding help my baby to sleep longer?
- Do dream feeds interfere with a baby’s sleep?
- What are the pros and cons of dream feeding?
- Should I offer a dream feed to my newborn?
- Should I change my baby’s diaper during a dream feed?
- Do I need to burp my baby during a dream feed?
- Should I wake my baby to feed him?
- Should I keep my baby swaddled during the feeding?
- When should I stop dream feeding?
In this post, we’ll explore dream feed pros and cons as well as the “hows” and “whys” to help you decide if dream feeding is right for you!
Dream Feed Pros and Cons… Q & A Time!
Q: What is a dream feed?
A: Feeding your baby while he is asleep.
According to Tracey Hogg, The Baby Whisperer, dream feeding is the practice of feeding an infant while he or she is still sleeping. The feeding is offered after baby has been already sleeping for a couple hours, but before he wakes on his own to eat.
During a dream feed, a parent or caregiver will offer the sleeping baby a full or partial feeding without waking him. This feeding is offered immediately before the parent goes to bed, allowing him or her to get a period of (hopefully) uninterrupted sleep.
Q: But, how can you feed a sleeping baby?
A: Good question!
Babies in “active” sleep are usually pretty easy to feed… especially if it’s been at least a couple hours since the last feeding.
If you decide to try dream feeding, I recommend watching your baby and offer the feeding while she is in a lighter sleep state. Since babies spend over half their sleep in a light or “active” sleep state, it usually isn’t hard to notice this.
During light sleep, your baby may stir or make noises without waking.
It is normal for your baby to cycle through deep and light sleep states. Each sleep state will last about 20-25 minutes.
Try to pay attention and offer the feeding during this active state.
Most babies will not pass up a meal or snack during light sleep!
If you’d like to learn more about your baby’s sleep cycles and ways to improve your baby’s sleep, check out this post on baby sleep!
Q: Will dream feeding help my baby sleep longer?
The theory behind dream feeding is that it will lengthen your baby’s sleep time during the early part of the night.
This will prevent her from waking up shortly after YOU go to bed. Then parents get uninterrupted sleep time for the next few hours. In a perfect “dream feeding world”, here’s how it’s supposed to work…
- You pick up your sleeping baby when he is in a light or “active” sleep state
- Gently arouse her to feed by stroking her cheek and lips with a nipple
- Baby takes a full feeding without waking
- Short time of burping and cuddles
- Parent returns baby to crib or bassinet
- Baby stays asleep 😉
- Parent goes to sleep knowing that they now have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep (Yay!)
Q: Should I change my baby’s diaper during a dream feed?
A: Only if you really need to!
You will learn quickly that breastfed newborns poop a lot! So you are sometimes changing diapers before, during and after each feeding! (Pro-Tip: wait until after the feeding and then decide if a diaper change is needed)
But… technically, a true dream feed does not include a diaper change, to ensure that baby stays asleep.
Generally speaking, a soiled diaper is usually not a reason to wake a sleeping baby, so use your best judgement to decide what’s best in your situation.
Remember, YOU are the parent and you know your baby’s needs best. If you feel it is necessary, then yes. Otherwise, it’s generally best to wait on the diaper until the baby’s next waking.
Some parents prefer to change the diaper before the dream feeding. The problem with this is that it usually wakes the baby (and oftentimes, the baby will poop again anyway!)
In a perfect “dream feed world,” your baby won’t need a diaper change, but this is often not the reality!
Should I burp my baby after a dream feed?
Be gentle, but do try to help your baby to get rid of any bubbles that might cause him distress or interrupt his sleep.
Keep in mind that your baby will be very relaxed during the feeding, so she may take in less air. Don’t be surprised if she doesn’t need to burp!
If you have a baby that often spits up after a feeding, it’s also a good idea to hold her upright after the feeding for about 10 minutes. In fact, this prolonged time of upright holding and burping, can help your baby to fall into a deeper sleep before laying her down again.
Babies that are laid down during a deep sleep cycle are more likely to stay asleep! (Yay!) Wait until your baby is very quiet and still to make sure that he is in deep sleep. (no longer squirming, grunting, squeaking, etc)
Related: 11 Tips for Surviving Night Feedings
Q: Does dream feeding interfere with my baby’s sleep patterns?
It’s important to understand that there has been little to no research done on this topic. The only evidence that we have is purely anecdotal.
That being said, you’ll find parents and baby experts on both sides of the dream feeding fence. While some swear that they are indeed helpful, others think that the strategy may backfire and interrupt a baby’s natural sleep rhythms.
I think that it depends on the age of the baby and the baby’s particular feeding needs. I have seen it work for some families very well and not others.
If your baby is a newborn who still needs to feed every 3-4 hours at night, then it’s a no-brainer, in my opinion!
However, if your baby’s doctor has given the “all clear” for on-demand night feedings, then feeding him during his potentially longest sleep stretch of the night, might indeed be interfering with his natural sleep rhythm.
Since we want to encourage less night waking and feedings, (not more) dream feedings may not be the best way to teach your baby to sleep longer night stretches without a feeding.
It may, in fact, have the opposite effect. But, until proper research has been done on this, it’s up to the parents to decide what’s best for their family’s situation.
Q: Is it worth trying the dream feeding strategy?
If you are a sleep-deprived new parent, dream feeding may be a “game-changer” for you! Especially, if you combine it with other new parent sleep strategies.
Even if you are on the fence about it for now, many new parents feel that getting better parent sleep is totally worth it!
In fact, remember how I talked about the first stretch of your baby’s night sleep being the longest and deepest? This is also true for adult sleep!
Our adult brains are designed to prioritize our deepest, most restorative sleep (NREM3 or deep, slow wave sleep) during the first few sleep cycles of the night. When parents get uninterrupted sleep during the early part of night sleep, it can make a HUGE difference in overall sleep health!
This alone is a good reason to employ dream feeding strategies!
Q: Should I keep my baby swaddled during a dream feed?
A: Yes, if possible!
Taking your baby out of the swaddle is a sure way to wake him!
But, if the swaddle is all messed up and his arms have busted free, sometimes you have no other choice, right? Make sure that you have a decent swaddle (my favorites!). The Velcro on most baby swaddles is cheap and LOUD!
My favorite swaddle for dream feeds is The Woombie Swaddle. No Velcro. Your “Baby Houdini” won’t be able to free his arms, either!
If you can feed baby in the swaddle, that is optimal for dream feeding. However, during the early weeks of breastfeeding, that might be difficult. Use your discretion, but aim to give the feeding in the swaddle, if possible.
Learn more about newborn swaddling in this post.
Q: When should I stop dream feeds?
A: It depends.
Once you are past your postpartum recovery season, and your baby’s doctor has given the “green light” for “on-demand” feedings at night, I recommend experimenting with giving up dream feeds.
Why? Because, most parents offer dream feeds during the baby’s longest sleep stretch of the night.
It’s true that the first stretch of night sleep for babies is usually their longest sleep stretch of the night. When a baby is left to sleep undisturbed, it’s not unusual for them to sleep 5-6 hours without waking… even as early as 4 or 6 weeks. We want to encourage that!
This is why some believe that dream feedings may actually interfere with a baby’s natural sleep rhythms, encouraging more night waking instead of less. But, again, there is no research to support this belief.
Are you finding dream feedings helpful?
If you think that the dream feedings are still helpful for your family, then by all means, continue them. However, once your baby reaches 6 months (if not sooner) this might be a great time to experiment with skipping the dream feeds to see what happens. You might be surprised!
Generally speaking, most pediatricians agree that a baby that is 6 months old, no longer needs night feedings. However, we all know that many babies still wake at night, though, even after 6 months!
But, why are they waking? It may not be because they are hungry. Instead, they may be waking more out of habit, anxiety or for other reasons.
If your baby is not gulping down a feeding or acting hungry during night wakings, she may be waking for other reasons.
It may be time for some mommy detective work to see if you can figure it out. Trust your “mommy gut!” Remember, YOU are the expert on YOUR baby!
Also, make sure that you talk with your baby’s doctor before changing up your night routine.
Dream feed pros and cons
- May help babies gain weight faster.
- Feeding a sleeping baby, may keep baby more relaxed. This may prevent a baby from taking in too much air during a feeding.
- Dream feedings may be helpful for babies with reflux.
- A dream feed may lengthen your baby’s sleep stretch and help him sleep longer without waking to feed.
- When a parent goes immediately to sleep after a dream feed, they may get more uninterrupted sleep during the first part of the night.
- Parents of newborns can get longer sleep stretches during the early days when it’s still necessary that a newborn eats every 3 hours.
- Dream feeding gives parents some control over their baby’s night feeding schedule.
- It allows parents to take sleeping/feeding shifts.
- It may help some babies feel more secure and cry less because their hunger needs are met without crying.
- Dream feeds may interfere with a baby’s natural sleep cycles.
- Older babies may become dependent on night feedings after they are no longer necessary.
- Dream feeding may prevent a baby from developing good sleep habits.
- An older baby might get “used” to a dream feed and not learn how to sleep through the night without one.
Dream feed pros and cons summarized
I hope that these dream feed pros and cons will help you make an informed decision.
When weighing the pros and cons of a dream feed strategy, it’s important to consider both baby and parents’ needs. Remember, YOU are the expert on YOUR baby.
You also need to consider your whole family’s sleep health… Because sleep deprivation affects the whole family… It affects your physical, emotional and mental health.
If you decide that dream feeding is best for your family during a particular season, then own your decision with confidence and zeal!
These pro tips can really help…
6 Pro-Tips for Successful Dream Feeding!
1. Keep room dark and quiet
It’s VERY important to keep the baby’s room dark and quiet. Do NOT turn on the light OR use your cell phone’s blue light while dream feeding.
In fact, if you need light for the feeding, try red light!
Studies have shown that red light does not interfere with our body’s melatonin levels. This helps keep everyone in a drowsy state during night wakings.
I love this cute little bear light for night feedings! It’s a client favorite and I also depend on it for keeping my clients’ babies asleep during night feedings!
2. Use a sound machine
When you have a sound machine running near a sleeping baby, it’s really easy to sneak in, check on the baby and offer a night feeding without waking him!
In fact, I would say that your chances of accidentally waking a baby while running a sound machine are much lower.
Not only does a sound machine effectively muffle loud noises, but the noise of a sound machine is very relaxing and comforting to a young baby.
Why? Because it mimics the sounds of the womb and reminds them of their happy place. 😉 Not only that, but sound machines help babies form sleep associations which makes bedtime much easier on parents. Babies love sound machines!
I love this sound machine because it is small, rechargeable, portable and is as powerful as the larger ones. I have been really impressed with how well it works, too!
3. Avoid using your phone during dream feedings
The blue light on your phone can wake your baby. It may also make it more difficult for YOU to fall asleep as well. If you must use your phone during a dream or night feeding, at least try the night mode setting.
Instead of using your phone’s light, try my favorite baby night light. I love this thing!
4. Keep baby snugly swaddled
If your baby is a newborn, make sure that you keep him snugly swaddled during the dream feeding!
Nothing will cause him to wake faster than the noisy Velcro of most newborn swaddles.
In fact, most swaddles don’t even contain your baby’s arms very well. When he wiggles and squirms during active sleep, he will often bust right out of them!
One of my biggest pet peeves is a stupid swaddle. 😛
When you have to open the Velcro swaddle and start over because the swaddle won’t get tight enough or contain your baby’s arms, then your baby startles and wakes. Yikes!
In fact, a Velcro-free swaddle can be a HUGE help for night feedings. Here’s my favorite Velcro-free swaddle that works great for night feedings. No more flailing arms or noisy Velcro with this swaddle! I absolutely LOVE it! Find out why in this post.
5. Do not engage or interact with your baby during the feeding
Close your eyes or avoid making eye contact with your baby, if possible. Try to make the dream feed as boring as possible!
6. Ask your partner to offer the dream feed and go to bed early!
Imagine getting 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep?!!
Yes, it’s possible when you and your partner take sleeping and feeding shifts throughout the night. If your baby takes a bottle and your partner is a night owl, this works especially well for the dream feed!
Many dads are willing and able to cover the dream feeding or first shift of the night. This allows both parents to maximize their sleep and get the restorative sleep they both need. Try it!
Dream Feed Pros and Cons: What about You?
Have you tried dream feeding? What do you see as dream feed pros and cons? Please share in the comments!