A dreamfeed is one of my favorite tools for nighttime. If you are offering night feedings, a dream feed may help you get more sleep at night.
What is a dreamfeed?
A dream feed is when you feed your kiddo while they’re asleep. While your baby is completely asleep, you go in, pick her up and offer a feeding (just like you usually do at night).
To be clear, if your kiddo wakes up in and you respond by feeding her, that’s not a dreamfeed -even if she falls asleep during the feeding. It’s a night feeding, but not a dreamfeed. A dreamfeed is when WE initiate the feeding while baby is asleep.
How do we do a dreamfeed?
Just like you would do any night feeding! Pick her up, sit in the chair that you typically sit in to do the night feeding. You can nurse or offer a bottle.
She may wake up slightly when you pick her up. But hopefully she will easily go back to sleep while eating. And at the end of the feeding, put her back on the mattress.
Why would we take the risk of waking up a sleeping baby? We often spend so much time and effort to get our babies to sleep, and now I am suggesting we disrupt their sleep? Well, when a dreamfeed actually works, it’s not disruptive and it brings more sleep.
Here are some scenarios when it can be very beneficial to use dreamfeeds:
To align baby’s sleep with ours
As babies get older, their first stretch of the night is often their longest sleep. After that first stretch, they may wake up more frequently throughout the night. Let’s say baby sleeps from 7 pm to midnight, which means that they do a 5-hour stretch. If you go to bed at 7 pm yourself, then you also get five hours of sleep. But if you go to bed at 10 pm, then you’re only getting two hours of sleep before baby wakes up at midnight for a feeding. We can offer a dreamfeed before you’re ready to go to bed around 10 pm. Baby will have a full belly at 10 pm and we can expect her to start her 5-hour stretch at 10 pm. So there would be a feeding before bedtime before 7 pm, a dreamfeed around 10 pm and then the next feeding should be around 3am – because that’s five hours after that 10 pm dreamfeed. In this scenario, we’re not asking baby to go longer between feedings, we are just shifting the timing of the longer stretch to align it with your own bedtime so that you can get more sleep!
To provide consistency during sleep coaching
Dreamfeeds can also be very useful when we are helping baby learn to sleep more independently, while maintaining some night feedings. (often people think that sleep training requires to eliminate all night feedings, but that’s not the case!)
Let’s say we want to do 1 feeding/night around 2 am. That means that we want baby to learn to fall asleep independently and sleep through the night, expect for 1 waking/feeding around 2 am. In this scenario, if kiddo wakes up at 11 pm, we would help her go back to sleep without a feeding (because the feeding time is 2 am). When she wake up around/after 2 am, she would get to eat right away.
Getting to eat *sometimes* can get confusing and inconsistent for kiddos: sometimes she wakes up and gets to eat (around 2 am), sometimes she has to go back to sleep without a feeding (any other time she wakes up). However, since babies can’t tell time, our 2-am rule may feel “random”. From their perspective, sometimes they get to eat, sometimes they don’t, and that feels inconsistent. And when children perceive that we are inconsistent, they often continue to wake up throughout the night to see how we will respond this time.
One way for us to be consistent in the way we respond during sleep training is to provide that feeding as a dream feed. So at some point in the night, we would offer a dreamfeed. Then every time baby wakes up, we can respond consistently (without a feeding), because we took care of the calories through a dream feed. This is a technique that I use a lot during coaching.
Is the dreamfeed working?
When assessing if a dreamfeed is working for your kiddo, here are some questions I ask:
- Is baby getting a good feed during the dreamfeed. If they don’t eat much, then it won’t help them sleep longer.
- How easy is it to put baby down after the dreamfeed. If a dream feed works, baby would wake up slightly, feed and go back to sleep easily. If you find that your kiddo wakes up during the dream feed and then is upset or it’s hard to put baby down afterwards, then that might not be a tool for your family.
- How is baby sleeping after the dreamfeed?
Those are the things that we want to keep an eye on to assess whether the dream feed is helpful or not.
If you introduce a dream feed, try for 3-4 nights in a row to see what happens. For some families it’s a game changer, for others it doesn’t seem to help. But you can’t know if you don’t try!
You can also join my free private Facebook group for sleep support.