Since some babies won’t sleep through the night without a feeding until some time after 9 months or longer, some parents swear by something called a “dream feed” to help their babies sleep longer. But, what is a dream feed and at what age should you try it?
What Is a Dream Feed?
A dream feed is where you feed your baby while he or she is still asleep before you go to bed yourself. Some parents breastfeed and others (or their partners) can give a bottle, sometimes without even picking up the baby. The theory is that you will get a longer stretch of sleep, yourself. The question is, will this work and should you do it? For some people, a dream feed will be a Godsend.
At what age can you dream feed?
Most parents will begin to dream feed any time between 6-8 weeks old and 4 months old, once your baby no longer needs to eat every 3 hours at night.
How You Do a Dream Feed?
For example, your baby goes to sleep around 7 p.m., you dream feed (feed the baby when he is asleep) around 10 p.m. before you go to bed, and baby might sleep until 4 or 6 a.m. or later, giving you a glorious 6 to 8 hours of sleep straight. Go to bed early and have your partner/spouse give the dream feed and you can get even more sleep! If your baby wakes up during a dream feed, soothe her back to sleep as you would at bedtime. When it works, a dream feed is a wonderful thing!!
Do Dream Feeds Work?
Unfortunately, not always. As I explained how babies sleep at 4 months old, the first part of the night is the deepest sleep of the night for all babies and children over 4 months (approximately). Therefore, it might be very difficult to rouse your baby enough to feed any old time you want to. Some babies will awaken just enough to eat and stay asleep, but others might not wake up enough and others will wake up too much and be somewhat cranky that you woke them up (especially if they aren’t hungry!). Dream feeds also seem to have a bit of an “expiration” date – generally speaking, dream feeds are most helpful for babies under 6 months old who may still require multiple night feedings. Another way dream feeds sometimes “don’t work” is when you feed your baby before turning in for the night and she STILLS wakes up at 2 a.m. (or whenever). Some babies also tend to wake up more frequently after the initial night waking.
Should You Give A Dream Feed?
I generally don’t recommend dream feeds as a solution for ALL families. Of course, I personally am not against dream feeding, philosophically (some people believe it goes against the idea of demand-feeding and is not respecting the baby to force a meal on him), and I don’t think it hurts to try it (though it might take a week or two to get back to where you were if things go crazy), but, in general, I think they can be problematic. Dream feeds can make a night-waking habit that otherwise might not be there and it is difficult to know just when to stop dream feeding and your baby is fully capable of sleeping all night without that feed. After all, some babies start sleeping all the way through the night as early as 3 or 4 months. Given how hard it was to get my son to sleep, I generally would not risk waking him up just for my sake. I did try it exactly one time, he was too sleepy to eat, and I felt guilty for even trying, so I didn’t try it again. LOL
Of course, I know all too well how difficult it is to wake up to feed a baby once or twice a night for months on end, so I certainly know why people do it. Even waking just once when you reach the 7th, 8th, or 9th month, is downright brutal. That, to me, is just part of having a new baby and something I just had to live with (even beyond 9 months for my boys). Their tummies are small and as I always say, there are many adults that can’t go 11-12 hours without a feeding, so I am not sure why we expect our babies to. Instead, I typically recommend, night-weaning down to just two night-breastfeedings or zero to one formula/bottle feeding around 6 months old and one breastfeeding or no bottle feedings by 9-12 months old, if your baby hasn’t done it on their own by then.