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Dream Feeding: What is it and What You Should Do Instead

Baby sleeping soundly without using dream feeding

As a new parent, you’re likely looking for any strategy that might help you get a bit more sleep. Dream feeding is a technique that’s often suggested for new parents. But it’s not always the best choice. 

In this blog, we’ll explore what dream feeding is, why it might not be the best solution, and what you can do instead to help your baby—and yourself—get better sleep.

Let’s dive in and find out more about this popular method and discover healthier, more effective alternatives for your baby’s sleep at night. 

What is Dream Feeding?

Dream feeding is a method where parents pick up their sleeping baby, usually around 10 PM, and offer a feeding without fully waking them. The idea behind this technique is to fill the baby’s tummy, aiming to extend their sleep duration and, consequently, give parents a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Typically, parents perform a dream feed just before they go to bed, hoping this will prevent their baby from waking up hungry shortly after.

During a dream feed, the baby is kept as sleepy as possible, and the feeding is done quietly with minimal stimulation. The idea is to help the baby get through the night without needing another feed too soon. 

While some parents find this method useful, it’s important to remember that, in reality, it doesn’t guarantee longer sleep stretches. Plus, it can also create a habit where the baby expects to be fed at this time of night even if it’s not necessary, making it harder for them to learn to sleep longer stretches on their own.

Benefits Often Associated with Dream Feeding

Dream feeding has become a go-to method for many parents eager to get a few more hours of sleep.

How Dream Feeding is Supposed to Work

The idea behind dream feeding is simple: feed your baby while they’re still half-asleep, usually around 10 PM. This is meant to keep their tummy full and delay additional feedings until later in the night. By providing this late-night feed, the hope is that your baby will sleep for a longer, uninterrupted stretch, giving parents a bit more sleep as well.

During the dream feed, you gently pick up your baby, offer a bottle or breast, and feed them quietly without fully waking them. The goal is to minimize stimulation, keeping the environment calm and dark to help your baby stay drowsy and easily return to sleep after the feed. Many parents like this method because ideally it offers a chance to proactively manage nighttime feedings and possibly reduce wake-ups.

Claims of Longer Sleep Stretches with Dream Feeding

Fans of dream feeding claim that this method can help extend the baby’s first sleep stretch, sometimes pushing it to five or six hours. This can be a game-changer for sleep-deprived parents who are desperate for a few more hours of uninterrupted rest. The idea is that by “tanking up” the baby before the parents go to bed, the baby will not wake up hungry shortly after, allowing everyone to enjoy a more peaceful night.

This method can be particularly appealing for parents of babies who wake frequently during the night. By ensuring the baby is well-fed before midnight, parents hope to shift those wake-ups to later, more manageable times. However, it’s important to remember that dream feeding doesn’t always work for every baby, and some may still wake up just as often, which can be frustrating for parents.

Why We Don’t Recommend Dream Feeding

While dream feeding might sound like a great way to get some extra sleep, there are several reasons why it might not be the best choice for your baby’s long-term sleep health. Let’s dive into some of the potential downsides of dream feeding.

Creating Sleep Associations with Eating

One big concern with dream feeding is that it can create unwanted sleep associations. When you feed your baby while they are still half-asleep, they might start to associate feeding with falling asleep. This can make it harder for them to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. Over time, your baby might expect a feed every time they wake up, leading to more frequent night wakings and a tougher time establishing a healthy sleep routine.

Interference with Natural Hunger Cues

Dream feeding can also interfere with your baby’s natural hunger cues. Feeding them while they’re asleep means they aren’t learning to recognize and respond to their own hunger signals. This can make it harder for your baby to develop a healthy eating schedule based on their actual needs. Teaching your baby to listen to their body’s hunger cues is important for their overall development and well-being.

Potential for Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Another issue with dream feeding is the potential to disrupt your baby’s natural sleep patterns. Waking a baby, even slightly, to feed them can interrupt their sleep cycle. This can lead to more frequent awakenings during the night as your baby becomes conditioned to expect a feed at certain times, rather than sleeping through naturally. This disruption can make it harder for both you and your baby to get the restful sleep you need.

Dream feeding may seem like a quick fix for more sleep, but it’s important to consider these potential downsides. Every baby is different, and finding what works best for your family’s sleep routine is key.

What to Do Instead of a Dream Feed

Instead of relying on dream feeding, there are more effective strategies to help both you and your baby get better sleep.

Go to Sleep Earlier

One practical approach is for parents to go to bed earlier. Since very small babies tend to wake up often to eat anyway, aligning your sleep schedule with your baby’s can help you get more rest. Going to bed shortly after putting your baby down ensures that you get the most out of the longer sleep stretches they naturally have.

Complete a Full Feed When Your Baby Wakes Up

When your baby wakes up and signals that they’re hungry, make sure to complete a full feed. It’s important to distinguish between your baby stirring or being in active sleep and them actually waking up and needing to eat. 

Ensuring that your baby is fully awake and hungry before feeding helps them get a complete feed. Afterward, place them back into their crib to fall asleep independently. This helps reinforce healthy sleep and feeding patterns.

Teach Your Baby to Fall Asleep Independently

One of the best long-term strategies for a good night’s sleep is teaching your baby to go back to sleep independently when they’re ready. This means helping them learn to self-soothe and fall asleep without needing to be fed each time they wake up. Over time, this will help reduce the number of night wakings and foster a more consistent sleep routine.

Follow Your Pediatrician’s Advice

Always keep in mind any advice from your doctor. Sometimes, pediatricians recommend a dream feed for babies who are underweight or have specific health concerns. In these cases, following your pediatrician’s directions is crucial to ensure your baby’s health and development.

By adopting these strategies, you can support your baby’s ability to develop healthy sleep habits while also getting the rest you need.

Setting Up Your Baby for Sleep Success

Dream feeding might seem like a quick fix for getting more sleep, but it can lead to some challenges down the road. By focusing on healthy sleep habits and paying attention to your baby’s natural cues, you can help your little one develop better sleep patterns in the long run. 

If you need support in teaching your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own, reach out to Tender Transitions. We’re here to help!

FAQs about Dream Feeding

Is dream feeding bad?

No, dream feeding isn’t inherently bad, but it can set you up for problems later on, such as sleep associations and disrupted sleep patterns. Plus, it doesn’t always work for every baby, and there are other strategies that might be more effective.

What if my doctor recommends dream feeding?

Always follow your doctor’s advice. If your pediatrician recommends dream feeding for specific health concerns, it’s important to stick to their guidance.

Why does my baby wake up so often?

Babies wake up frequently for various reasons, including hunger, discomfort, or the need for comfort. It’s totally normal for very small babies to wake often to eat, and this usually decreases as their stomachs hold more food. Understanding your baby’s specific needs can help address these wake-ups more effectively.

How can I tell if my baby is hungry or awake for another reason?

Look for clear hunger cues, such as rooting, sucking on their hands, or making sucking noises. If your baby is simply stirring or moving around but not showing these signs, they may not actually be hungry.

Should I always feed my baby if they wake up in the night?

Not necessarily. Ensure that your baby is actually hungry and fully awake before feeding. This helps avoid creating a feed-to-sleep association and supports independent sleep. 

How can I prevent a feed-to-sleep association?

Make sure your baby is fully awake during feedings and place them back in their crib while they are still awake but drowsy. Keep them awake during the feed without making it too stimulating. This helps them learn to fall asleep independently without relying on feeding.

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