I breastfed both my babies to sleep. I know, we failed at self-settling but I don’t care. It’s what felt natural and right for us at the time, and at the end of the day, doing what works for you and your baby is the best thing – despite what the books might say.
My mate at mother’s group on the other hand, was all about feeding schedules and sleep times. One day she told me she’d feed her baby at 10PM, even if she hadn’t woken for a feed. She swore it gave her more sleep as her baby wouldn’t wake for another feed until morning. While I heard her and was intrigued at the time, I was too tired to remember to give it a go myself.
If you’ve never heard of the ‘dream feed’ here’s what it is, when it’s OK to try it and some things to remember.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is a breast or bottle feed that occurs when your baby is still asleep. So instead of her crying out for a feed, or you waking her up for one, she gets her night feed while still asleep.
There are three reasons for doing this while she sleeps:
- Your baby is unaware she’s feeding and as such doesn’t associate a breastfeed or the bottle with getting back to sleep (helping her to self-settle).
- Her sleep isn’t interrupted by being woken up.
- You don’t need to settle her back to sleep because she hasn’t actually woken up.
Proponents of the dream feed say it gives their baby a full tummy and an undisturbed night.
They claim they’re no longer being woken in the night by their hungry baby (at 3AM or so) and the whole family sleeps longer in the morning. They point out that older babies who’ve dropped the night feed, usually have their last feed at 10PM and not just the usual 7PM. As such, they aren’t starving come 5AM and will sleep until 7AM (so they say!).
Skeptics (like me) wonder how effective it really is, given that all babies are different. Plus, what about burping and also what happens if they DO wake up and are cranky?! Eek!
When is it OK to try a dream feed?
Dream feeding works best when your baby is aged between three and nine months old. Young babies are generally so deeply asleep that they won’t feed so there’s a good chance you’ll be wasting your time.
And babies over nine months usually (ideally!) sleep through the night so don’t need a top-up feed to get them through to morning.
How to do the dream feed
Gently lift your baby out of her bed at around 10PM and feed her on both breasts or give a bottle. You may need to stir her a little by tickling her lips.
Don’t worry about burping or changing the nappy. Then put her straight back to bed still asleep.
If your baby won’t feed, wait until she shows signs of moving into a lighter sleep, such as twitching or flickering her eyes and then try again.
If your baby is self-settling at bedtime but still wakes at night after the dream feed, give her three nights to adjust.
Some things to know
For the dream feed to work – that is, your baby doesn’t wake or require another feed later in the night – she needs to be older than three months and able to settle without needing a breastfeed or bottle (Gulp. This is where I would have totally failed!). Patting, rocking or other assisted sleep techniques are also off the table.
If your baby doesn’t do this, then chances are the dream feed isn’t going to work for you at this time. She’s still going to wake up between sleep cycles needing you to help her get back to sleep. It’s recommended then that you work on changing your baby’s sleep associations and teaching her to self-settle.
If your baby does wake up during the dream feed, it’s recommended that you put her back to bed awake, so that she doesn’t require feeding to get back to sleep.
Need some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.