Will ‘dream feeds’ work for your baby?
There are two ways to dream feed your baby. The most common is when you pick up a baby when they are fast asleep and feed somewhere between 10 pm and midnight. The other is when you actually wake the baby between 10pm and midnight and feed, then put them back to bed. Some babies wake naturally between the hours of 10pm and midnight, but this is not a dream feed.
What is the impact of dream feeds?
No one really knows, but one thought is that by disrupting a baby’s natural sleep cycle, you are interfering with their most precious and deepest phase of sleep - and that feeding during these hours can also affect the digestion, growth and development that occurs in this deep sleep cycle. Dream feeds can also contribute to encouraging your baby to feed at night, a feed they might not otherwise have required. Also if your baby is not getting enough sleep during the day, you could be making them overtired by disrupting their natural sleep cycle.
Why would you dream feed?
It is one way for parents to sway their baby’s feeding and sleep cycles overnight, and some parents believe that if they feed the baby at this time then everyone gets more sleep. However, there is no evidence to indicate that dream feeds guarantee parents extended sleep, nor benefit a healthy baby. Parents are also led to believe that if they dream feed then they are helping create sleeping patterns that will encourage their babies to sleep longer at night.
For babies who don’t feed well during the day, struggle to put on weight or are distracted during the day, a dream feed can get that extra fuel into them. But it is important to remember that the more milk a baby has during the night, the less they will demand during the day.
What age does a dream feed work for a baby?
Ideally your baby is past the newborn stage and is between the ages of three and six months. Like most things to do with babies, it’s a personal choice and there is no recommended age to start a dream feed. Remember, dream feeds are led by parents and the main reason they favour dream feeds is they are keen to feed the baby and then go to bed. This is also the time of the night that your partner is happy to feed the baby while you get extra rest.
When do I stop the dream feed?
Ideally by the time they are six months, however if you stop the dream feed, your baby may wake looking for it. Just because you have decided the baby no longer needs a dream feed, some babies anticipate the dream feed and begin to wake for it. If you are dream feeding your baby and they are waking around 1 am and consistently during the night, the dream feed is not working for you. This constant night waking can be due to sleep associations and your baby is unable to resettle when they wake during the night.
Dropping the dream feed
If you choose to drop the dream feed, you need to have faith in yourself and if your baby does wake, take the time to resettle them. This may take some time. It takes a minimum of three weeks with 100% consistency to change their circadian rhythm. It takes a minimum of ten days to see any changes and the first three to four days will be the hardest. Another way to drop the dream feed is to reduce the length of the breast feed or reduce the amount of milk in their bottle.
With anything to do with babies/toddlers and children, there is no right or wrong way, but there are certainly easy and hard ways. What works for one baby will not necessarily work for another. In my experience I have seen situations where parents will dream feed their first born and have no problems with dropping that feed. Then when number two comes along, the dream feed does not work for the second baby.
Make sure you are well informed as once in place, dream feeds are difficult to eliminate from your baby’s routine. No one has a crystal ball and while some babies just naturally drop their dream feed, others can continue having them for an extended period, while others can actually start waking more often at night.
I have dream fed babies, but I haven’t found it successful. I’ve found that leaving your baby to naturally stretch out at night and not waking results in a happier household, as these babies tend to learn to sleep longer at night, so the parents are getting better sleep.
Dorothy Waide is a Karitane nurse and a leading sleep consultant who has almost 30 years’ baby nursing and sleep-settling experience in homes in New Zealand and abroad. Her consultancy BabyHelp is dedicated to teaching new mums everyday parenting skills and ‘mothercraft’ - find it on Facebook here.
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