Have you literally tried everything to get your baby to sleep for longer stretches at night? Have you heard a lot about a dream feed and told to try it to help? Are you confused about what it is and how to do it? Then read on and I’ll give you my tips on why you should be using it and how to do it effectively!
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is a feed that you give a baby when they have already gone to sleep for the night. I recommend that this feed is offered at approx. 10.30 pm – just before you settle to bed yourself!
A lot of parents are reluctant to try it as they feel it will wake their baby however you won’t know until you try. Some babies will wake a little and others will simply take the feed while still in the land of nod.
Why should you use a dream feed?
The dream feed is all about making sure your baby is nice and full before entering their core phase of sleep during the night. This should help them to sleep for longer spells as wakes for hunger will have been minimised with this additional milk feed. Your baby should fall back to sleep straight afterwards and a long spell of sleep should result.
Does a dream feed work?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
In my experience, though it is more likely to be successful and supportive of a longer spell of sleep for your baby. Whether it will work for you will be down to giving it a try for at least 10 days and seeing how your baby responds.
There are schools of thought out there that using it can actually disrupt your children's sleep patterns however this is something that I have not found with the countless families I have worked with – plus my own 3 children.
So you are going to give it a try?
If you do decide to bring a dream feed into your baby’s nightly routine there are a few things you need to do;
I recommend that the dream feed take place at about 10.30 pm to coincide with when you are heading to bed yourself.
I recommend that the dream feed be a bottle feed. If you are a breastfeeding mum offering this as an expressed bottle or formula bottle will allow you to go to bed a little earlier – you need your extra rest – and allow your partner to offer this feed to your baby. This can be a lovely bonding time for your partner and one I know my husband enjoyed with our children.
Enter their room while keeping it nice and dark. Use the light from the hall or landing only. Keep everything nice and calm and interaction to a minimum.
I recommend very gently changing your baby’s nappy before you start the feed. This will wake them enough that they will take the feed easily but also ensure you minimise the risk of a leaky nappy later on in the night.
Keep them in their sleeping bag while feeding – this will allow you to simply give them the feed and return them to their cot.
It is less likely that they will be windy during this feed as they will be so relaxed taking it. I do however recommend sitting your baby up on your knee for a period of time – say 3 to 5 minutes to see if they get some wind-up.
Is it too late to start using a dream feed?
I recommend that the dream feed be used from as early as possible – as soon as you come home from the hospital really. However, if you are beyond 4 months and your baby is not sleeping through the night and you would like to see if the dream feed would help then go for it! It is absolutely worth trying if your baby is not sleeping through the night. Remember that you will not see change overnight, it could take up to 10 days to see positive change from the introduction of the dream feed to come. So, pick a night, offer it and stick with it! As your baby gets older and is introduced to solid feed you can start to work on fading the dream feed out as long as they are having settled nights.
If your baby is 9 months plus, however, well established on solids and not sleeping through a dream feed may not be the answer. You may need to take a look at how your baby is settling to sleep and also their day time napping schedule to see how tweaks and improvements there can help promote a restful night for all.
I’ve tried it, it's not working!
So you’ve tried it and used it for the 10 days I’ve recommended and have followed my guidelines above – but it isn’t working. Then, I’m afraid I would take a look at the parameters around your little one's sleep. If your baby is beyond 6 months, you are using a dream feed, and they are more than once at night then something else could be contributing to that. It could be that their day time napping structure needs to be tweaked or perhaps their soothing skills need some work. Overall, the dream feed is not going to be the answer when the wakes at night are not due to hunger!
So, what should you do? Dream feed or not!
Ultimately I would say give it a go! It won’t do any harm trying it out for the 10 days time frame that I suggested and if it doesn’t work you can always stop. I have found however that when the dream feed is used in conjunction with a structured feeding schedule during the day parents can see positive results. Work on establishing supportive sleep habits for your child and the cab dream feed will lead you on the way to The Gift of Sleep.