Trying to get your baby to sleep through the night begins with establishing a regular feeding routine that meets your baby’s needs. Hungry babies don’t sleep as well as ones with full tummies, and a dream feed can be a great way to start encouraging your baby to have their longest period of sleep at the same time that you have yours. A lot of mums and dads swear by dream feeding as their fail-safe way of getting a better night’s sleep, and as we all know, a happy baby makes for happy parents and, it goes without saying that happy parents also make for a happy baby too.
No matter how you feed your baby (breast, bottle or combination feeding), a dream feed can be a good way to add some structure to a night feeding schedule. There are lots of benefits to a dream feed and in this article, I’ll explain how they work and why you might want to consider adding a dream feed to your baby’s feeding routine.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is quite simply a late night feed (usually the last feed before midnight) that is given to your baby when they are already asleep. While it may seem counter-intuitive to disturb a sleeping baby for a feed when they’re not asking for one, most often they will take the milk with their eyes closed and will not fully wake up from their sleep. Often you won’t need to wind them either.
Dream feeds can actually be a really lovely time for calm and cuddles with your baby and a chance to bond with them outside of the chaos of the day.
Crucially, the main thing to note about a dream feed is the fact it is given to the baby via a bottle (with either formula milk or expressed breast milk), instead of via a breastfeed, because at the breast they will have a tendency to fall asleep more quickly (as it’s so warm and cosy for them!) without drinking as much milk, and so they may wake earlier.
Why should I introduce a dream feed?
While dream feeds are not right for every family, they have some advantages that are often of interest to new mums and dads. Firstly, a dream feed is a great way to introduce an evening routine by having a regular feeding slot at the same time each night. Usually dream feeds happen at 10.30pm or 11pm – a lot of parents do the dream feed just before they go to bed themselves.
Secondly, because dream feeding requires bottle feeding, it can be a nice way to help share the feeding responsibilities between a couple and can provide a nice moment for one to one bonding time between your partner and your baby. Because feeding is so often the domain of the mother, a dream feed can allow a partner some quiet intimacy and contact with the baby while mum gets a much needed rest – and an extra slice of time in bed.
Dream feeds are not essential by any means, but they have grown in popularity because they can help babies to sleep for a longer stretch of time during the night, and over time, eventually, they can help babies to sleep through until the morning which is often the ultimate goal when you have a newborn. When they finally ‘sleep through’ it’s a real landmark for both baby and their parents!
It’s worth noting that a dream feed is not an instant fix for getting your baby to sleep through. When you begin adding a dream feed to your baby’s routine, if they have been used to waking at 2 or 3 am then they may continue to do so for a few days until they adjust to their new schedule.
How to establish a successful dream feed
If you are breastfeeding your baby, it is still possible to dream feed your baby using expressed breast milk that’s given to your baby in a bottle.
Your feeding choices are entirely personal and unique to you and I strongly believe that you must do what feels right for you and your baby. Some breastfeeding mums are hesitant to introduce a bottle at all to their baby in case it confuses them, but I’ve found that adding a bottle exclusively for a dreamfeed at an early stage (before six weeks old), once breastfeeding is well established, has enabled a lot of tired, breastfeeding mamas to have some extra time in bed while their partner feeds the baby.
I’ve also found that a lot of reference books suggest adding a dream feed bottle by eight to ten weeks old but often this can be too late and an exclusively breastfed baby will refuse to accept the bottle. By introducing a bottle to your baby by five or six weeks old, they are more likely to accept a bottle for this feed which means you have more feeding flexibility with your partner too.
When should I start dream feeding my baby?
It’s safe to start adding a bottle for a dream feed as soon as mum and baby know how to breastfeed and their milk supply is well established. For most babies and mums this is around 3-5 weeks postpartum. Making sure that breastfeeding is well established first will mean that there won’t be nipple/teat confusion for your baby and they should get on well with a dream feed from the start. If you are formula feeding your baby, you could start a dream feed as soon as one week old.
How to express breast milk for a dream feed
If you are breastfeeding, then I’d absolutely recommend you express your breast milk before going to bed in order to continue to encourage your milk supply. If you are keen to try a dream feed with expressed milk, then one way of doing it that has worked with a lot of women I’ve worked with, is to express some milk after the first morning feed, and express some milk again before going to bed. You can then combine this milk and warm it for use in the dream feed.
It’s not essential to use expressed breast milk for the dream feed of course, and if you are using formula, or are combination feeding and prefer to use formula milk for this final feed of the day, then I’d still recommend expressing your milk before you go to sleep to keep your supply functioning in accordance with your baby’s needs.
What if I don’t introduce a dream feed?
Overall, the main objective of the dream feed is to enable your baby to have a long sleep at a time that works for your own sleep requirements. All babies are different but if you don’t introduce a dream feed at some stage, you may find that when your baby is four or five or six months old that they’ll have had their deep, long sleep earlier in the night, and will wake up full of beans at 4am – which by anyone’s standards is a very early start to the day! Additionally, one of the most heartening things about a dream feed is the opportunity it presents for partners to help with feeding. This is an excellent way for partners to enhance their bond with the baby. It’s a sleepy, calm, cuddly moment that will often be looked back upon fondly, when dream feeding eventually comes to an end.
If you would like to learn more about successful feeding and baby care, check out our online antenatal preparation course, HATCH or to arrange a personal consultation with Sofie Jacobs, you can find out more information here.
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