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Dream feed: How it can help your baby sleep

Could a dream feed help your baby to sleep longer through the early hours of the morning?

baby dream feed with mum in bedroom at night

The dream feed is one of those parenting tips that is a great divider among those with a new baby.

On the one hand people rave that it has given them a healthy chunk of sleep when they needed it.

On the other hand, many parents try it and say it just didn’t do anything for them. But when you’re a new parents struggling to get enough sleep to keep you going in the day, then anything is worth a shot!

The term dream feed was first coined by author and baby expert Tracy Hogg.

Since she wrote about it in her first book nearly two decades ago the key principle of it hasn’t changed much.

However while Hogg suggested the dream feed should happen when your baby is asleep, others suggest gently rowsing your baby so they are semi-conscious (sounds a little complicated? Don’t worry, we’ll get to tips on how to actually do it later).

What is a dream feed?

A dream feed is where you feed your baby between 10pm and midnight just before you are going to bed.

The theory is this will fill your baby’s tummy enough to keep them going for a decent spell through the early hours of the morning. This will mean you can get more sleep at night.

Eventually it may mean your baby “sleeps through” until 7am so that you get a proper night’s sleep. We all know how important sleep is for your sanity, so this is about helping parents get more quality snoozing time with a new baby.

Does dream feeding work?

For some mothers it does, but there are no guarantees. There are a limited number of studies on dream feeding.

While the term dream feed was first coined by Hogg, there was a study that featured “focal feeds” conducted among British mothers before this. 

The focal feed, for the purposes of this study, was a “large” breast or bottle feed given between 10pm and midnight. The study in the UK in 1997 divided new parents into three groups, with one group asked to use measures to encourage better sleep at night such as the focal feed, and minimising parental interaction, such as rocking, at night.

The study found 61 per cent of parents in this group had seven interruption-free nights by the time their baby was 12 weeks old. The number of parents with interruption-free nights in the control group, which received standard information from health professionals, was 50 per cent.

In a smaller study of 26 families, new parents were asked to offer a “focal feed” between 10pm and midnight to their babies every night. They were also asked to gradually lengthen intervals between middle-of-the-night feeds.

By eight weeks all of the babies were sleeping through the night. You can read more on that study here.

You could spent a long time going through parenting forums online reading accounts from parents who swear it worked and others who swore it did not.

Will a dream feed work for you? Studies indicate it could so it’s certainly worth a try! But as with all things to do with newborn babies and sleep, there is no magic silver bullet.

The solution to coping with a baby who wakes frequently at night is often just to accept that this is normal behaviour in your baby.

Having said that, it’s worth trying something new if you are really struggling with sleep.

Dream feed pros and cons

Benefits of dream feeding

  • Can reduce the number of wake-ups between midnight and 7am
  • Means baby sleeps for a longer stretch as their tummy is full
  • Gives parents a chance to have more sleep at a time when they would normally be asleep
  • You’re pre-empting your baby’s hunger, so they don’t need to cry to ask for milk
  • Baby will eat less at night which should boost their daytime feeding

Downsides of dream feeding

  • There are no guarantees it will work to extend your baby’s sleep
  • Your baby may still wake at 2am wanting another feed
  • You have to stay up to fit the feed in
  • May unsettle/disturb your baby from sleep
  • It can be tough to ditch it once it’s established
  • Your baby may overfeed if they are comfort sucking when half-asleep
  • If you can’t burp your sleepy baby then they may wake in the early hours with trapped wind

How to do a dream feed

A dream feed can be a breast or bottle feed.

Some parents make the dream feed a bottle of either formula or expressed breast milk, which is given by dad so that mum can have some extra sleep.

It’s best given around three hours after your baby’s last feed. So say your baby had their last feed of the day at 7pm, you would offer a dream feed at 10pm.

Baby nursing with mum dream feed

Tracy Hogg recommends the dream feed is done while baby is still asleep. It’s a nerve-wracking thing when you’re a new parent and you’re told to lift a sleeping baby (who may have given you grief for many hours that evening with a ton of crying) out of bed potentially waking them.

Here’s how to do the dream feed step-by-step:

  • If you swaddle your baby, keep them swaddled for the dream feed.
  • Keep the room dark and quiet during the dream feed to give you the best chance of not disturbing your baby too much. It’s fine if they do wake-up, it doesn’t mean the dream feed won’t work.
  • Gently lift your baby from their bed and place the breast or bottle at their lip. Gently stroke the top lip to encourage them to open their mouth.
  • If you are breastfeeding, encourage them to nurse for five to 10 minutes on one side, before then switching to the other. This means you won’t be disturbed by one engorged boob at 2am!
  • If your baby is too sleepy to open wide and take some milk, you could try gently removing them from their swaddle to cool them down or leave it 10 minutes before trying again.

Remember that if your goal here is to improve your baby’s sleep, you will increase your chances by also trying other simple measures to encourage sleep in your little one.

These include:

  • Putting them to sleep in a dark room.
  • Try swaddling in newborns as it can soothe them if their limbs are constricted like they were in the womb.
  • Avoid playing and too much interaction at nighttime to teach your baby the difference between day and night.
  • Feed your baby frequently through the daylight hours. If they do prefer lengthy naps of more than three hours in the day, consider waking them to feed so that they get more calories in the daytime and require less at night.

Here’s a handy newborn baby routine to give you an idea of how the dream feed may fit into your baby’s daily schedule.

Newborn baby schedule with dream feed

Should you burp baby after a dream feed?

Yes. As with any feed, especially if you are bottlefeeding, your baby.

A baby with trapped wind may wake in pain and struggle to sleep.

Hold your baby close to you with their chin rested on your shoulder and gently rub their back. This position can be more effective if you are standing to get the burp up.

What age can you give baby a dream feed?

While studies have looked at “focal feeds” in newborns, the general consensus is to start offering the dream feed at around two to three months.

This is because a newborn baby needs to feed on-demand and frequently due to their small tummy.

However if your baby is feeding well through the day, gaining weight, healthy and producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies, then there’s no reason not to give it a try.

What age should you stop the dream feed? This is really up to you, but Dr Harvey Karp suggests dropping it around two to four weeks after your baby has begun to sleep well after the dream feed.

However I know of friends who have continued with it to six months and been really happy with how much it has helped.

Once your baby is six months, they should be capable of sleeping for 10 to 11 hours. This may be a good time to ditch the dream feed, especially as you will be starting weaning at this stage.

Final thoughts on dream feeding your baby

A dream feed could help you get a better chunk of sleep at night and make your baby’s sleep align a little more with yours.

Many mothers find the dream feed stops baby waking between midnight and 2am and helps them go through to 4am.

With a newborn baby, remember there’s no magic trick to making your baby sleep 12 hours a night. At that tender age most are just not ready to do so.

Hang in there, try the dream feed and other gentle sleep tips, and remember that your baby will sleep through eventually!

You may also like:

Simple newborn baby sleep schedules

How to dream feed your baby to improve night time sleep

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