How to Successfully Dream Feed Your Baby

If you are the parent of a baby looking to get a bit more shut-eye, you may have heard of the concept of dream feeding. Simply put, dream feeding is when you slip in an extra feeding for your baby after they've already gone to sleep in the hopes of them sleeping a longer stretch before waking. The idea is to do the "dream feed" around the time that you go to sleep yourself so that your baby won't wake up too soon after you drift off into dreamland.

Dream feeding sounds like a good idea in theory to most parents, but the question is whether it really works. Parents often want to know what the best techniques are for dream feeding, what the pros and cons of this technique are, and what to do if it doesn't seem to be working.

We reached out to three infant feeding experts to help us understand the ins and outs of dream feeding, including tips for success, and when to scale back on that middle-of-the-night feed.

How Does a Dream Feed Work?

A dream feed is usually done a few hours after you've put your baby down for the night, explains Jenelle Ferry, MD, neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition and infant development at Pediatrix Medical Group in Tampa, Florida. "The goal is to arouse the baby enough to eat, but not enough to fully awaken, and then quickly get back to sleep," she says. "This semi-awake state is kind of like a dream state, hence the name dream feeding."

It might seem strange to offer a breast or bottle to your baby if they are asleep and don't seem hungry. But babies have an inborn reflex to suck, says Nicole Peluso, IBCLC, lactation consultant and manager of lactation services and education at Aeroflow Breastpumps. "The innate rooting behavior that newborns have allows them to self-latch even while sleeping," she explains.

The idea is to try to time the dream feed around your own sleeping schedule, adds Cindy Rubin, MD, IBCLC, pediatrician and breastfeeding medicine specialist at In Touch Pediatrics and Lactation. "Perhaps you put your baby down to sleep at 6pm and you know that they typically won't wake up again until 1am to eat, and you go to bed yourself around 10 or 11pm," Dr. Rubin describes. In this case, if you dream feed close to your bedtime, the hope is that your baby won't wake up at 1am, but rather at 3am or 4am, so that you get a longer stretch of sleep.

Will a Dream Feed Really Help My Baby Sleep Better?

Unfortunately, there isn't any research out there on dream feeding and its effectiveness. In her experience, Dr. Ferry says that whether the technique works or not depends on various factors. "For some families, and for some ages of babies, the dream feed can help the infant become satiated without fully awakening and then get a longer stretch of nighttime sleep," she explains.

Dr. Ferry says that parents should keep in mind that dream feeding doesn't help your baby get more sleep overall, but (hopefully) shifts one of the nighttime feeds a little later to align better with parents' sleep schedules. In addition, she says that dream feeding only works if your baby is waking up because they are hungry. "If your baby is waking at night for reasons other than hunger, the dream feed is less likely to result in improvement," she explains.

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