How to incorporate a dream feed
This article is part of New Kind’s postpartum doula’s best sleep tips.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” says everyone who wants to annoy a parent of a newborn. Sounds great in theory, but...how? We’re not exactly built to sleep in short bursts for 16 hours per day! Well, dream feeds could be part of the answer.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is when you wake your baby up for their last feed of the day, typically between 9:00 - 11:00 pm. The goal is to do the dream feed 2-3 hours after their bedtime feed and right before you go to sleep so that you and baby can get your longest stretch of sleep at the same time. When it works, it helps you get more of those precious, middle-of-the-night ZZZs.
When can I start doing a dream feed?
When your baby is able to sleep for a 4 - 6 hour stretch at night. For babies born at full-term with no health complications, 5-6 weeks of age is typically an ideal time to start. Some babies will keep the dream feed until around 6 months, and some will drop it earlier when it stops being effective.
Why should I consider dream feeding?
Introducing a dream feed gives parents a chance to get a solid chunk of uninterrupted sleep at the beginning of the night. Research has shown that the first 4 - 5 hours of sleep after you go to bed are where you get your most restorative rest. Not only will it feel *amazing*, it will help you maintain your own well-being and mental health.
How do I start dream feeding?
- Remove baby from their crib or bassinet and offer a feed at the breast or with a bottle.
- Keep lights dim and sounds to a minimum throughout the dream feed.
- If baby needs to be changed, that’s fine. Go ahead and change their diaper when needed.
- If baby is too sleepy to eat, try unswaddling them or stroking their cheek with your finger.
- Return baby to their crib or bassinet, and go get some rest!
Example of a 6-week-old feeding schedule with a dream feed:
7:00 am – Awake and feeding
10:00 am – Feeding
1:00 pm – Feeding
4:00 pm – Feeding
7:00 pm – Feeding and bedtime routine
10:00 pm – Dream feed
4:00 am – Feeding
Tips for success
The most important thing to remember about dream feeds is that they work best when used alongside other sleep-friendly habits.
- Have a consistent wake-up time every day. This will help you build a more predictable routine. 7-7:30 AM is a good time to start for most families.
- Feed baby every 2.5 - 3 hours during the day. Maximizing daytime feeds means that baby will be less hungry at night. It’s okay to wake your baby up from naps during the day to feed them.
- Practice the “pause” when baby wakes up from a nap or nighttime sleep. If they are making noise but not crying, wait and see if they will get themselves back to sleep. Even if they are noisy, try counting to 30 to see if they stop. Sometimes they do!
- Work on putting your baby down drowsy but awake. Slowly work on – and it’s not easy! – putting your baby down to sleep when they are showing signs of being sleepy. Start practicing this with the first nap of the day. When you and baby get the hang of it, move to the next nap and so on.
- Pay attention to wake windows. Between 2 - 8 weeks old, wake windows are about 1 hour but can range from 30 - 90 minutes. Keeping your baby engaged during these wake windows will help them sleep for longer stretches of time.
- When you start dream feeding, stick with it for 3 - 5 consecutive nights. It often takes a few days for your baby to adjust. Hang in there – there’s a good chance dream feeds will be beneficial for you!
- Avoid overfeeding during the dream feed. Most babies will not take a full feed during the dream feed, and that’s ok. The goal is just to “top off the tank” before their long stretch of sleep.
What if it doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, the dream feed isn’t a silver bullet. It works great for lots of babies, and some babies don’t respond to it at all. Here are some signs that the dream feed isn’t working. (Remember that it takes a few nights to see results.)
- Your baby is just too sleepy (or totally asleep!) to eat, even with un-swaddling or diaper changing.
- Adding a dream feed had zero effect on nighttime waking and feeds.
- Your baby has a hard time getting back to sleep after the dream feed.
- Your baby isn’t able to sleep for long stretches at night yet. The dream feed doesn’t actually help them sleep longer, it just shifts their longest sleep stretch later in the evening.
- You simply don’t like the routine. Every family is different, and you get to choose what’s best for you.
- If you’ve tried the method for 5 nights without seeing a benefit, feel free to drop the dream feed entirely. We recommend focusing instead on all of the other good sleep habits that are mentioned in this article. That’s what will help you build a strong, long-lasting foundation for your baby’s sleep.
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