As a pediatric sleep expert, I often come across parents who are struggling to get their babies to sleep through the night. And a lot of those families who come to me are trying anything they can to get their baby sleeping better. One of the things a lot of these families are doing is a dream feed before they go to sleep at night. And they ask me “do dream feeds work?”
One common mistakes that parents make is offering dream feeds to their baby at night. While dream feeding is often suggested as a way to help babies sleep longer, it can actually have the opposite effect and lead to more disruptions during the night. In this blog, I will explain why parents should not offer dream feeds to their babies and how another strategy is actually going to help your baby sleep so much better at night.
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What is a Dream Feed?
A dream feed is a nighttime feeding that parents can offer to their baby while the baby is still asleep. The goal of a dream feed is to provide the baby with additional nutrition and to help them sleep for longer stretches at night. Typically, a dream feed is offered between 10pm and midnight, before the parents go to bed.
During a dream feed, parents can gently pick up their sleeping baby and offer them a bottle or breastfeed them without fully waking them up. To do a dream feed, parents should make sure that they are in a quiet and dimly lit environment, as bright lights and loud noises can startle the baby and fully wake them up.
The idea is that the baby will drink the milk without fully waking up, allowing them to continue sleeping for longer stretches. Parents may also use this opportunity to change their baby’s diaper if needed, without fully waking them up.
Why Dream Feeds May Not Be A Good Idea
While dream feeding may seem like a good idea in theory, there’s several reasons why you may want to consider stopping the dream feed. First, dream feeds may not be safe and can lead to overfeeding. They can also lead to more disruptions during the night. And lastly, they can create a dependency and lead to a feeding to sleep association.
Is Dream Feeding Safe?
One question that often comes up when discussing dream feeding is whether or not it is safe. While dream feeding may seem harmless, there are several reasons why it can actually be unsafe for babies.
Firstly, when a baby is dream fed, they may not be fully awake or alert. This can increase the risk of choking or aspiration if milk enters the baby’s airway instead of their stomach. Additionally, if the baby is not properly positioned during the dream feed, it can increase the risk of ear infections, as the milk can flow back into the middle ear through the eustachian tube.
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Another safety concern with dream feeding is the risk of overfeeding. When a baby is asleep, it can be difficult to gauge how much milk they have consumed. This can lead to overfeeding, which can cause discomfort, vomiting, and even weight gain. Overfeeding can also interfere with the baby’s ability to regulate their appetite and can lead to a dependence on milk to fall asleep.
Lastly, dream feeding can be unsafe for parents as well. When a parent is sleep deprived, they may not be as alert or coordinated as they need to be to safely hold and feed their baby. This can increase the risk of accidental drops or injuries, which can have serious consequences.
Can Dream Feeds Cause Early Morning Wakings?
Dream feeding can also have a negative impact on a baby’s sleep by causing early morning wakings and disrupting their sleep cycles. When a baby is dream fed, it can disrupt their natural hunger cues and interfere with their ability to self-regulate their sleep. As a result, they may wake up earlier in the morning or more frequently throughout the night, as their body is not able to properly transition through the various stages of sleep.
Another way that dream feeding can cause early morning wakings is by disrupting the baby’s circadian rhythm. When a baby is dream fed, it can throw off their internal clock and cause them to wake up earlier in the morning than they would naturally. This can create a cycle of early morning wakings that can be difficult to break, as the baby’s body has become accustomed to waking up at a certain time.
Additionally, dream feeding can create a dependency on milk to fall asleep, which can lead to frequent wakings throughout the night. When a baby associates milk with falling asleep, they may wake up more frequently throughout the night to feed, even if they are not truly hungry. This can result in a pattern of fragmented sleep, where the baby wakes up multiple times throughout the night and struggles to fall back asleep without milk.
Dream Feeds Can Create a Dependency
Dream feeds, while they may seem like a helpful way to provide extra nutrition and help babies sleep for longer stretches, can actually create a dependency on feedings throughout the night. When babies are consistently fed during the night, their bodies begin to expect these feedings, and they may wake up more frequently when they don’t receive them.
Furthermore, dream feeds can create a feeding to sleep association, where babies learn to associate feedings with falling asleep. This means that they may have trouble falling back asleep on their own without a feeding, even when they are not actually hungry. This can lead to more frequent wakings throughout the night, as the baby may wake up and expect a feeding to help them fall back asleep.
Creating a dependency on feedings throughout the night and developing a feeding to sleep association can have long-term consequences for a baby’s sleep habits. Babies who rely on feedings to fall asleep may have trouble learning to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, leading to more frequent wakings throughout the night and difficulty sleeping through the night.
When to Stop the Dream Feed
Determining when to drop the dream feed can depend on several factors, including the baby’s age, weight, and overall sleep patterns. As a general rule, I recommend that babies begin to drop the dream feed by four and six months of age.
When transitioning away from the dream feed, it’s important to do so gradually. Rather than stopping the dream feed abruptly, parents can try reducing the amount of milk offered during the dream feed over several nights. This can help the baby gradually adjust to sleeping longer stretches without needing a nighttime feeding.
Weaning from a dream feed can be a gradual process that requires patience and consistency. Here are some steps that parents can take to help their baby transition away from the dream feed:
Adjust feeding times during the day: One way to help babies drop the dream feed is by adjusting their feeding schedule during the day. By increasing the amount of milk or formula offered during daytime feedings, babies may be able to go longer stretches at night without needing a nighttime feeding.
Reduce the amount of milk offered during the dream feed: Over several nights, parents can gradually reduce the amount of milk offered during the dream feed. This can help the baby get used to sleeping longer stretches without needing a nighttime feeding.
Move the dream feed earlier: As the baby starts to sleep longer stretches at night, parents can try moving the dream feed earlier in the night. This can help the baby gradually adjust to sleeping without a nighttime feeding and may also prevent early morning wakings.
Offer comfort without milk: If the baby wakes up during the night after the dream feed has been eliminated, parents can offer comfort in other ways, such as by patting the baby’s back or singing a lullaby. By providing comfort without milk, parents can help the baby learn to fall back asleep independently.
Encourage Self Soothing
I recently worked with a family who was struggling with their 6-month-old baby waking up multiple times during the night. The parents had been offering dream feeds to their baby, hoping that it would help the baby sleep longer. However, they found that the dream feeds were actually leading to more disruptions during the night.
When the family first came to me, they were exhausted and desperate for a solution. After assessing the baby’s sleep habits, I recommended that they stop offering dream feeds and work on teaching their baby independent sleep skills.
At first, the parents were hesitant to give up dream feeding as they were worried that their baby would be hungry during the night. However, I explained that if the baby was taking in enough milk during the day, they should not need a feeding during the night. I also assured them that teaching their baby independent sleep skills would help their baby sleep longer and wake up less frequently during the night.
The parents agreed to stop offering dream feeds and we began working on teaching their baby independent sleep skills. We started by establishing a consistent bedtime routine and implementing a sleep training method that was gentle and gradual. The parents were consistent with the method and within a few weeks, their baby was sleeping through the night without any wake-ups.
The family was thrilled with the results after just a few and the parents were finally getting the rest they needed. They were also relieved that they no longer had to rely on dream feeds to get their baby to sleep longer. The parents realized that dream feeding was actually causing more disruptions during the night and that teaching their baby independent sleep skills was the key to getting their baby to sleep through the night.
Help Dropping the Dream Feed
As a pediatric sleep coach, my goal is to help families develop healthy sleep habits for their babies, including dropping the dream feed and teaching babies how to fall asleep happily and independently. Through my coaching services, I work with families to create personalized sleep plans that prioritize safe sleep practices and help babies learn to self-soothe and sleep for longer stretches at night.
One of the first steps in my coaching process is to assess the baby’s current sleep habits and determine whether a dream feed is appropriate. If a dream feed is causing sleep disruptions or interfering with the baby’s natural sleep cycles, we work together to gradually transition away from the dream feed and develop a new feeding schedule that prioritizes longer stretches of sleep at night.
I also work with families to help babies learn to fall asleep happily and independently, without relying on feedings or other external sleep aids. This involves developing a consistent sleep routine and helping babies learn to self-soothe, whether through gentle touch or other soothing techniques. By teaching babies to fall asleep on their own, without relying on external sleep aids, they are better equipped to sleep for longer stretches at night and have more restful sleep overall.
Baby Sleep Coaching
Through my coaching services, families can expect to see significant improvements in their baby’s sleep habits, including longer stretches of sleep at night and fewer wakings throughout the night. By working with a with me as your pediatric sleep coach, you will feel confident in your ability to develop healthy sleep habits for your baby, and can enjoy a more restful night’s sleep for yourself as well.
If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep habits and are considering dropping the dream feed, I encourage you to schedule a free discovery call with me to learn more about my coaching services and how I can help. With personalized sleep plans and one-on-one support, I can help you and your baby develop healthy sleep habits and enjoy more restful sleep at night. So don’t wait – schedule your free discovery call today and take the first step towards a better night’s sleep for your whole family.
About the Author
I’m Kaley Medina, the proud founder of Live Love Sleep®. I live in Texas with my husband and high school sweetheart, Zeke, along with our two wonderful children, Evalyn and Leo, and our furry companion, Louie.
My journey into the world of sleep consultancy began with the sleep struggles of my own daughter, Evalyn. From her early days, she proved to be a challenging sleeper, staying awake for waaaaaay too long and causing many sleepless nights. I tried everything I could think of, from feeding her to sleep to bouncing on a yoga ball until my legs ached to the delicate process of transitioning her to her crib without waking her. I even resorted to late-night vacuuming while wearing her in a baby carrier….needless to say, none of it work.
The constant sleep deprivation left me frazzled and unable to enjoy precious moments with my family. Desperate for a solution, I ventured into the world of sleep training when Evalyn turned six months. To my surprise,
gentler methods yielded incredible results, transforming our lives. Fueled by this success, I became a Certified Sleep Consultant and founded Live Love Sleep®. As your Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I understand that a child’s sleep is influenced by various factors, including diet, sleep environment, routines, schedules, developmental milestones, and so much more.
I craft personalized sleep plans that consider the bigger picture to solve your child’s sleep challenges comprehensively. What sets my services apart is the ongoing support I provide, ensuring your family reaches its sleep goals within weeks.
A former client described the experience as “utterly LIFE CHANGING.” I’m committed to helping parents like you and your child get the rest you need and deserve. Let’s work together to achieve better sleep and a happier, healthier family life.