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A dream feed is an alternative way of feeding your baby throughout the night.
It means that mums (or dads if using a bottle) can feed their baby while they sleep instead of waking them up to do so.
You may have heard of dream feeding and wondered what it is and if it’s something you can do, as it can sound like an urban myth with the elusive promise of a full night’s sleep.
We’re here to talk you through exactly what dream feeding is, and how to (safely) try a dream feed yourself.
Plus, we’ve spoken exclusively to a baby expert to get the scoop on whether dream feeding is something they’d recommend mums to try with their little one.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is the theory that if you gently rouse your sleeping baby just before you go to bed, ideally around 11.30pm, and encourage them to take more milk then they’ll continue to sleep throughout the night.
The trick is to not fully wake them up, but help their instincts kick in to latch on. Babies will usually be able to do this without even opening their eyes, staying nice and sleepy.
The idea is that the baby then has a full tummy and won’t need to wake up at 2am for another feed – which, incredibly, could mean a proper night’s sleep for you!
In theory this all sounds fantastic, and there are lots of mums that swear by the method, but it definitely doesn’t work for every family so don’t count on this as a sure thing, or be disappointed if it doesn’t work with your baby.
How to dream feed safely
A dream feed requires a delicate balance between rousing your baby enough that they can drink safely and not fully waking them up. The best way to do this is to trigger their rooting reflex by stroking their cheek with your nipple or teat, or gently stroking their palms or soles of feet.
Once you’re ready to feed them, ensure that their head is elevated and that you’re holding them upright. It’s dangerous to feed a baby while they’re lying down or deeply asleep as they could choke.
After the dream feed, take a few minutes to keep your baby resting upright so that any air can escape and their milk can go down properly.
Does dream feeding work?
Dream feeding can be quite difficult to master and really depends on the temperament of each individual baby.
It will take quite a few attempts before you start to get to grips with it, but once mastered your partner can even take over with a bottle which gives you an even better night’s sleep.
An issue that you might encounter is that the deepest cycle of sleep is usually before midnight so it can be a struggle to wake your baby the suitable amount. Also, if you do manage to master the dream feed your baby could become reliant and struggle to sleep through the night in future.
We spoke exclusively to Jo Wiltshire, an expert for Childcare.co.uk, for her view on dream feeding.
‘With dream feeding, it’s a tricky one. I’d say it can work as a short-term solution for newborns and younger babies, but can also create problems in the long term because it can inadvertently encourage night waking, and create a dependency that didn’t need to be there.
‘Often it doesn’t work anyway, because the baby will wake for another feed even if they’ve had their ‘dream feed’. After about four months, the baby sleep cycle changes and they can be hard to wake for your ‘schedule’, and won’t take enough milk to count as a real ‘feed’ even if they do.
‘In the early days, by all means experiment with dream feeding – see how your baby’s temperament and night-time patterns fit in with it, and if it works for you, there’s nothing harmful about it. If it leads to a contented baby and a more rested baby, go with it.
‘But in the long term, I’d say it’s important for your baby to be able to settle and sleep at night without feeds – after about four months, begin to cut down night-time feeds, and by about 10 months, move away from them altogether.
‘This will mean your baby becomes a settled sleeper, and you’ll end up with a better night’s sleep too, without the need for ‘pre-loading’ feeds your baby might not even want or need.’
Have you ever tried dream feeding? Would you give it a go? Let us know in the comments below