One of the many tricks that parents use to try to help their baby sleep through the night is a “dream feed”.
What this typically means is that at some point in the night – usually just before going to bed themselves – a parent will feed their half-asleep baby in the hopes that this will fill her up and result in an extra few hours of sleep for everyone.
But does this practice actually work? Is it a good idea? In my experience, a dream feed rarely works and if it does, the “dream” doesn’t last for long. Sure, occasionally some parents will say that an 11:00 p.m. dream feed resulted in their baby sleeping through until 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., but more often than not, a dream feed is not as magical as it sounds. For some parents, this feed actually interrupts a period of deep, restorative sleep, and baby ends up having a very difficult time falling back to sleep. For other families, the feed doesn’t make much of a difference at all; baby still continues to wake up around 2:00-3:00 a.m. and needs something to help her fall back to sleep.
Despite your best intentions, there are also some inadvertent negative consequences that can accompany a dream feed. Waking your baby from a deep sleep to feed may actually disrupt your baby’s natural sleep/wake rhythm and interfere with her natural 24-hour cycle. This can result in the creation of a new habit where your baby starts waking up around this same time each night, even when a night feed is no longer necessary.
Additionally, dream feeds may actually be counterintuitive to the goal you’re trying to accomplish: helping your baby sleep through the night. A dream feed can actually perpetuate the feed-to-sleep association which is very hard to break. If your little one relies on a feeding to get drowsy and fall asleep – whether this is at bedtime or during a dream feed – they are going to look for a feeding during the night in between sleep cycles to help them get back to sleep. Once your baby is a little older, this will likely result in more frequent night wake-ups rather than a long, consolidated period of sleep. Usually by 12 weeks of age, a baby’s biology and development are already falling in line with consolidated nighttime sleep, but you are going to want to do everything you can to encourage that.
If you are currently doing a dream feed and it is working, great! No need to mess with success. However, if there comes a time where it is no longer working, you’ll know quickly. Either your child will begin struggling to fall back to sleep after the feed, or they will begin waking more frequently through the night rendering the dream feed irrelevant.
And if you’re looking for other strategies to successfully extend your baby’s sleep for good, you know where to find me!