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To Dreamfeed or not to Dreamfeed?

Heidi Skudder Baby Sleep, Breastfeeding, Parenting

To “dreamfeed”- a word that is alien to most until they enter the world of parenting when it then becomes either a life saving sleep tip, or a matter of much confusion. The phrase dreamfeed means basically to pick up your baby from a sleep state, and to offer them a feed (be it breast of bottle) therefore tanking them up for the night time ahead meaning they are less likely to wake throughout the second half of the night. The idea being that you can stay up to feed them and then get a good solid amount of sleep after going to bed as both baby and yourself sleep uninterrupted.

The reality might not be quite as simple and there are a few things to think about before embarking on the idea of giving your baby a dreamfeed;

How old is your baby? If your little one is only a few weeks old, chances are that they are waking regularly throughout the night time anyway, so waking them to feed makes no sense when they were going to wake anyway and at this age you do not need to be worrying about forming habits of waking to feed. However, if your baby is 12 weeks or more, and you are struggling with multiple night time waking’s then trying a dreamfeed is a good option to reducing some of the other waking’s later in the night.
What time do you go to bed? The idea of a dreamfeed is that it is given at around 10-11pm, ideally just before you as parents go to bed. However, if you are usually in bed by 9pm and cannot face the idea of setting an alarm, then a dreamfeed is not for you. Don’t forget though that the idea being that by giving a dreamfeed, you are encouraging a baby to sleep from the dreamfeed through to 6-7am. So you may be getting a larger chunk of sleep even after having gone to bed later.
Are you Breast or Bottle feeding? Breastfeeding mummy’s who are not giving bottles, or whose baby will not take a bottle will be less inclined to do the dreamfeed as they still need to wake anyway. However, if you are bottle feeding or happy to add in a bottle to a breastfeeding baby’s routine, then you will also get some benefits of the dreamfeed yourself – namely that Daddy can get involved and you can get to bed earlier and have a good nights sleep!
Does your Baby have a sensitive tummy or Reflux? If your little one has reflux (of the more severe kind as opposed to reflux that is managed without meds), then it is likely that they will be more uncomfortable with a big tummy full of milk at 10.30pm. Therefore, most reflux babies are better off waiting until they are hungry to feed, and so you would most likely not wake them to fill their tummy with milk as they will sleep better without it!

Assuming your baby is feeding well throughout the day time (and of course this is easier to tell when your baby is on a bottle, when your baby is on the breast it is a little more tricky to work out), then they are likely to be able to go through the night with one feed by around 12 weeks of age, or 5.5kgs. This will not happen though if they are unable to fall asleep on their own, or do not have established day time naps causing them not to be overtired come bedtime. A routine for a baby of 12 weeks might look something like:
7am Wake and Feed
Playtime
8.45am Sleep (45 minutes to 1hr 15)
10am Feed
Playtime
11.15am Top-up Feed
11.45am Lunch time Sleep – 2-2.5 hours
2.30pm Feed
Playtime
4-5pm Cat nap
5pm Snack Feed
Playtime
6pm Bathtime
6.30pm Feed and Bed
10.30pm Dreamfeed

Dropping the dreamfeed really depends on the individual baby and as a rule of thumb, once your baby is on three solid meals (whether than is at 4 months or 6 months), they are able to drop the dreamfeed and this can be done by gradually moving the time earlier by 15 minutes until you are at 9pm and then dropping the feed all together. Or by reducing the amount you are giving them, or time in minutes of feeding if it is a breastfeed. Some babies are ready much sooner, and most of my clients have dropped the dreamfeed “by accident” by going to bed early and forgetting to set an alarm or by going out and having a drink or two meaning they were too late to do it and figured they would just see what happens in the night – waking up to a baby who magically slept through the night!

So there we go, to dreamfeed or not to dreamfeed? It is a sleep technique worth trying if you have a baby who wakes often, but don’t forget there are other factors at play too – such as your baby’s ability to self-settle to sleep, re-settle at night time and also how much day time sleep they are having.