Thinking about trying a dreamfeed with your baby? Read here to find out if this technique is right for you, what the right way to implement it is, and how to wean off of it when you are ready.
What is a dreamfeed?
A dreamfeed is a method of 'tanking baby up' at night to reduce nightwakings and disturbances caused by hunger. Infants normally have a single long sleep period that is around 4-8 hours long (depending on their age) but because baby does not go to bed at the same time as Mom and Dad (or they shouldn't be!) this long sleep period does not coincide with their parents' sleep. Some of the advantages of dreamfeeding are:
Parents get to sleep through the night instead of waking for a feeding in the middle of the night.
Takes some of the guesswork away as to whether baby is truly hungry when they wake throughout the night.
Weaning from a dreamfeed is easier than weaning from a nightfeed.
Who should try a dreamfeed?
I would only recommend starting a dreamfeed on a baby that is under 4 months of age, and the earlier you start, the better. The reason it is not highly recommended to use after the 4 month mark is because at this age (as we know from my post about the 4 month sleep regression) sleep is more adult-like. What that means is that baby's first chunk of sleep at night (the time when you'll be wanting to dreamfeed) is very deep sleep. Because of this, it may be difficult to get baby interested in feeding, and if he does eat, it may not be a very big meal. If baby is dreamfeeding and then waking up a few hours later for another meal, the dreamfeed is not working. Dreamfeeding does not work with all children, and it almost never works on babies who are chronically overtired.
How do you dreamfeed?
Breastfeeding mommas: gently lift baby out of the crib and place her at the breast. Encourage baby to latch by stroking her cheek, or tickling her lips with your nipple. It may take some time for baby to rouse enough to latch. Once baby is done, place her back into the crib (one side is sufficient while dreamfeeding and helps baby to get more of the hindmilk). Burping is not necessary after dreamfeeding because baby is so relaxed that little to no air is taken in. Swaddling is very helpful when dreamfeeding as it makes it easier to lift baby out of/into the crib and helps to prevent them from startling when you place them back to bed. This might be one of the best feedings you have as a nursing mother as baby is very calm and there are no distractions.
Bottlefeeding moms/dads: when dreamfeeding with a bottle, baby stays in her crib the whole time. Gently slip the nipple of the bottle in between baby's lips - this and the taste of the milk is often enough to induce baby to drink. If baby is too sleepy, you can help rouse her a bit by tickling her cheeks or chest. Make sure there is plenty of milk/formula in the bottle as insufficient milk may frustrate or waken baby! Again, no burping is necessary. Some moms who exclusively breastfeed find it is easier to dreamfeed with a bottle, and it also lets Dad get involved in the nightfeeding process.
The dreamfeed should be conducted around 10:00-11:00pm, before the parents go to sleep. It is important not to dreamfeed baby too late or it may disrupt sleep and/or cause nightwakings. If you are new to dreamfeeding, you'll want to try it for a week before deciding if it is working or not. It can take that long for baby to get used to it. At first, baby may not latch or drink very much but it becomes easier with time.
When and how to wean from the dreamfeed
Most parents wean from the dreamfeed around 7/8 months once solids are well-established and baby is able to last the whole night on just the dreamfeed. Weaning from the dreamfeed is done by moving the dreamfeed 15 minutes earlier every 3 days or so, hence gradually extending the time in between feedings. The baby is less hungry with the earlier dreamfeed and therefore will not drink as much.