Dream feeds – yes or no?
By Angela Wilson
Certified child sleep consultant, MA Natural Sciences Cambridge University and co-founder of Baby Smiles Club
Having a baby comes with a whole host of things, including new terminology. ‘Rooting’, ‘latch’, ‘reflux’, ‘colic’, ‘overtired’, ‘self-settling’, ‘dream feeds’....What on earth does all this mean, you think, as you trawl the internet for answers. We can explain!
Some of you might be familiar with the concept of a ‘dream feed’. There’s some parents and sleep consultants who swear by them, and it’s become a common term in the baby world. Others might have never heard of it. Either way, we’re going to explain what dream feeds are and what our take on them is.
What’s a dream feed?
Babies need night feeds typically until sometime after 6 months old. There are three options for night feeds:
1) Feed a baby when they wake naturally.
2) Wake a baby at specified times to feed them.
3) Giving a ‘dream feed’.
A dream feed is where a baby is gently roused from sleeping to be fed, before a parent goes to bed themself (typically around 10 or 11pm). The theory is that a baby's urge to go back to sleep at this time should still be strong – and it allows a parent to get a longer stretch of sleep for themselves.
However, our view is that because this is the time of night when a baby should be sleeping the most deeply, it’s best not to wake them for a dream feed. It can interrupt a sleep cycle, and doesn’t help a baby to recognise their own hunger cues. It can mean a baby is overfed if they’re not that hungry, and can cause wind. It could also be dangerous if a baby chokes, or doesn’t properly swallow their milk.
Can dream feeds be effective for babies?
We've explained our view on dream feeds above – we're not particular fans of them, for the reasons explained. But we know some parents like them, so we'll explain whether they can be effective in helping your baby (and you) get a good night's sleep.
Whether dream feeds might give better sleep depends on your baby and you. The theory is that a baby will take a full feed, and then easily go back to sleep (because this is the time of night when a baby sleeps deeply).
But in practice:
1) Babies typically sleep deeply from bedtime until around 3am (because it’s when their melatonin levels are the highest, melatonin being the 'sleep hormone'). Some babies might be so deeply asleep that it might be difficult to rouse them and they might not want to feed – so a dream feed isn’t an option.
2) Some babies might wake completely – and be grumpy that they’ve been woken up! They might take a feed, but it might not be easy for them to go back to sleep.
3) They might not be that hungry, so only take a small feed. They then might wake up when they otherwise would have done, or shortly afterwards – so there’s no point in a dream feed.
4) Some babies wake more frequently after their first night feed. In which case a dream feed will have the opposite effect!
How to night feed your baby also depends on your parenting approach. Whilst there are some parents who love dream feeds, others can find it a little forced to give a dream feed and just prefer not to do it. And others don’t want to risk waking their baby in what should be their deepest sleep of the night.
Our Baby Sleep Program explains all about night feeds, including the best options as your baby grows. It's a modern, gentle and caring approach to baby sleep, founded on the most up-to-date science about how babies sleep, and fostering and strengthening the parent-child bond.