Dream feeding is often one of the secrets to getting a good night’s sleep again as a breastfeeding mom.
For generations, mothers have been bringing newborn babies home with the expectation of weeks or even months of sleep deprivation. It takes time for newborns to start sleeping through the night, and breastfeeding places the full “burden” of feeding on the mother’s shoulders. That could mean waking up every two or three hours around the clock if you want to breastfeed exclusively.
You may not think of breastfeeding as a burden, but you know the sleep deprivation of early motherhood takes a toll. It leaves you exhausted, cranky, and overwhelmed by simple things like the never-ending pile of dirty laundry or dishes collecting in the sink.
What would exclusive breastfeeding be like if you could convince your baby to sleep four or five hours straight every night? If you learn how to dream feed, that could happen much sooner than you thought possible.
What Is Dream Feeding?
Dream feeding is a training strategy designed to teach babies to sleep for longer periods of time. The most common definition is feeding a baby while they sleep, but you will see different variations online. Some websites and blogs use the term “dream feeding” when taking about feeding a baby extra milk before sleeping even if the baby is awake.
For the sake of simplicity, we’re talking about dream feeding as breastfeeding your baby while they’re asleep with the goal of keeping them asleep for a longer period of time. Ideally, you will go to sleep right after dream feeding, maximizing your own rest time.
How Does A Dream Feed Work?
There are a few rules that will improve your chances of dream feeding successfully:
- The dream feed is extra milk, not a normal feeding session. If it’s about time for your baby to wake up hungry anyway, you’re not really “topping off the tank.” The goal is to complete all normal feeding sessions and then deliver extra milk before you head to bed.
- You don’t need to empty both breasts as you would try to do during a routine feeding session. The amount of milk consumed will vary between babies and even between nights. You may find your baby will feed more one night and less the next. Remember, they’re asleep and aren’t consciously eating out of immediate hunger.
- Don’t try to dream feed repeatedly throughout the day or night. This is something you do just once a night. Save it for the moment you really want to go to bed and get at least a few solid hours of rest.
Dream feeding can work with bottle feeding or breastfeeding. The following steps will show you how to do it properly:
- Gently hold your baby in your preferred breastfeeding position. Choose a position that is least likely to wake your baby. Having someone else lay your baby under your arm for a football hold can work if holding your baby in a cradle position wakes them up.
- Touch your nipple or finger to your baby’s lower lip, stimulating the natural suckle instinct. Yes, your baby should latch and start feeding while still asleep. Some babies take a little more encouragement than others, but keep your touch light and gentle.
- Feed your baby for at least a few minutes on each side. If your baby will continue sucking, try for five to 10 minutes on each side.
- Gently burp your baby. You may worry that this will wake your baby up, but laying her back down without burping is likely to lead to a rude awakening when your baby screams from gas pain.
- Gently lay your baby back into the bassinet or crib.
- Go to sleep! Hopefully, you’ll get more than a couple hours of shuteye.
Some dream feeding parents recommend waking your baby slightly before trying to breastfeed. They may recommend changing your baby’s diaper or tickling the bottoms of their feet slightly. The goal is to bring the baby to a semi-alert state so that they’re more aggressive during the feeding session. They may consume more milk than they would in a deeper sleep, resulting in longer sleep time.
This is something you may want to experiment with over time. Your baby may not tolerate a diaper change without waking up fully and then struggling to fall back asleep. Maybe your little one is a sound sleeper and won’t breastfeed without being a little more alert. Only experience will tell what works for your baby.
Is It Right for You?
There are a few reasons you may consider dream feeding your baby:
- You don’t want to struggle through months of sleep deprivation. Yes, it’s what most people expect when bringing a newborn home, but you don’t want to accept that fate. You will have to deal with it to some extent, but dream feeding may reduce the length of your sentence.
- Your baby is no longer a newborn but still isn’t sleeping through the night. You may think of dream feeding as your last option before resigning to a life without sleep.
- You need to return to work or have other daytime obligations that require you to get at least four or five hours of sleep. Dream feeding may help you get the sleep you need so that you feel semi-human when it’s time to sit through rush hour traffic or tackle other obligations.
- You have other children in the home and would like your baby to sync with their schedule. This doesn’t always work right away, but dream feeding may help your family function as one harmonious team sooner than expected.
The great thing about dream feeding is you can start and stop without harming your baby in any way. If you start to use this training technique then decide it isn’t working and or just isn’t worth the effort for the extra hour or two of sleep it delivers, you can simply stop.
If you implement other sleep training strategies in addition to dream feeding, your baby may continue to sleep for longer stretches even after you stop the added feeding sessions. Babies can adapt to routines and pick up on patterns if they’re introduced consistently and deliver benefits for your baby. Yes, sleep is a powerful benefit that we all need regardless of age.
Tips for Successful Dream Feeding
- There is no scientific evidence that dream feeding works alone, but one study did find it effective when combined with other sleep training strategies. Until further research is conducted, you may want to use dream feeding in addition to other sleep-enhancing routines.
- Dream feeding may work best if you stick to a routine sleep schedule. Even if you choose to breastfeed on demand with no daytime schedule, try to wind down for sleep around the same time every evening. Close the blinds and limit visits from loved ones so that your baby gets used to sleeping around the same time. That makes it easier to get them to sleep and feed before your own bedtime.
- You don’t want to push your nipple into your baby’s mouth. The goal is to stimulate their natural sucking movement by touching the lower lip. Your baby draws in the breast rather than it being inserted by force. You don’t want to choke your baby while trying to deliver your nourishing milk, so let your baby manipulate the nipple.
- Dream feeding works best with experienced breastfeeding babies. If your baby is still learning to latch properly or has experienced some trouble staying latched, they may have more trouble breastfeeding and staying asleep. If your baby has mastered the latch and breastfeeds with ease, they’re more likely to take to this sleep training technique successfully.
- Don’t give up if dream feeding doesn’t seem to work right away. There are a lot of reasons a baby may wake up, and new things often take time to catch on. You may never know if it was dream feeding or your baby’s natural development that worked, but eventually, your baby will start sleeping for more than an hour or two at a time.
How to Get Started Dream Feeding
The simplest way to start dream feeding is to do it. You may not have a perfect sleep schedule right now. Maybe your baby isn’t sleeping much at all, and you’re desperate to try anything that may give you at least a three-hour nap. The dots may never connect perfectly, so just decide that you want to try it and start doing it. You don’t need an elaborate setup or planning phase to see if dream feeding will work for you.
- How to Get Your Breastfeeding Baby Sleeping Through the Night
- 10 Scary Effects of Sleep Deprivation on New Moms
- 10 Secrets of Moms Whose Babies are Good Sleepers
- Do early infant feeding patterns relate to breast-feeding continuation and weight gain? Data from a longitudinal cohort study, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Accessed July 21, 2020. https://www.nature.com/articles/1601964
- How to Dream Feed, Pam Edwards, Sleep Consultant, Accessed July 21, 2020. https://www.weebeedreaming.com/my-blog/how-to-dreamfeed
- Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ well-being and children’s cognitive development, European Journal of Public Health, Accessed July 21, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553587/