So should you do a dream feed?
The aim of a dream feed is for you to feed your baby and then for them to consolidate the rest of their night sleep and not wake until morning (once they are age appropriate to go onto one feed a night). The dream feed will teach your baby to have their night feed before midnight, as opposed to after midnight so that you as a parent can go to bed and get a decent chunk of sleep after the dream feed.
When can I start a dream feed?
Very early on in the newborn weeks, you will find that your baby may be cluster feeding in the early evening and then do a big chunk of sleep after that. If your baby is not cluster feeding then they may wake at 9pm or 10pm naturally for a feed. Therefore, dream feeding is not encouraged in those early weeks.
At around 6-12 weeks, you can introduce an "awake feed" at 10pm. Wake your baby up fully, give a half feed, have a kick on the mat and then give them the other half and back to bed. This awake time should be around 30 to 45 minutes. If your baby then sleeps for a good three to five hours (depending on age and size), then this shows that the awake feed is working and you should only have to get up once more before morning!
Once they are 12 weeks you can start turning this into more of a dream feed and keep them asleep, rather than waking them up.
My baby still wakes after the dream feed!
If your baby is waking around 1am or 2am after you have given them the dreamfeed then this is a sign that it is not working. I would simply skip the dream feed, allow them to wake naturally for that one feed and then go back to sleep for the remainder of the night.
If you are doing a dream feed and your baby is not taking in a decent amount of milk, they are essentially having a "snack" and this then sets them up to do this for the remainder of the night. It is better to skip the dream feed and let them wake up when they will be genuinely hungry and ready to take a bigger feed.
You should be getting 5-6 hours of good sleep after a dream feed once your baby is 12 weeks old.
When should I drop the dream feed?
Drop the dream feed if it not working - i.e. You are not getting 5-6 hours of good, consolidated sleep after 12 weeks of age.
Between 5 to 6 months is a good time to start looking at dropping the dream feed as it will start to interrupt night time sleep cycles. Interrupting night time sleep cycles leads to further nighttime wakes. It is best to just let your baby wake naturally for a feed after this age and not schedule feeds overnight.
By the time your baby is on two solid meals a day of (around one quarter to one half of a cup each) you can look at dropping night feeds altogether. This usually happens at around 6.5 months.
What time is best for the dream feed?
You want to attempt a dream feed in your baby's deepest stage of sleep over night. This runs from 6pm or 7pm through to 11pm. Therefore the ideal window to dream feed is between 10pm to 11pm, before that stage of sleep ends. If it is after 11pm, leave your baby to wake naturally for their feed. It is also important to note that dream feeding prior to 10pm only encourages that last bedtime feed to not be as full/complete as it could be, as your baby’s digestive system learns they get another feed in a couple of hours, so there is no need to have a full feed at bed time.
Dream feeds will only work 50% of the time. If your night sleep is already very fragmented and your baby is over 16 weeks, very rarely does introducing a dream feed help. You should rather work on teaching your baby some self-settling skills so that they can consolidate their night sleep.
Lauryn Stanlake - Infant and Child Sleep Consultant