Getting your baby to sleep restfully is no easy task, especially if you are a new parent. As a new father, you may be searching for ways to ensure both you and your baby get some much-needed shut-eye during those early months. One method gaining popularity among parents is called "dream feeding". Babies can be dream fed via breastfeeding or via a bottle, so it is possible for dads to dream feed. We'll explore what dream feeding is, how it works, its potential benefits, and some useful tips to help you own the night.
What is Dream Feeding?
Dream feeding is a simple but clever technique that involves giving your baby an extra feeding while they're still asleep during the night. The idea is to gently arouse your little one enough to eat but not fully wake them up. By doing so, you aim to extend the time between nighttime feedings (because they feel fuller longer), giving everyone in the household a chance to rest more.
How Does Dream Feeding Work?
Dream feeding usually takes place a few hours after you've put your baby down for the night. The trick is to offer a breast or bottle to your sleeping baby without fully waking them (this may involve waking them up enough to feed, but not enough for them to fully awaken, so keep lights low and a quiet, sleepy environment). It seems confusing, but babies have a natural reflex to suck, even while sleeping, making this feeding method possible.
The best time to try dream feeding is around your bedtime, aligning it with your own sleep schedule. For example, if your baby typically wakes up at 1 am to eat, you can do the dream feed close to your bedtime (around 10 or 11 pm). The goal is that your baby will sleep through until 3 or 4 am, giving you more hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Does Dream Feeding Really Help?
Dream feeding, or in scientific terms, “focal feeding”, has not been thoroughly researched. However, in one study, scientists examined the length of sleep episodes in infants and discovered that babies who were dream-fed one month after birth tended to sleep for longer periods when they reached six months of age. The difference between these babies and those who were not dream-fed was great, with the longest nighttime sleep averaging 62 extra minutes (Quante et al., 2022). For some families and babies, dream feeding can help the little ones become satisfied without fully waking up, leading to longer nighttime sleep times for parents. However, it's essential to remember that dream feeding won't necessarily make your baby sleep more overall – it just aims to shift one of the nighttime feeds to better align with your sleep schedule. Also, dream feeding wouldn’t work if your baby wakes up because of any reason other than hunger. Therefore, your baby has to wake up hungry in order to be successfully dream fed.
Pros and Cons of Dream Feeding:
More Sleep for Everyone: By dream feeding, you might enjoy more continuous sleep, and your baby will wake up less often during the night.
Helps Breastfeeding Moms: Dream feeding can be beneficial for breastfeeding moms trying to increase their milk supply or re-establish latch after using a bottle.
Extra Calories for Baby: For babies struggling to gain weight, the dream feed can provide additional calories and nutrients.
Full Awakening: Sometimes, dream feeding can lead to your baby waking up fully and becoming more challenging to put back to sleep.
Challenges with Swallowing and Burping: A drowsy baby can have difficulty swallowing and burping when being fed.
Tips for a Successful Dream Feed:
Avoid Fully Waking Baby: Gently feed your baby without fully waking them to prevent disruptions.
Minimize Distractions: Keep the room quiet and free of distractions to help your baby stays in a sleepy state.
Look for Hunger Signs: Wait for signs of hunger like stirring in their sleep, sucking mouth motions, or sucking on fingers before trying the dream feed.
Be Flexible: Dream feeding might not work for all babies. If you come across challenges, be open to trying other feeding methods.
When to Transition Away from Dream Feeding:
As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will change. Eventually, you may notice that your little one sleeps for longer stretches without the need for a dream feed. Pay attention to your baby's cues, and when they naturally start sleeping longer at night, it may be time to wean off dream feeding.
Dream feeding can be a helpful tool for new parents seeking more restful nights and happier babies and it’s something that dads can get involved with. It may not work for every baby, but it's worth a try to see if it suits your little one's needs and gives you some extra rest at this tiring time.
Remember, every baby is unique and so try to be patient and flexible in finding what works best for your baby and family. Happy dream feeding, and sweet dreams to both you and your baby!