Dream feeding is the term adopted for a late-night feeding of a newborn. The main benefit of dream feeding is that it helps the baby sleep for a 4- to 5-hour stretch overnight, which allows mom to finally get some much-needed sleep. It's called dream feeding because the baby usually stays asleep through the feeding process. It doesn't work for every baby, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that many parents are able to get more sleep by dream feeding.
Benefits of Dream Feeding
Having a baby can send you on a downward spiral to fatigue and sleeplessness. Your new bundle of joy will wake up every two to three hours for a feeding, so you will have to wake up each time as well. You don't get enough restorative sleep, and it wears you down, potentially deteriorating your health and mental well-being. If dream feeding works for you, it can allow you to get 4 to 5 hours of sleep. If your partner does the late-night feeding, you might even get in a full night's sleep (occasionally).
How to Dream Feed
Dream feeding is usually carried out at around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Every baby is different, but a typical feeding schedule can occur at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m., followed by 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. (Having fun yet?) For the feeding that occurs in the late-evening hours, the goal is to feed the baby without fully waking him up.
Try to get the baby to take the nipple without waking him. You can do this by brushing the nipple against his cheek. Gently stroking his hand or the soles of his feet can sometimes work too (don't ask us why). Once the baby takes the nipple, you can usually change his diaper without disturbing him too much. Once the feeding is done, gently move him over your shoulder. Burp him and put him back down to sleep.
Hopefully the baby will stay down and sleep past the 2:00 a.m. feeding time. The goal is to stretch out that overnight sleep period as long as possible, so you can get some extra hours of sleep. If you are bottle feeding and your partner can do the dream feed on schedule, you could potentially get a full night's sleep.
When to Stop Dream Feeding
You can start weaning the baby off of dream feeding after the first two months or so. After that, most babies start to sleep through the night on their own. Most babies will take no longer than 3 to 4 months before they are sleeping through the night. In some cases, the baby may develop a dependency on that late-night feeding, and it will be more difficult to get them to "kick the habit." You can either reduce the amount that you're feeding them until they can go without it, or just try to quit cold turkey.
What if It Doesn't Work?
Regardless of your best efforts, some babies just won't take to dream feeding. If your baby doesn't, one thing you can try is to keep the baby awake for longer periods during the day. A newborn needs at least one longer sleep period during the day (about 4 to 5 hours). If you prevent him from taking a long nap during the day, hopefully he'll start sleeping for a longer period at night. Hang in there. Even if dream feeding doesn't work, your baby will eventually sleep through the night – and so will you!