When my girls were around 3 or 4 months old and not sleeping through the night, I was desperate to get more sleep. To my exhausted, hopeless mom brain, it seemed like I would never sleep again.
So, when I heard about something called a “dream feed” or “slumber feed,” I was intrigued, to say the least. Could THIS be the answer to my sleepy prayers?
If you’re not familiar, a dream feed is when you breastfeed your baby before going to bed yourself. You get him out of his crib and feed him while he’s still sleeping, in an effort to “top him off” before you go to bed. The hope is that this will help him sleep for longer stretches between night feedings – or, at the very least, will prolong his first waking so you can get a few hours of solid sleep.
This isn’t something you should do right off the bat with a newborn. It’s typically recommended for babies 3-9 months old – after the newborn phase, but before they’re sleeping long stretches (and if they are sleeping long stretches, there’s no need for the dream feed). Also, if your baby is underweight or struggling to gain weight, it’s also not recommended to try to get them to sleep longer stretches through the night and skip night feedings.
But, assuming your baby doesn’t fall into any of those categories, a dream feed could be a dream situation for you! It looks something like this: You breastfeed and put baby to bed around 8:00-8:30 pm. Then, before you head to bed around 10:30-11:00 pm, you get the baby out of his crib (yes, that’s right) and breastfeed him again before hitting the hay yourself.
In my logical mind, this made perfect sense, and I felt like Mae would surely drop one of her feedings if I started doing a dream feed. Here’s how the baby’s sleep schedule could shift for the better.
What your baby’s sleep schedule might look like WITHOUT a dream feed:
--8:30 pm: Baby goes to bed
--11:00 pm: You go to bed
--12:30 am: Baby’s 1st night feeding
--1:30 am: Baby is back to sleep
--3:30 am: Baby’s 2nd night feeding
--4:15 am: Baby is back to sleep
--6:30 am: Baby is up for the day
What your baby’s sleep schedule might look like WITH a dream feed:
--8:30 pm: Baby goes to bed
--11:00 pm: You dream feed the baby and go to bed
--3:00 am: Baby’s 1st night feeding
--4:00 am: Baby is back to sleep
--6:15 am: Baby is up for the day
The excitement of potentially getting Mae to only wake up once per night left me energized all that day. I couldn’t wait to try it out on her that evening.
One caveat: Although excited, I was also slightly terrified to try this with Mae because I thought only a crazy person would wake up their sleeping baby if what they’re trying to do is get them to sleep MORE. But, everything I read said that the baby wouldn’t really wake up, so I took a leap of faith.
Wouldn’t you know, they were right! The first night I tried this with Mae, I tiptoed into her room and gently lifted her out of her crib and brought her over to the glider. As I tried to get her to latch and she snored in my arms, I thought for sure all was lost – but after a few nudges and putting my nipple up to her lips, she did open up and latch. I was amazed. She gulped down some milk with her eyes closed (“sleep eating,” as I liked to call it), and when she was done, I carefully laid her back in her crib with little trouble.
Mae was wearing Merlin’s magic sleep suit to bed by this time, and I wasn’t sure whether I should keep her in the sleep suit during this dream feed or not – but, I ended up keeping her in it because I didn’t want to wake her. If your baby sleeps with a swaddle, you can leave him in it as long as it doesn’t bother him. Use your judgment and do whatever isn’t going to turn your dream feed into an “awake” feed.
I went to bed dreaming about how much sleep I would get now that I had started this new routine. Except…nothing changed. ☹ I dozed off around 11:30 pm, and Mae was up at 12:30 am like clockwork. Womp womp…
I faithfully kept doing a dream feed for a few weeks, but it didn’t really impact Mae’s sleep habits. In retrospect, it shouldn’t surprise me that it didn’t work for Mae, because I don’t think she was waking up out of hunger. I think it’s more likely that she either got into a habit of waking up frequently, or she woke up because her tummy hurt. Either way, the dream feed wasn’t the silver bullet that I was hoping it might be.
Fast forward two years later, and I tried the dream feed again with Dylan. This time, it seemed to help! I can’t say definitively that she dropped a feeding every single night, but it did positively impact her sleep enough that I did a dream feed with her for a few months.
The bottom line is this: It’s absolutely worth trying a dream feed if your breastfed baby isn’t sleeping through the night. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. As with everything, each baby is unique, and you might just be one of the lucky moms who wins the dream feed lottery and starts catching more Zzz’s.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.