In the first few weeks of life, it might seem like you are feeding your newborn around the clock—because you probably are. I meticulously tracked every feeding session with my newborn to ensure I was feeding her frequently enough and was shocked that during her first month of life, I spent about five hours a day nursing.
Even with all of that time spent nursing, I wondered if my daughter needed even more. I had heard of a “dream feed” and was curious if this was yet another session I should be adding to our already near-constant nursing routine.
The phrase, “never wake a sleeping baby” isn’t always accurate advice, especially in the beginning. Depending on your baby’s weight gain, you may be instructed to wake even the sleepiest of babies to feed them. One of those sessions might be a dream feed.
A dream feed is when you gently rouse your baby to give them a final feeding before you go to sleep. The aim is to wake your baby just enough so they can eat without being wide awake. Ideally, they will nurse or drink from their bottle, get burped, and, if necessary, have a quick diaper change. If all goes smoothly, they will go right back to sleep. Think of it as a little caloric top-off to the day while baby is half asleep.
So, how do you know if you need a dream feed? If your baby is waking up in the middle of the night (likely from hunger), a dream feed can keep their bellies full longer and may mean you will get a longer stretch of sleep too. According to The Baby Sleep Site, the dream feed should happen at least three hours after bedtime, typically between 10—11:30 p.m..
Dream feeds don’t necessarily work for all babies. I tried adding it to our routine and instead of a gentle wake-up, my baby needed to be fully awake to start nursing. So instead of a sleepy baby quietly nursing, I had an upset baby wondering why I had disrupted her peaceful slumber. This required a lengthy soothing session to get her back to sleep. After a few tries, I decided I preferred an early 3am wake-up for a quick nursing session rather than a long late-evening meltdown.
Remember, all babies are different, so what works for one family and one baby, may not work for another. A lot of parenting is trial and error. If you think your baby’s sleep and your own sleep can benefit from a dream feed, try it for a few nights and reevaluate. Don’t force it. If it’s not improving your evenings (and early mornings), let it go.