If you’re unfamiliar with the term “dream feed,” then you’re probably one of those parents who never struggled with your infant’s sleep.
In theory, a dream feed sounds great. The idea is that you feed your infant without fully waking her so that she is still “dreaming.” You gently pick her up and feed her before you head to bed. You do this in hopes of catching some extra sleep before her next wake-up. Clients often ask if a dream feed will help decrease frequent night wakings. Many of my clients have introduced a dream feed prior to working with me and don’t understand why they aren’t getting more sleep.
Here are four reasons why dream feeds aren’t so dreamy:
- After the newborn stage, if your infant is still waking every two to three hours, he is likely waking out of habit and not out of hunger. Adding in the dream feed will not help your baby sleep longer stretches because he’s not actually hungry. He is, however, having difficulty connecting his sleep cycles.
- You are activating digestion and waking the bowels of your baby. When you sleep, digestion slows (which is why we, as adults, don’t typically wake to have a bowel movement at night). In effect, while you may think that your infant is dreaming away as you stealthily feed him, you are actually stimulating his metabolism from dormant to active.
- You’re inadvertently creating a new habit. Think about how your body works—you eat when you’re hungry, and it’s typically at the same time each day. This is because your metabolism is used to eating at certain times. Infants are no different. Adding that dream feed to your baby’s evening creates that metabolic memory, so his body “remembers” it’s time to eat. Eventually, your infant will begin to wake for that feeding instead of “dreaming” through it.
- You’re interrupting his sleep cycles. Interrupting sleep cycles can lead to a night full of fragmented sleep. Fragmented sleep leads to an overtired (and usually unhappy) baby! Ultimately, your baby may experience more night wakings than if you had just left him to wake on his own.
Moral of the story? Let your baby tell you when he’s hungry.
After all, how would it feel if someone tried to force you to eat when you were half asleep just so that maybe they could get a little more sleep themselves? Probably not so great.