The dream feed is very popular in the baby sleep community. But what if it just won't work? There is a fair share of parents that struggle with the dream feed. Let's see why the dream feed doesn't always work and what you can try to get that extra couple of hours of sleep.
Offering a feed before you go to bed and then sleeping for a couple of hours just sounds so….dreamy, right? A real dream for parents.
I mean, the theory sounds great.
But what if it doesn't work? What if you have tried the dream feed in so many different ways, and it still doesn't get your baby to sleep longer?
Well, the truth is that the dream feed does not always work for everyone. But you don't have to necessarily give up right away. There are still a few things you can try.
In this article, we will talk about the most common reasons why the dream feed doesn't work, some extra tips to try, and when to just call it a night.
This article covers:
1. What Is The Dream Feed?
Before we dive into the reasons why the dream feed technique may not be working for your baby, let's take a moment to understand what it is.
The dream feed is a technique where you feed your baby while they are still sleeping, usually between 10 PM and midnight. The idea is to fill their belly with enough milk so they can sleep through the night without waking up hungry.
By not waking them, you are also kind of programming their inner body clock to sleep during these hours.
I wrote a recent article about how to implement the dream feed and the pros and cons of dream feeding.
2. Reasons Why The Dream Feed Doesn't Work
There are a couple of reasons why the dream feed sometimes doesn't work:
- baby is too sleepy to take a feed
- baby is too wide awake
- baby is not hungry enough
- tummy troubles and reflux
- disrupting the sleep pattern
- the timing is not right
- baby's age
Baby Is Too Sleepy To Take A Feed
Depending on when you catch your baby while sleeping, it is possible that they are in deep sleep and simply too sleepy to take in a full feed. They don't latch properly or don't take the bottle.
Baby Is Too Wide Awake
There are a lot of opinions on how to do the dream feed "right". Some suggest arousing baby slightly from their sleep. Others say that baby should be totally asleep.
It's difficult to say which one is 100% right. But it's possible that if you wake your baby from their sleep cycle, they will have a more difficult time transitioning back into deep sleep. This can actually keep them restless during the rest of the night and lead to fragmented sleep. And then you're actually ending up with more night wakings.
Baby Is Not Hungry Enough
If your baby had a full feed before going to bed, and then you have the dream feed 2-3 hours later, it is possible that your little one is not hungry enough for another full feed.
Tummy Troubles & Reflux
Some digestive issues, such as reflux or gas, can make dream feeding difficult. The feed can make them feel uncomfortable or leave them with air in their tummy.
Disrupting Baby's Sleep Pattern
Waking a sleeping baby every night to feed you might disrupt their natural sleep pattern. This can also reset your baby's inner body clock to wake. In this case, the dream feed has a reverse effect.
You are now heading towards a habitual wake and reprogramming your baby to wake every night at the exact same time.
The Timing Is Not Right
The right timing also plays an important part in the process. If you have your dream feed too late, your baby might wake on their own. If you are having the dream feed too early, they might not be hungry, or you're catching them in deep sleep.
The age of your little one can also play a role. For newborn babies, the dream feed will not work because they still have day-night confusion. The dream feed may also not work very well for an older baby. Their tummy is not only growing in size, but the risk of developing a habitual wake is bigger with growing age.
3. What To Try If Dream Feeding Doesn't Work
Slighty Arouse Baby From Sleep
If your baby is too sleepy for a night feed, then you can either unswaddle your baby, take off their socks or change their diaper. Whatever you do, do it before the feed.
Once you're half way through the feed, swaddle your baby again and continue feeding. This way, they can fall back to sleep during the feed.
Tweak The Timing
If your baby is too wide awake during the feed or has trouble settling back to feed, then you can try adjusting the time. Try having the feed 10 minutes earlier before they enter the lightest stage of sleep.
In general, when you pick a time, you should always consider the last meal and when they went to bed. The dream feed should ideally be after 2.5-3.5 hours after the last meal or 2-3 hours after they went to bed.
Holding Your Baby The Right Way
If your baby suffers from reflux or gas, hold your baby at a slight incline while feeding so that their head is higher than their stomach. You can also hold them in your arms for another 10-15 minutes before laying them flat on the mattress.
If your baby is struggling with gas, make sure to use the right bottles that will prevent your baby from taking in too much air. If you have a breastfed baby, you can wait until your milk flow slows down, so your baby doesn't take in too much air while feeding.
Decrease The Amount Of The Last Feed
If your baby doesn't seem hungry enough during the dream, feed you can either have the last meal before bedtime earlier or you can decrease the amount of the milk feed.
The dream feed works best for younger babies between 2 and 5 months. They have most likely developed their circadian rhythm but are not old enough to develop any sleep association.
4. When To Stop The Dream Feed
As a sleep-deprived parent, you would probably try everything in your power to get just a couple of extra hours to sleep.
I truly, utterly, and full-heartedly understand why you want to make it work so desperately.
But the harsh truth is that for at least 50%, if not even more, the dream feed will simply never work, no matter how hard you try.
The dream feed mostly works for babies that are already good sleepers and easy-going babies. And both are less common than you might think.
The norm is really that you have a young baby that wakes every 2-3 hours. So if you have tried for more than two weeks to make this work, I think it's time to wave the white flag and make peace with it.
By the way, there are also a ton of sleep consultants that do not recommend the dream feed anymore. Instead, they are aiming for healthy sleep habits and a healthy sleep hygiene.
The dream feed is a nice concept that can work for some babies. But as always, when it comes to babies and sleep, there are no two babies alike. And sometimes, our expectations of baby sleep simply exceed the reality.
I heard one sleep training expert say that after a dream feed, you should be able to get 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Like, that's sleeping through the night! At 3 months?! Sounds a little bit too dreamy to me.
So always keep your expectations right. And if you ask me, I would encourage you to read about experiences from real-life parents on forums rather than what a sleep expert says you should expect. Just saying…
But if you want to go ahead and try the dream feed, that's totally legit! Just keep in mind that the dream feed does not have to work the very first day, but it can take a couple of days until it hits off. So remember that it can take some time until you see results.
And if it doesn't work?
Well, the dream feed is only ONE method that could get you more sleep. There are also other strategies and ways to get extra sleep. So don't get too hung up on it!
1. What Is The Best Age To Stop The Dream Feed
It would be best to stop the dream feed at around 5-6 months if you have to wake your baby to have the feed. If your baby always sleeps through the feed, then you can continue feeding until 7-8 months.
2. How Many Hours Can I Expect My Baby To Sleep After The Dream Feed?
That really depends on the baby and their age. But if you can score 3-4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, then I would already call it a win!
3. Will My Baby Still Wake At Night After The Dream Feed?
The chances are yes! Your baby is still very young, and they need frequent feeds, even if they have a dream feed. The goal of the dream feed is not to completely eliminate all night wakings, as your baby is too young for that. It's about getting one longer stretch of sleep with an extra feed at the right time.
4. What If My Baby Doesn't Resettle After The Dream Feed?
If this is a one-time thing, then you don't need to worry about it. However, if your baby always has trouble falling back to sleep after the dream feed or they need excessive help, for example, by rocking them back to sleep, they are waking up too much. Then you either need to keep your baby somehow completely asleep, or you have to stop dream feeding.