Why Dreamfeeds aren’t as dreamy as they seem

Jan 29, 2020

Sometimes things that seem like a great idea in theory, don’t pan out so well in practice.

Know what I mean?

When you try to do all the everythings… and then discover that something - but something! - is going to have to give.

Doing a dreamfeed is one of those things: brilliant in theory, but in execution… well, something’s got to give.

So what’s the deal: do a dreamfeed? Don’t do a dreamfeed? (And what is a dreamfeed and the smart idea anyway?)


What is a dreamfeed (and what’s the smart idea, anyway?)

A dreamfeed is (or ought to be) when you feed your baby when they’re asleep.

So if your baby can sleep uninterrupted for 8 hours (or even for 5 hours), then why shouldn’t those overlap with the hours that you’re asleep?

The smart idea is this: (imagine the gemara tune and thumb for a minute, kay?) Iiiif your baby’s going to sleep for those eight hours, aaaand you need to sleep those eight hours, buuut you’re not going to sleep as early as your baby is, then you should wake your baby up so that your eight hours overlap, right?


Here’s where it gets sticky

It’s 10:00 pm (I’m going to be generous and presume you go to sleep before 10:30 😉).

You’re just about to turn in for the night.

You tiptoe over to your sweetly sleeping baby’s crib, where you last deposited him three hours ago, and he’s been sleeping soundly since.

But a sleeping baby cannot eat. 

So… um.

That means that he has to… wake up. (Sticky #1)

Or at least, kinda. (And that’s sticky #2)


Sticky #1: waking up

Our goal with our children’s (and our, to be fair) sleep is to aim for consolidation. Which, in plain English means: a long time. 

Consolidated sleep is multiple sleep cycles, one after the next without any complete wakes in between. (Partial awakenings are a given; we just don’t want a complete wakeup to happen).

Our babies start off only being able to go a few sleep cycles at a time. As they get older and their brains develop, their neurological capability for sleep (because, yes, the brain controls sleep) matures, too.

And his sleep duration gets longer.

And longer.

And longer.

And 2 hours turns into 4 and 6 and 8 and 12.

If all the pieces are set up properly, learning to consolidate sleep is something that can beautifully happen all on its own.

But if we’re consistently waking that baby up at 10 every night, a mere 3 hours after beginning his night, he’s never going to learn to consolidate and connect those two parts of the night.

The result? Even once your baby doesn’t need that nighttime feed, he will continue to wake for it.

“But Chaya Shifra!” you may say, “My baby’s not up!”

I hear ya hon. I do.

But here’s the thing: your baby cannot eat when he’s completely asleep. Which means he has to be up - or at least partially up - in order to eat. Even if he’s not completely woken, he’ll have interrupted his sleep cycle, and, in a sense, restarted his night.

And if he drifts right off when you feed him, well… that’s sticky #2.


Sticky #2: Half-asleep

The other sticky thing about dreamfeeds is the “dreaming” part. You know - the “my baby’s really still half-asleep” part.

Being breast- or bottle-fed is one of the most common props - and also one of the trickiest to break. 

And even beyond props -- drowsy suckling-eating (breast or bottle), even if baby is awake, but only partially so, can cause an eat-sleep association.

All of which means: a half-asleep baby that’s suckling is going to develop an eat-sleep association, which may mean a whole host of other sleep struggles.


Would you ever do a dreamfeed?

All that being said, though, you might do a dreamfeed for a new-newborn (below 6 weeks) if your baby isn’t awake often enough to hit the number of feeds he ought to be (we aim for 10-12 in the very beginning, and 8-12 during the later weeks of the newborn stage), then you can try a dreamfeed to hit the necessary number of feeds.

The best time to feed a newborn is during dreaming sleep -- watch for your baby’s eyes moving underneath her eyelids, and offer a dreamfeed then.

So long as your baby is gaining and growing well, though, and is able to meet her caloric needs without that dreamfeed -- or if she’s older than 6 weeks -- your best bet is to meet her sleep needs, and allow her to consolidate her sleep.

Once she’s ready to drop night feeds, then you’ll all be sleeping through the night!

And your best bet is to begin the process even BEFORE your baby is born, by being sure that you (and she!) will have everything you need set up so that those night feeds can fall away all on their own, and you can get a full night of sleep - no dreamfeed necessary.

Read more about my prenatal package HERE, and let’s talk about working together.

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