The dreamfeed is the feed that you give baby before you go to bed. It is the feed right after baby's bedtime feed when he is already asleep and in bed for the night. He's asleep 'dreaming' during this feed.
Other common names for the dreamfeed:
Late-evening feed (Babywise),
the 10 pm-11 pm feed (Gina Ford),
or, for short, the df
Why should I do a dreamfeed?
The df, along with evening cluster feedings (when appropriate) help to "tank up" baby before bed to help him sleep longer at night. It also helps by matching up baby's longer stretch of sleep with your longer stretch of sleep so you can be better rested.
So, for example, if baby used to sleep a 5 hour stretch between 7-12 and you go to bed at 11, that would be 1 hour sleep for you before the first night feed. With the dreamfeed, you would feed baby at say, 10:30, go to bed at 11 yourself, then get an almost 5 hour stretch of sleep yourself before waking up to feed baby. Seems a little too good to be true, huh?
The dreamfeed can also be helpful with young baby growth spurts to get some extra calories in to prevent further night wakings.
Why should I NOT do a dreamfeed?
Well, obviously if it doesn't work don't do it (see more about this below). That really isn't what I'm trying to talk about here though. I wanted to address that some experts do not recommend a df (i.e. The Baby Sleep Solution). They feel it hinders baby's ability to sleep through the night at an earlier age by disrupting baby's natural rhythm.
What is the best time to do a dreamfeed?
Most experts suggest you do the df between 10 and 11, depending on how long you stay up and how baby responds (this is with a 7 am wake up). A too late of df can lead to fitful sleep with more night wakings and an early morning wake up. Plus, it encourages a baby to eat more during the night which is the opposite of what we are trying to do here. If you are doing a df too late and baby is sleeping great then you might not want to change anything. If baby isn't sleeping perfectly and the df is late, try slowly moving it to an earlier time.
Something else to keep in mind with the df is how long it has been since baby's last meal. You want baby to be hungry for the df so he will take a full meal, have a full tummy and be more likely to give you a long stretch of sleep after. You also want baby to be well rested from sleep the last couple hours. A well rested and hungry baby will eat quickly and eat well.
At the same time, babies go into lighter sleep about 6 and 9 hours after falling asleep. If you give the df, this will probably be 6-9 hours after. This means that baby will probably be going into light sleep around 4-5 am. This is usually just fine, but when babies go through their phase of early morning waking and playing around 5-6 months of age you are setting it up for their light sleep during this time. By moving the df time around you can sometimes stop these early morning play periods (sometimes lasting 1-2 hours!). I suggest moving it earlier if baby can go that long without food. If you move it later kids may wake up a bit later and play still, and they will have an even harder time falling back to sleep as it is even closer to their normal morning wake up time.
How do I give the dreamfeed?
The Baby Whisperer suggests giving the df while baby is still asleep, dreaming away. She suggests you leave the light off and do not have any talking or any other sort of stimulation. Baby should be so relaxed that burping after the feeding may not even be needed, especially with older babies and breastfed babies.
I personally always changed baby's diaper during the df when he was a newborn and eating often at night. I never like leaky diapers (umm, who does?), but I especially don't like them during my one long stretch of sleep at night! Just make sure to change the diaper near the beginning of the feeding so baby is relaxed and ready for bed near the end of the feeding.
I also always burp with younger babies. I really think they need it. I just try to mostly finish up the feeding, burp really well, then do the last tiny bit of the feeding followed by little to no burping.
Some babies do better when woken up completely for the df. Sometimes it is the only way they will eat, and sometimes it simply helps them sleep better at night and wake up later in the morning.
Gina Ford suggests you keep baby up for approximately 45-60 minutes during the df for the first 2-4 months of his life or until he is regularly sleeping until the desired morning wake time (at which time you slowly decrease the wake time at the df). Ford believes that failing to keep baby awake at this time is one of the main causes of early morning awakenings, especially once night feeds are dropped. I haven't followed this advice, but it's always worth a shot if you are having issues with early morning wakings and are doing the dreamfeed.
How to do the dreamfeed with a bottle:
When you use a bottle you can wiggle the nipple in baby's mouth to activates the sucking reflex. Milk also drips out of most bottles simply by holding them upside down which encourages baby to eat. Don't let too much milk come out before baby starts sucking or he may start to gag on it. Make sure you feed baby at an angle like you would during the day.
How to do the dreamfeed while breastfeeding:
You can do the dream feed while breastfeeding, but it often a bit harder, and sometimes almost impossible with some babies. You can stroke baby's bottom lip with a pacifier, your finger, or your breast to get his sucking reflex going. You can also try to express some milk into baby's mouth to get him interested in eating. Many moms (myself included) will pump and then feed baby by a bottle. Baby often eats more food and more easily this way. Plus, it gives dad a chance to feed baby, gives baby practice with the bottle, and lets you go to sleep a few minutes earlier.
How much do I feed baby for the dream feed?
Feed baby as much as she'll eat. The more the better when she is young. When she is older you may want to slowly decrease how much she is eating. More on that on dropping the dreamfeed.
Does the dream feed work for everyone?
I bet you aren't surprised that my answer to this is no. Nothing works with everyone! Some babies sleep horribly if you give them a df. It really messes up their natural sleep rhythms. You will have to try it and see what happens. Remember to try it consistently for at least a few days before deciding it doesn't work.
Start it and see what happens. You may need to do it for several days before your baby (and you!) benefit from it. Yes, I suggest keeping at it even if baby sleep worse at first because this is the case with many babies. If they continue to sleep worse then I would work on the timing of the dream feed. If things still do not improve, then I would consider dropping the df. Take note that you are more likely to have issues and no luck with this the older baby is.
Need troubleshooting advice or DF dropping advice? Look at Dreamfeed troubleshooting tips and Dropping the dreamfeed.
Did you give a dream feed? How did it work for you?