Can a ‘Dream Feed’ Help Your Baby Sleep Longer?

Chances are you could use a little more sleep these days. You may have heard of the “dream feed,” a tactic many parents use to extend their baby’s long stretch of sleep. But what is it, exactly? How do you do it? And when should you stop?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:03
If you're a new mom, chances are you could use a little more sleep these days. And you may have heard of something called the dream beat, a tactic many parents use to extend their baby's long stretch of sleep. But what is it exactly? How do you do it? And when should you stop? Today I'm talking with a board certified pediatrician and sleep consultant, as well as a mom who's right there in the trenches with you. They're both here to give you all the tips to help you decide if dream feeding is right for you. This is Newbies.

Natalie Gross 0:29
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Newbies. Newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new moms through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie Gross. I'm a mom to a four year old boy and a baby girl. And we've got a great show today talking about dream feeding. But before we launch into our discussion, and meet our guests today, I want to tell you about how you can be more involved in our show. We have an online membership club called Mighty Moms that's totally free to join. And that's where we continue the conversation about topics we discussed in our episodes. You'll also learn about our recordings in advance so that you can decide if you'd like to join us to share your own motherhood experiences as a guest. So head on over to our website, To find out more information about that and also to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. That will keep you updated on all of the content we release each week. And of course another great way to stay updated with newbies is to subscribe and your favorite podcast app. My first guest today is Dr. Nilong Vyas, board certified pediatrician and sleep consultant with their company sleepless and Nola. Thanks so much for being here, Dr. Vyas.

Nilong Vyas 2:08
Of course.

Natalie Gross 2:10
You're also a parent. So tell us more about you and your family and your own experience as a mom with your kids sleep to kind of set the stage for what we're talking about today.

Nilong Vyas 2:19
So as you said, I'm a pediatrician. And I have a company called Sleepless in NOLA, and I'm pediatric sleep coach and I teach parents how to get their kids sleeping through the night with behavioral modifications. And I formulated my business after I was having difficulties with my firstborn in his sleep. And you know, of course, going to Google and researching, you find so much contradictory information out there. And I felt like I needed a solid foundation. So I did my own research, and from a medical and scientific standpoint, to get my child sleeping better and eating better. And I created my own methodology. And that's what I used to help other families get their kids sleeping through the night, I had experimented with the dream feed when my son was having sleep difficulties and found such great success that I put it in the packages with my families now, you know, obviously if they need it. Okay, so can

Natalie Gross 3:19
you explain what dream feeding is and why some parents choose to use this method?

Nilong Vyas 3:24
Yeah, so babies need a certain amount of food in a 24 hour period. And babies don't care if they you know, get all the feeds during the day or at night or a combination of both. So if a child is waking up multiple times to feed once they're capable of sleeping mostly through the night than a dream feed may help lengthen the time between feeds. So my explanation of a dream feed is a feed specifically given to a child overnight after they've gone to sleep for the night. But right before the parents go to sleep themselves. And the purpose of it is to increase the amount of sleep a child and a parent gets before the next wake up in the next feed.

Natalie Gross 4:04
Thanks for sharing. We're going to take a quick break and then continue this conversation.

Nilong Vyas 4:17
Today on Newbies, we're talking about the dream feed and you've already met our featured expert Dr. Nilong Vyas. In the sleep training world, Dr. Vyas, you often hear it's not okay to nurse or feed your baby to sleep. How does this apply or not apply here?

Nilong Vyas 4:31
Yeah, so that's still the case. You don't want to feed the baby to sleep because you want them to have a good association with a specific routine before they fall asleep. So that if and when they do wake up overnight, which is completely normal for them to do, they can, you know, kind of take a look around at their room and realize that they're safe and put themselves to sleep. If they're fed to sleep. Then when they do wake up at the end of those sleep wake cycles. They'll have an expectation to eat even if they're not Hungry. But a dream feed is different because you're feeding the child before they wake to eat. So whether the child is waking because they're hungry, or whether they're waking because of habit or for comfort, if you know that they're hungry, I'm planning to, you know, planning to wake up, but they've been consistently waking up. If you do a dream feed before they wake up, then they don't have that association with feeding, but they still get caloric intake, they need to make it through the night.

Nilong Vyas 5:32
Okay, so walk me through kind of step by step, what dream feeding might look like. And obviously, some babies are nurse, some babies are bottle fed. So what does that look like? You know, in those different scenarios?

Nilong Vyas 5:44
Yeah. So for example, if a child is fed at seven and goes to sleep, and is waking every three hours to feed, and you know, maybe around two to four months of age, they start to lengthen their sleep times. And they may drop that the first feed they may drop is the 10pm feed. So they're going to bed at seven and the first feed, and the first week out maybe at 1am. So that's a hard wake up for most families, especially if parents are going to bed around 10pm, they have to wake up just a few hours later. So if you initiate a dream feed at 10pm, when the parents are most likely going to sleep themselves, it will push that first wake up instead of it being you know, 1am it'll push it to potentially forehand. So it gives the parents and extended period of sleep as well as the child so they're still getting their caloric needs are still waking up for their feed, but it's getting pushed to later timeframe.

Nilong Vyas 6:44
Okay, should you on swaddle your baby, change their diaper when you get them up? Should you try to, you know, leave them as still as possible and try not to wake them up? Do you burp them? Like, what are some of those practical steps?

Nilong Vyas 6:55
Yeah, so that what we want to do with the dream feed is disturbed them as little as possible. So you know, think of it as you still want them to continue dreaming. So you kind of scoop them up, feed them quickly work them if they're, you know, unable to burp on their own, burp them as gently as possible. But definitely try to get a burp out, because you don't want them to wake up 20 minutes later with a burp. And that sort of defeats the whole purpose of the dream feed and extending those sleep cycles for yourself and the child. So feed them, burp them and get them their back down.

Natalie Gross 7:26
Okay, so maybe don't change their diaper.

Nilong Vyas 7:28
No, so if you know when they're new in the true newborn stage, and they're overly sleepy, but you know, they need to feed every three hours, then you want to onslaught all make sure you know skin to skin, make sure they're doing a really good feed or during the day, you want to initiate, you know, a really good feed so that they can start doing longer stretches at night. A lot of times babies are waking up overnight, because they're not feeding so great during the day. And they're trying to make up that intake that was last kind of like I said at the beginning of they need a certain amount of food in a 24 hour period, it doesn't matter to them if they get it all during the day or at night, as long as they get what they need in a 24 hour period. So if we can get the majority of that intake during the day, then they won't have as many wake ups overnight. And by initiating a dream feed, you can stretch the wakeup time, you know how often they wake up overnight.

Natalie Gross 8:21
So when would you advise parents to start the dream feed is this like day one newborn phase or wait until the baby's a little bit older?

Nilong Vyas 8:30
Yeah, so once they start stretching out their feeding requirements from every two and a half to three hours as they are in the newborn period. And they start going maybe every four every six hours, is when you can start initiating nap during feed, especially if 10pm is the first feed that they're dropping, you can reinstitute that feed so that then they will skip that one. And so everyone gets a longer stretch of sleep at that time. Typically later, not right away night, not right for just because there'll be waking up consistently every three hours anyway, to feed as they should be.

Natalie Gross 9:06
When we talk about, you know that longer stretch of sleep, like what's an example of what that could end up being.

Nilong Vyas 9:13
If a child's waking up every three hours, and then they're starting to do maybe a four hour stretch before they wake up to feed or even a six hour stretch to wake before they wake up to feed. And that first feed that they wake up for is that 1am If you instituted a 10pm dream feed, and they're able to go for six hours before needing a feed again, that automatically pushes that next wake up to one and so the parents can both, you know, do the feed at 10pm and then go to sleep for the night and then not have to wake up again until potentially three or 4am. And you would ask earlier about parents that are nursing or bottle feeding. I think bottle feeding is the easiest to do a dream feed with so if a mom is Nursing and she can pump and then go to sleep for the night. And then dad, if he's going to sleep around nine or 10, he can feed the baby with the bottle and burn the baby, put him to sleep and then go to sleep himself. And then ideally, it'll give everyone a longer stretch of sleep, or the baby needs to wake for the next feed. If mom is exclusively nursing, you can do a dream feed with with a nursing mother exclusively nursing mother as well, you just may need to stimulate the baby a tiny bit more just to make sure that they latch because there's a little bit more work to be done with a nursing baby, then, you know, with the bottle fed baby, they can be done with either either scenario,

Natalie Gross 10:43
when you say stimulate, like just trying to get them awake. I mean, I've heard kind of like tap the foot.

Nilong Vyas 10:48
Yeah, I always say stimulate a little bit around the clavicles just to kind of get them to be aware of the nipple. Sometimes babies will just when they feel it, if they're not hungry, they feel the nipple, they'll just clamp their their mouths down. So if you stimulate them a little bit, or put the nipple along the tip of their nose or the top of their lip, it'll initiate the sock reflex and they'll open their mouth and allow the nipple to go in.

Natalie Gross 11:14
Are there downsides to dream feeding? does it interfere with baby's sleep long term,

Nilong Vyas 11:19
I don't think it interferes so much long term. But the downside can be or the reason that you would want to eliminate the dream feed is if after the dream feed, then the baby just wakes up with the dream feed. And then now they're just wide awake and can't get back to sleep for another sleep cycle, which may be a full hour and a half before they're capable of going to sleep. So if that's happening multiple times if it happens just once. And I would definitely try it again. But if it happens every single time, or multiple times, that I would eliminate the drip feed or try it at different times. Usually 10pm is the time that I recommend parents try the dream feed because that's when most adults go to sleep. But if you're a really sleep deprived parent, you know, you may want the dream to be at 9pm it's usually recommended for it to be about three hours from the last feed.

Natalie Gross 12:11
So you know you kind of mentioned Dr. Vyas. Like maybe it doesn't work for all babies. Or maybe it comes to a point where it's time to eliminate the dream feed. So let's talk about weaning babies off of the dream feed. When do you do that around what age and how, what are some different methods?

Nilong Vyas 12:29
Yeah, so the optimal time to drop the dream feed is once all the other feeds have been eliminated. So the goal of the dream feed is like I said to push the first wake up to later, maybe it's 2am 3am 4am. And then ultimately, once a child is getting adequate intake during the day, they'll stop those feeds as well. And if the dream feed is continuing, once those feeds are eliminated, I usually recommend to parents to gradually start to eliminate the dream feed. So if the child is getting six ounces, for example, at the dream feed, then decrease that to five ounces for a few days and four ounces for a few days, etc. Until the dream feed is completely weaned off. What you don't want to have happen is you stop the dream feed cold turkey and then they're waking up, you know, at 4am again hungry

Natalie Gross 13:24
Do you then build those six ounces into like their daytime feeding?

Nilong Vyas 13:30
Yes, exactly. So as you eliminate them from the dream feed, make sure you're supplementing that into the daytime intake and that's the ultimate goal right is to get the child to gradually wean off all of the overnight intake and make it into the daytime intake. So we're gradually making sure that the majority of their calories or all of their calories are received during the daytime. Not at night.

Natalie Gross 13:54
Okay, and again, how might this look you know for bottle it's really easy to eliminate ounces but for exclusively breastfeeding moms how might that look?

Nilong Vyas 14:03
Yeah, so for them I usually tell them to time it so if a feed typically takes about 10 minutes overnight then we get down to eight minutes before telling mom to put the finger in the mouth of the baby gradually eliminate the suction on the nipple and then you know take baby off instead of just pulling them off because they'll then potentially clamp down and pull on the nipple which would be very painful. So decrease the fee to eight minutes and then six minutes etc until the beat is eliminated

Natalie Gross 14:34
And you do that each day you decrease. Do you stay on a certain time or certain amount for a couple days? Like what is that?

Nilong Vyas 14:40
I usually a couple of days just so that it doesn't you know shock the system if the baby's only dream feeding for a couple of minutes and yes you can get rid of it but if they're if they're actively feeding and it's a significant amount of intake, then you want to do it in a gradual every couple of days fashion.

Natalie Gross 14:56
Okay. Well Dr. Vyas, anything else you want to add based on your professional or your personal experiences with this topic?

Nilong Vyas 14:56
So many families come to me with toddlers who are also feeding overnight waking up asking for milk. So dream feeds can be used for them as well. They're not just for babies. So rather than a child waking up and asking for milk, if you institute a dream feed, then there's a potential that their caloric needs are met, and then they won't have the wake up any longer. That's a good way to distinguish whether using the dream feed is a good way to distinguish whether the child needs to wake up because of a hunger issue, or they're just waking up for comfort. So they get a dream feed at 10pm, for example, and then wake up at 1130. Anyway asking for milk, you know that they're not doing it because they're hungry, they're doing it because of habit. So instituting a dream feed can help distinguish what's going on and help increase calories for a toddler who may be really picky and not getting adequate intake during the day.

Natalie Gross 16:04
Okay, and that would be like through a bottle, or what would you recommend there?

Nilong Vyas 16:08
A bottle Yeah, or a sippy cup if though, you know if they'll do it, but a bottle is easier. Ideally, you know, according to the AAP and the dentist, they don't like giving babies bottles and letting them go to sleep. But they can some you know, in for short periods of time, if the child is waking up anyway and getting intake maybe once or twice overnight. And if you can institute a dream feed and help eliminate those other two wake ups, and then gradually wean it off. And it helps the parents kind of get a handle on what's happening. And they can then work on increasing daytime intake, and gradually weaning that dream feed so it feels like they're a little more in control and can help determine whether their child's waking up truly because of hunger or because of comfort.

Natalie Gross 16:57
Thanks so much for sharing this important information. Dr. Vyas. I appreciate you coming on and lending your expertise to Newbies. Of course, listeners you can find out more about her work is Sleepless in When we come back, we're going to be continuing today's discussion with mom Rebecca to purchase who's going to be sharing her experience with the dream feed. Stay tuned.

Natalie Gross 17:25
Rebecca, welcome to Newbies. Where are you calling in from?

Rebecca deVerges 17:29
I am in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Natalie Gross 17:32
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for being here. We are talking all things dream feed today. So tell me about your experiences with this topic as a mom.

Rebecca deVerges 17:40
Well, I started doing the dream feed with my second child. I was a little intimidated by it. I have a now three year old that I never did any dream feats with when he was in a newborn. And so I was intimidated by it. But it actually worked out really well. When Parker was having issues waking up in the middle of the night hungry.

Natalie Gross 18:05
So was the dream feed something that you were familiar with with your first and just didn't decided not to do it? Or is it something you learned about what their second baby how did that come about?

Rebecca deVerges 18:15
I had heard of it and had friends that use the dream feed. But and I had read about it, I followed a couple of like this sleep training books with my first and I just I had tried it with him but he would not wake up enough to eat. And so it wasn't as successful with him but I did know about it. But this time around with Parker it worked really well. And I was scared to try it but when ever I got him out of bed the first time and offered him the bottle and he took it I was surprised and it immediately improved his you know, able to make a longer stretch and sleep at night.

Natalie Gross 18:57
Okay, so when did you start that with him?

Rebecca deVerges 19:01
Yes, around six months or five months, he went through sort of a sleep regression around that four month age and also had an ear infection kind of at the same time. So it's hard to remember. I think he was right about that five month age when I started with Dr. bias and she wanted us to try that dream feed.

Natalie Gross 19:23
Okay, yeah, so I talked with Dr. Vyas today about what that looked like practically do you want swaddled? Do you swaddle, things like that? What did it look like at your house?

Rebecca deVerges 19:32
So we did not take him out of his swaddle. It was just take him out of his crib, have the bottle ready, and just offer it to him and you know, he would be in a pretty deep sleep and he wouldn't even sometimes open his eyes to eat but he would start drinking the milk and some nights he would drink two ounces and then be done. But some nights he would drink you know four or five ounces and I knew he was hungry and I use Julie would go by the amount of ounces that he had had in the day. And if I felt like he had his normal, say 30 ounces during the day, I would let him sleep and see how it went. But if I noticed that he hadn't had it his full feedings during the day, and we were short, had a deficit of milk, then I would say, Okay, let's, I'm going to do the dream feed tonight because I don't want him to wake up at two or three or whatever.

Natalie Gross 20:27
Now I'm curious for other moms in the same boat, we're using formula or pumped milk? Did you nurse as well? Like, how did that kind of all factor in and how did you decide you want to use a bottle.

Rebecca deVerges 20:37
So I did nurse with both kids, I started pumping in trying not to actually nurse in the middle of the night with Parker just because with my first I felt like it was a comfort tool in the middle of the night. So I did mainly pumped milk when I was pumping around the clock and had a big supply. But at some point, my supply started to go down and I started incorporating formula. And now we're fully fully at formula. But I tried with the dream feed always to do it with a bottle, just so that it didn't become like that comforting aspect of nursing in the middle of the night and so that my husband could also do it.

Natalie Gross 21:20
So are you still doing the dream feed with Parker or how old is he now?

Rebecca deVerges 21:24
She is 10 months old, and I did the dream feed. I just sort of added it like one night last week when I he woke up the night before. And he he's had like another little ear infection. So I've noticed he hasn't been we're still keeping up with how many ounces he's drinking during the day. And I noticed he wasn't getting as much as I thought he should during the day. So we did the dream feed just one night, this past week, but it's not like a regular thing that we do every day. I try to, you know, get his feedings, full feedings during the day. If we can and then let him sleep if I if he's had close to that 30 ounce mark.

Natalie Gross 22:06
Rebecca, any tips for other moms out there who might be considering implementing this?

Rebecca deVerges 22:11
I'd say it's worth a try. I was very intimidated by it and resisted it because I was worried that getting him out of bed when he was already finally asleep that it would wake him up and we'd have to go through the getting back to sleep process all over again. But that wasn't my experience at all. With the dream feeds with Parker. He took to them very easily and it almost guaranteed a good night's sleep after that if he had a bad day with eating, so we don't rely on it anymore, but it definitely helped us get into a better routine making it through the night.

Natalie Gross 22:48
Well, thanks so much for sharing your experience and for joining me today.

Rebecca deVerges 22:51
You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Rebecca deVerges 22:53
Absolutely. Listeners, don't forget to check out more of our content over at New mommy We have all of our podcast episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 23:14
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parents Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, the Boob Group for moms who give breast milk to their babies and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 23:39
This has been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes early statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts will such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating healthcare problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If your questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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