Dream feeds – when and how to feed your baby at night

Feeding and sleep are the two biggest subjects of infancy so it is no surprise that when it comes to getting a good night sleep, the issue of ‘when to feed at night’ is the most frequent question.

When will my baby stop needing night feeds?

In the early days your newborn needs nutritional support at night. She needs to feed almost as often at night as during the day. By six weeks old, most babies have dropped the evening feed and sleep for a good six hour stretch – so you can expect your 6 week old to wake for her early morning feed, just after 12. By four months old most babies are waking between 3 to 6 am for a feed only. Much to your horror, after four months old your baby may start to wake a little more frequently as a demand for nutrition increases. Shortly after six months old when your baby is on full solids (including protein) you can expect a ‘full night sleep’ again – 10 straight hours. Older babies and toddlers should not need any feeds in bed as this will disrupt their day appetite for ‘real food’ and may damage their teeth. If your older baby or toddler wakes at night, you can offer them water but avoid offering milk.

Should I wake my baby at 10pm for a dream feed so that she doesn’t wake me at 2am?

Simply stated, this is a bad idea. As much as 10 pm is more convenient for you, the same is not true for your baby. Babies develop sleep cycles best when left to establish them on their own. Linking sleep cycles is a critical skill. When you wake your baby at night, you disturb this natural development of sleep cycles and secondly you end up with a very sleepy feeder who may not feed well and then wake anyway at 2am.

I often see babies who are waking habitually for a 10pm feed, simply because their mum woke them every night when they were young.

How do I keep my sleepy baby awake for long enough to feed well?

When Alex was a baby she was such a sleepy feeder. 5 minutes into a breastfeed, she would fall asleep. I would sing the old song: “Wake upsleepy dreamer, oh what fun it’s been, for a day dream believer and a home coming queen” Of course it drove me mad because I knew that if she did not feed well at that night feed, she would wake a few hours later.

The eternal challenge of a newborn – to stay awake for long enough to feed well when all this wonderfully sweet, sleep inducing milk is being consumed! Milk, especially breastmilk induces sleep. Breastmilk is full of Oxytocin, a hormone that has been associated with inducing sleep. The best way to keep your baby alert for a feed if she is a sleepy feeder is to talk to her, make her cool by undressing her legs and if necessary stroke her bare feet or cheek with a piece of wet cotton wool.

Night feeds can be a real challenge. To summarize the top 5 tips for dream feeds:

  • Do not wake your baby for a dream feed, unless told to do so for medical reasons
  • Do not feed your baby while she is asleep, lying in her cot
  • Undress her legs if she is too sleepy to wake adequately for the feed
  • Expect to have to reintroduce one night feed between 4 and 6 months of age, especially if you are delaying introducing solids until closer to 6 months old.
  • Do not offer milk feeds at night once your baby is on full solids

Here’s wishing you and your baby, Peaceful Nights!

By Meg Faure