These gentle techniques are based on the idea that reducing feeds will also reduce night wakings. Although the following advice may work for some families, it’s a personal choice to reduce night feedings at this young age.
We always recommend reviewing your baby’s age, health, and feeding patterns over the course of 24 hours with your doctor to determine whether they need to receive calories during an 11 hour period at night. If your doctors says that your baby needs to eat, they will tell you how much or how often.
Since many babies do in fact wake up because they need to eat during the night (especially in the first 6 months), it may be possible to shift some of their calorie intake to the daytime, which can theoretically improve night sleep.
Please keep in mind that if your baby is used to eating in the night, it doesn’t matter if they have an actual hunger or if the night feedings are just a habit, it will still feel like hunger.
It is possible to very gently shift feeds, which may in turn give your baby (and you) a longer stretch of sleep at night. There are two ways to do this:
Using Dreamfeeds is a great way to separate behavioral issues from feeding. Essentially, your baby will be fed before they wake and cry.
You can plan to go in and pick your baby up and feed him, before his usual wake time and feed times. This should help reduce crying and calling out behaviors in the night. It will also allow for easier and gentler weaning strategies when reducing feeds are appropriate.
It is important that your baby is not crying before your chosen feeding time, ideally they will be asleep. Most babies at this age will eat well while still asleep or very drowsy.
If your baby wakes up during a feed and falls back to sleep, this is not a problem and will not create a “bad” habit.
A Word Of Caution:
Dreamfeeds can be more challenging when implemented without a sleep coaching method, especially when the baby is awake at the end of the feed.
Some babies may wake up at their regular feed time, regardless of a Dreamfeed. For this reason it is often best to combine Dreamfeeds with a sleep coaching method, such as The Modified Shuffle or The Kinder method. Doing this ensures that if your baby is awake at the end of the feed or wakes shortly after being fed, you have a strategy in place to coach baby back to sleep.
Dreamfeeds can be used to break the wake to feed association. This may be helpful in trying to optimize sleep, and when implemented with a sleep coaching plan can help the parents know when to feed and when to coach.
That being said, many parents will have a difficult time setting an alarm past 1 am for a dream feed, so we advise that if the next feeding time is close to when your baby wakes, you just feed and get back to sleep.
Set Timed Feeds
Some babies do not respond well to dreamfeeds and will not feed well, only to wake shortly afterward. If this sounds like your baby, we do not recommend using dreamfeeds.
A better option would be to use set time feeds, where you choose set times at which to feed your baby (for example: first feeding after 10:00 p.m., and 2:00 a.m.). Any other night wakings are soothed back to sleep without a feed.
For example, if your baby wakes at 1:00 a.m., do not let them cry until 2:00 a.m. and then feed them. Please coach them back to sleep and feed them the next time they wake after 2am.
Gently Weaning Night Feeds
Once you are ready to reduce your infant’s night feeds, you can wean Dreamfeeds simply by moving the feed earlier 15 minutes every night or every few nights. Eventually the feed gets so close to the previous feed that you can eliminate it all together.
You can also gradually reduce the length of each feed, or if you are bottle feeding, gradually reducing the amount or gradually diluting the bottle.
This ensures that your baby is relying on less calories in the night.
Be prepared to feed your baby more frequently during the day while you are reducing night feeds.