It doesn't matter when baby gets hungry, if they want to eat, they're going to make an awful lot of noise until someone feeds them—and 3 a.m. sounds like as good of a time as any for an infant. But what if there was a way to "trick" them into thinking they were full so they’d slept through the night?
It turns out, there is. And it's so simple, a baby could do it.
According to the Happiest Baby, the best way to eliminate—or at the very least, delay—unnecessary feedings due to Baby's rumbling tummy is to boost their evening calories by "dream feeding" them to sleep. The best part? It works on older infants, too.
So what is dream feeding and how does it work?
Most young babies end their day with a healthy last feeding. The problem is that it usually doesn’t last long. Often, they will wake, a few hours later, wanting more, which means you both lose precious sleep. Dream feeding works the opposite way. Instead of waiting for your baby to wake up hungry, you wake them between 10 p.m. and midnight to sneak in one last feeding. In other words, you top off baby’s engine before calling it a night so you can both rest easy.
To pull off this mission successfully, you’ll need to combine two different techniques: dream feeding and the “wake and sleep” method, which I'll explain shortly.
First, you’ll need to "wake" them for the dream feeding, encouraging baby to nurse 5-10 minutes on one side and the rest of the time on the other side. If your little one can’t keep his or her eyes open long enough to feed, try waking them up by changing their diaper, tickling their toes or gliding a wet washcloth across their forehead until they finish. Many babies will also feed while they're asleep, just instinctively latching onto the nipple. So, don't worry too much if their sweet little eyes just can't seem to stay open, as long as they appear to be getting milk.
Next, you’ll begin the “wake and sleep” method, which is when you swaddle your baby, turn on white noise and let them fall asleep in your arms, but before you put them to bed and leave the room, you rouse them once more—gently tickling their neck or feet—until their eyes open. When they close their eyes a few seconds later (this time with a full belly), they are guaranteed to fall into a deep sleep.
So, what if it doesn’t work? What if your baby doesn't adjust to the new schedule, despite your efforts?
If your baby continues to wake up at a specific time (i.e., 2:45 a.m.), try setting an alarm for 15-20 minutes beforehand, so you can dream feed them before they wake you. This way, your baby will still get the nourishment they need, but you won’t be rewarding them for waking and crying.
The objective of dream feeding is to boost daytime eating and encourage sleep, so remember that less is more. Try not to give babies too much milk during those wee-hour feedings, if you know they are old enough and weigh enough to be able to sleep through the night. Lastly, do your best not to talk or cuddle too much while dream feeding. That’s a good way to confuse baby into thinking it’s playtime, which is an entirely different problem altogether.
Good luck, tired parents!