Dream feeding is typically done for infants, but there are many reasons to dream feed an older baby or a toddler. Read the pros and cons of dream feeding a toddler and decide whether it is right for you and your child.
This post about dream feeding is sponsored by Peepeepants.All opinions are my own, as always. This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is dream feeding?
"Dream feeding is when you rouse your baby—without fully waking—to feed one more time before you turn in for the night." (Source: Happiest Baby) Dream feeding is typically recommended for babies to help them sleep through the night longer so they don't wake up hungry. But it can also be used for young toddlers.
I've been dream feeding my son on and off for a year now since he was one year old. Read on to see if dream feeding might be a good option for your baby or toddler.
Dream feed pros and cons
Why you might want to dream feed your toddler:
- If your child is underweight, dream feeding is a great way to get another 50-150 calories into your child per day, depending on how much they drink. Talk to your pediatrician and see if you want to do this daily, or whether you want to do this once in a while, perhaps on days they don't eat enough, such as sick days or when they're being really picky.
- If your child is not drinking enough fluids, an extra bottle of milk at night will help keep them hydrated. This is extremely important if they are sick.
When my son was one year old, he was severely underweight, and having him drink a bottle of milk every night was a great way to get much-needed calories into him. A 5 oz bottle of breast milk is about 100 calories, which means that he was getting 3000 extra calories per month from the dream feeding (one pound is 3500 calories). That's almost a pound of weight gain per month! Without the dream feeding, he was actually losing weight because he was not eating and drinking enough during the day.
Now that my son is two years old and has gained a little weight, I don't dream feed him every night. I save it for nights when he is not eating well - days when he is sick and not eating or drinking enough fluids, or when we are traveling and he is not eating because his routine is all out of whack. (By the way, read my tips for traveling with a picky eater toddler.)
An extra bonus of dream feeding is extra snuggle time: holding your sleeping baby is one of the sweetest things about being a mom. Having a reason to hold my sleepy, snuggly, fed, satisfied baby every night is one of the best moments of my day. As he is growing into an active little boy, he is often too busy to snuggle with me during the day, so I cherish the nighttime snuggles more than ever.
Cons of dream feeding:
While dream feeding can be very beneficial to many babies and toddlers, there are a few things to consider before you decide to do it:
- Potential to get used to night feedings and not sleep through the night without the nightly bottle. This is one of the reasons I don't dream feed every night now that my son is two years old. I don't want my son to become dependent on that nightly bottle of milk. He never really slept through the night before the dream feeding, so dream feeding actually helps him sleep through the night... hey, I'll take it! I'd rather feed him at 11pm than wake up at 3am.
- Drinking milk after brushing teeth. Milk has a lot of naturally occurring sugar, so it is not great for your baby's teeth to drink milk every night after they brush their teeth. However, we usually brush my son's teeth before his last bottle of milk anyway.
- Potential for reflux: if your baby has any gastro issues such as reflux, silent reflux, or spitting up, you might need to sit up and hold your baby upright for 20-30 minutes after dream feeding them to get the milk to settle in their tummies. Talk to your child's pediatrician or gastroenterologist about whether they have any other advice regarding this.
- Tiring for parents. Feeding my son at 11pm when I want to go to sleep can feel very tiring. However as I said above, my son never really slept through the night, even before the dream feeding. It actually seems that he ends up sleeping through the night when he gets a bottle at 11pm, so for me staying up a little longer to dream feed is SO WORTH IT.
- Too-wet diaper that wets the sheets at night. When my son drinks a full bottle of milk at night, he always soaks through his diaper and wakes up crying in the middle of the night with wet sheets. Of course, I can change his diaper in the middle of the night before it gets too full, but then I risk waking him up and having him decide it is time to get chatty with mama. It's adorable, but not what I want in the middle of the night. So I found the perfect solution that we use every night even if I don't dream feed: Peepeepants.
Yep, Pee Pee Pants, that's the name. They are super absorbent pajama shorts that go over your child's diaper and under their pajamas. My son wears them at night whether I plan on doing a dream feed or not. They keep his sheets dry and make sure he doesn't wake up in the middle of the night crying because he is wet and cold from a too-wet diaper. Plus look how adorable my son looks in them (let's ignore the fact that this picture is from before 7am, and I was not as pleased with being awake as my son was)!
Peepeepants come in sizes from 12 months to 3T and they run true to size. We are using the 18-24 month size for my son who is two because he is small for his age and still wears 18 month clothes. We also got one pair in size 3T so that we can keep using Peepeepants when he starts potty training soon. You can get your toddler some peepeepants directly on their website here or on Amazon here.
At a glance, it might seem like there are more negatives than positives when it comes to dream feeding your toddler. But a lot of the negatives can be easily mitigated. Dream feeding is so worth it to us, knowing that my son is fed and satisfied and not losing weight. So think about all the pros and cons of dream feeding and talk to your child' pediatrician to see if it is right for you.
How to Dream Feed a Toddler:
- Decide whether you want to do it daily or just once in a while. If you do it daily, your child might become used to it and might need milk to sleep through the night. If you do it once in a while (maybe on days that your child had a bad eating day, or did not drink enough fluids), then your child will probably not become dependent on the milk. So think about whether they really need the daily calories and fluids, or if you just want to do it on days when your child is not eating or drinking enough.
- Just like with feeding a newborn, have everything ready before you start: Warm up the milk and place it within arm's reach of where you will be sitting (or if you're still nursing, wear comfortable nursing clothes). Dim the lights just enough so you can see. Have a blanket, burp cloth, or pacifier nearby - whatever you might need to wipe your baby's face and soothe him back to sleep in case he wakes up. And have your phone, an iPad, or a book nearby if you need to sit up with your child after (more on that later!)
- Gently pick him or her up from the crib. I immediately place Elliot on my shoulder and rock him and snuggle him for a few seconds before walking over to our feeding spot, so that he doesn't wake up.
- If your toddler sleeps with a pacifier, gently pull the pacifier out and place the bottle on their lips or into their mouth. If they do not have a pacifier, then place the bottle near their lips and see if they will open their mouth to drink. Sometimes I have to let a few drops of milk touch my son's mouth for him to reach for the bottle. My son never lost that rooting/sucking reflex. It's like he can smell the milk in his sleep and reaches for it as soon as it's near his face.
- Allow your toddler to drink as much as they want to, but you probably don't want them to drink more than 6-7 ounces, so that their bellies are not too full. If they stop sucking after an ounce or two that's OK, don't force them to drink more than they want to.
- Sit up with your toddler for a while after they finish drinking, holding them at a 45 degree angle. This is especially important if they have heartburn or reflux. Our gastroenterologist recommends sitting upright for 30 minutes before putting Elliot down, to make sure the milk doesn't cause discomfort or spitting up. But even if your child doesn't have reflux issues, you still want the milk to settle in their stomach before putting them down. This is why I recommend getting a phone, iPad, or a book ready, so you have something to do while you sit up. Be careful not to fall asleep while holding your baby!
- Give your baby a kiss and gently put them back down in their crib.
Big thanks to Peepeepants for providing me with Pee Pee Pants free of charge to use for my son and prevent wet sheets on nights when his diaper is too wet!
You might be interested in these other posts:
- 3 Sensory Tricks to Get Your Toddler to Eat or Try New Foods
- Picky Eater Foods Worksheet - Free Printable!
- When to Test Your Baby for Food Allergies
- Quitting Pumping After a Year and a Half