Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease may lead to a variety of eating and sleep patterns in infants and toddlers. A HealthCentral member named Amy D started a lively discussion on feeding an infant with reflux while sleeping. She wanted to know if she was the only one on the night shift since her son will only eat when he is drowsy or sleeping. It turns out there were many other reflux moms and dads all over the world feeding their hurting babies at night. I consulted a physician and several feeding experts to bring you as much information as possible about Sleep Feeding.
What is Sleep Feeding?
Sleep Feeding is the term used to describe feeding a drowsy or sleeping infant. Sleep feeding may also be referred to as Dream Feeding.
How Does Sleep Feeding Work?
Most newborns begin a feeding in an alert state and gradually become drowsy and end the feeding in a light sleep. Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., founder and director of New Visions (www.new-vis.com) stated, “When we begin to fall asleep, brain waves slow down and alert brain function decreases. The area of the brain that supports automatic, rhythmical sucking and swallowing remains active and strong at first, and then decreases as the baby moves to a deeper sleep.” In addition, research has shown that swallowing decreases during sleep compared to when awake.
While sleep feeding may be a natural process in the newborn period, a parent may use sleep feeding to encourage a young infant to sleep through the night or decrease the number of night feedings. This is a parent driven process with the parent offering the bottle or breast to her sleeping infant just before going to bed. It is hoped that this late night feeding, sometimes referred to as a “top off feeding” will decrease night time hunger. A baby who is moving from a 24 hour feeding schedule to a daytime only schedule may adjust with short term sleep feeding during the transition.
Why is my Baby Sleep Feeding?
While it is common for a newborn to become drowsy during a feeding, an older baby is typically alert and engaged. A small group of babies with GERD may demonstrate a less common pattern and need to be drowsy or asleep to accept a feeding. I asked a physician and a speech therapist why some babies are unable to eat by day. Certainly there are many reasons why a baby won’t eat while awake with pain from a chronic condition such as acid reflux high on the list.
Other reasons for Sleep Feeding include:
Illness (respiratory, throat, thrush)
Combination of behavioral and medical reasons
What Does Sleep Feeding Look Like?
An infant with GERD often experiences pain and discomfort during or after a meal. Day after day, the discomfort leads to changes in the way caretakers and infants approach feeding.