Sleep Feeding: Treatment Options?

by Jan Gambino Patient Expert

While Sleep Feeding is not a common method of feeding a baby with Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), HealthCentral has become Sleep Feeding Central with many caregivers joining our lively discussion on the topic. For those of you who are just joining in, Sleep Feeding, also known as Dream Feeding is the term used to describe feeding a drowsy or sleeping infant. Sleep Feeding may be the result of the combination of medical, sensory and behavioral issues so the first stop is always with the doctor's office.

Going to the Doctor

It seems like you are always going to the doctor with your baby. It is very important to discuss Sleep Feeding with the doctor and determine a cause or causes for Sleep Feeding. While most Sleep Feeders are babies with acid reflux attempting to turn off the pain of reflux, it is best to look at all possibilities.

Your doctor may suggest medical treatments or tests that are needed to figure out the underlying reason for Sleep Feeding. In addition, your doctor may help you coordinate the other medical professionals that may be needed to participate in the treatment. For instance, a Pediatric Gastroenterologist may be consulted to assess the severity of the reflux and rule out other digestive conditions. A test called a Swallow Study may be needed to look at the swallowing pattern as it relates to eating.

Feeding Therapy

It is likely that a feeding therapist or feeding team will be consulted for treatment. A feeding therapist, often a Speech-Language Pathologist will look at the feeding pattern and offer practical ideas to use at home to help a baby who is struggling to eat.

It may take some effort to locate a feeding therapist in your area, not every pediatric speech-language pathologist specializes in feeding issues. Your doctor or GI specialist may be able to refer you or, you may want to check the nearest Children's Hospital for a feeding program or feeding clinic.

Home Care

The medical team (doctors and feeding therapists) will work with you to decrease pain from eating due to reflux and help with any sensory or habits/behavioral issues that often go along with Sleep Feeding.

Parents, doctors and feeding therapists suggested their best ideas for gradually helping a Sleep Feeder eat by day:

  • Music and Movement: Pair feeding with music and gentle movement such as rocking and swaying.

  • Dark Room: Try feeding your baby while awake but in a dark, quiet room away from distractions.

  • Calm the Caretaker: Gently encourage her with your calm voice and your relaxed arms. Check your level of relaxation and body tension. If you are worried, stressed and exhausted, your baby will be the first to know

  • Slow and Steady: Gradually offer feedings when she is less sleepy and more alert.

  • Show and Tell: Let her see the bottle when she is awake. Perhaps she can play with an empty bottle. An older infant may need to play with eating utensils in a non threatening (non-feeding) time.

  • Support and Encouragement: Surround yourself with support and encouragement. A neighbor, friend or relative may offer support and guidance. Others find an online community such as The HealthCentral Network to share questions and concerns. Another parent who has "been there, done that" may provide the benefit of their experiences to give you strategies and support.

Jan Gambino
Meet Our Writer
Jan Gambino

Jan wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Acid Reflux.