Dream Feeding: What Is It? Will It Help Baby Sleep?

What exactly is a dream feed, and how do you dream feed baby? Will a dream feed really help baby sleep? We’ll answer these and more questions here.

If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and becomes restless, that’s likely because they’re hungry. 

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, a dream feed is a way to give baby the nighttime nourishment they need --- and it could help both you and baby sleep more soundly. 

But what exactly is a dream feed, and how do you dream feed baby? And will a dream feed really help baby sleep? We’ll answer these and more questions here.

What Is A Dream Feed?

When you dream feed baby, you feed them one last time before you, the parent or caregiver, turn in for the night. This usually happens two to three hours after you’ve put them to bed for the night, between 10 PM and midnight.

To accomplish a dream feed, you’ll need to gently rouse baby, just enough so they’ll be able to safely nurse or take a bottle (but don’t fully wake baby).  

This “late-night snack” is intended to curb baby’s hunger and help stave off their wakeful periods. 

Learn more about dream feeds from an infant sleep consultant at Just Chill Baby Sleep: 

Will A Dream Feed Help Baby Sleep?

Yes, dream feeding can be an effective way to reduce the time that baby spends awake during the night, and eventually help them sleep through the night. And in the process, it can also help you reclaim more shut-eye. 

Many moms swear by dream feeding’s effectiveness --- and it’s even backed by some studies. 

One study showed that introducing a dream feed between 10 PM and 12 AM to breastfed newborns helped reduce wakings through the night. In fact, it eventually helped babies sleep through the night (from 12 AM to 5 AM) by 8 weeks of age, when used with other sleep strategies like re-swaddling, changing baby’ diaper, and walking with baby). But this study was very small, with only 26 babies involved.

Another, larger study showed that out of 279 babies assigned to either a sleep education program (including dream feeding) or a control group, the babies in the sleep education program slept more soundly. There were several other parts involved in the education program, though --- including bedtime routines, white noise, swaddling, and self-soothing --- so it’s hard to say how big a role the dream feed played. 

These studies are limited in their scope, so their results don’t mean that dream feeding is foolproof. 

Plus, every baby is different, so there’s no guarantee that a dream feed will work for your little one. Still, it’s worth a try if baby is restless --- and if they’re in the prime age range for it to be effective, as we’ll outline in the next section.

When Is It Best To Start A Dream Feed (And When Could Be Too Old)?

Dream feeds work best if you start when baby is younger than 6 months old. If your baby is younger than 6 months old and wants to feed often during the night, talk to your pediatrician about whether starting a dream feed might work well.

At the 6-7 month mark, though many babies have settled into a schedule. They’ll either naturally want to wake for a single night feed on their own, or they will sleep through the night.

Plus, their first three hours of sleep at this age tend to be the deepest and most vital. Interrupt that sleep, and you could cause them to have lower-quality sleep for the rest of the night.

(Of course, if they still seem to need more feeds per night, a dream feed could still help them progress towards sleeping through the night.) 

How To Dream Feed Baby?

Interested in giving dream feeding a try? Here’s how to start:

  • Time the dream feed to start between 10 PM and 11:30 PM --- about half an hour before you plan to go to bed, and at least 3 hours since you last fed them. 
    • Timing it this way ensures baby’s hungry, and means they’re more likely to drink enough milk or formula to sleep soundly for longer periods.
  • It’s most ideal to dream feed when baby’s in their REM period, or “active sleep” period.
    • If baby moves their arms and legs, wiggles their fingers or feet, twitches, or moves their eyelids, they’re in their REM sleep period.
    • Baby’s more likely to take a full feed if you rouse them for the dream feed in this window.
  • Gently take baby out of their crib or bassinet. This should be enough to rouse them slightly.
    • Don’t fully wake baby!
    • If baby is sleeping very soundly, try changing their diaper, softly talking or singing to them, unswaddling them, tickling their toes a bit, or using a wet washcloth to cool their legs. 
  • Hold baby in a safe feeding position, and hold the breast or bottle up to baby’s lower lip. 
    • This will stimulate the sucking reflex.
    • So, baby should start to suck, even though they’re still partially asleep.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, offer each side for 5-10 minutes. 
  • If you’re bottle-feeding, feed baby for 10-20 minutes, switching sides halfway through if you wish to mimic breastfeeding.
    • In both cases, this should be equivalent to a full feed, but don’t force baby to eat if they no longer seem hungry.
  • Burp baby, then put them back to sleep in the crib or bassinet. 
    • Be sure to put them to sleep on their back!

How To Lull Baby Back To Sleep?

If the dream feed doesn’t lull baby back to sleep on its own, try these tricks to restart their sleep time:

  • Play white noise.
  • Swaddle or reswaddle them.
  • Rhythmically rock them to sleep.
  • Walk with baby.
  • Offer a pacifier.
  • Make gentle “ssshhh” noises to mimic the sounds they heard in the womb

Benefits Of Dream Feeding

Besides giving baby the extra calories that help them sleep, dream feeding offers other potential benefits:

  • Lets you have longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep during the night
  • Baby will be hungrier in the morning, so they’ll eat more during the day
  • If you’re breastfeeding, the added feed may help you maintain or boost your milk supply

Risks And Drawbacks Of Dream Feeding

Dream feeding does have some risks and drawbacks, however: 

  • A dream feed may make it difficult for baby to fall asleep again, or cause them to wake more at night. This is especially likely if you accidentally wake them up completely
  • Baby might not be interested in the dream feed, possibly because they aren’t hungry enough. If baby isn’t interested, don’t force the dream feed. You won’t be able to reap the potential benefits if this happens, but dream feeds aren’t the only way to encourage baby to sleep better.
  • Dream feeding could potentially get baby too used to this feed --- they may wake up on their own, expecting a feed. 
  • Baby could also overfeed during a dream feed, which could lead to gas, spit-up, and more fussiness.
  • It’s not safe to feed baby when they’re completely asleep, or when they’re lying down on their back, as there’s a risk of baby choking. (To safely dream feed, be sure that baby is roused a little before starting, and feed them in a somewhat upright position.)

What If A Dream Feed Doesn’t Seem To Work?

If baby often wakes up 3-4 hours after a dream feed, this may be normal if they’re under 3 months old. In that case, feed them as they need you. 

But if baby is older and it seems like a dream feed isn’t helping them sleep, or baby is any age and they wake up more often at night, this is likely a sign that the dream feed isn’t working. Drop the dream feed and see what happens. 

If baby wakes up between 12:30 and 1:30 AM after having a dream feed, that’s another reason to drop the dream feed. If they’re younger than 6 months, they might benefit from having this feed instead of a dream feed. And if they’re 6 months or older, they might not need any feeds at night (and the dream feed could be making them more restless). 

When To Stop Dream Feeding?

Generally, as baby gets older and seems to need fewer feeds after their bedtime, you will gradually wean them off of these feeds. You’ll want to drop the dream feed last. This will get them used to sleeping through the night, without waking you.

But when can you wean baby off the dream feed? Dr. Harvey Karp of Happiest Baby recommends, “You can bid adieu to the dream feed 2 to 4 weeks after your baby is sleeping well from the time of your dream feed on through to the morning.”  Usually, this will be around 6-7 months old. 

You should also wean baby off of the dream feed if it used to work, but baby is now waking up a few hours after the dream feed (say, the dream feed’s at 10:30 PM and baby  wakes up at 1 AM)  and baby is around 6 months old. This could be a sign that a dream feed is now disrupting baby’s sleep, because the way their sleep has changed. 

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