Can a dream feed work for your baby?

Can a dream feed work for your baby?

Your newborn has been peacefully sleeping for 2 hours (which is amazinggg!), and now you're ready to go to bed, too. The problem is, you know that your hungry baby is likely going to wake you up in less than an hour, needing to eat again.

This is where the idea of the "dream feed" comes in.

Dream feeding, sometimes called sleep feeding, is when you feed your baby while he is partially awake, keeping his tummy full so he can sleep a longer stretch before waking YOU again. The idea is that your baby takes the feed and uses those extra calories to sleep a little longer.

So how exactly do you dream feed? These steps will help guide you through the process of mastering a dream feed…

  1. Pick up your baby gently. Try your best not to wake him, but if you do, don't worry – feeding will likely soothe him. Don't change his diaper (unless it’s soiled, then change in between the feed) and keep stimulation as low as possible (including lights, noises, and even eye contact!)

  2. Make sure your baby is upright enough so he can swallow properly.

  3. Put your breast or bottle right on your baby's bottom lip to help him latch. Imagine: if you were asleep and someone put a cheeseburger right on your lips, you'd probably wake up enough to check it out, too!

  4. If your baby is too sleepy, tickle his face or toes a little, or maybe turn on a dim light. You can also try gently opening your baby's mouth and giving him a taste first. You want your baby to get a full feeding, so if he is struggling to stay awake, continue to stimulate him (but not over-stimulate).

  5. Don't worry about immediately burping your baby. Babies generally don't swallow much air during a dream feed, but you can try holding your baby upright for a few minutes before setting him back in the crib (especially if he has reflux).

When should you try a dream feed?

Your baby is hopefully going down for bed between 7-8:30pm, which is likely not your bedtime. So once you head to bed, that is when the opportunity for a dream feed makes sense.

As for the age of your baby, a good time to start is when your baby is around 2.5 months and has started to sleep longer stretches at night.

You can continue the dream feed as long as it helps stretch your baby’s initial nighttime sleep, but once you start sleep training (around 4-4.5 months), you may find that your baby no longer needs the dream feed.

Another situation in which a dream feed may be beneficial is if your baby did not eat as much as usual during the day, or if your baby is sick. For breastfeeding moms, it's also a great way to relieve engorged breasts or to increase a low milk supply.

So...does dream feeding work for most babies?

As with most things baby or sleep-related, dream feeding works for some babies and not for others. In my experience, it works about 50% of the time.

Some research shows that by getting one or more feedings between 10pm and midnight, babies wake up less during the night, which makes sense!

If you do the dream feed right before (your) bedtime, it is pretty much guaranteed that you won't be woken up by a hungry baby within the next 30 minutes - whereas if you hadn't done the dream feed, your baby might wake you up an hour or so after you’ve fallen asleep.  

If you’ve tried a dream feed and you’ve started to notice a few of the following situations, it might mean dream feeding just isn’t working for your baby…

  • Your baby wakes up fully and becomes over-stimulated, making it hard to get him back down

  • Waking up your baby is interrupting his normal sleep-wake patterns and causing him to wake up more during the night. This could especially be true after 4/5 months, when sleep might be consolidating on its own

  • Your baby is eating too much during the night and refusing the morning feed

  • Your baby isn’t showing signs that he actually needs the feed or isn’t interested in eating

I encourage you to give dream feeding a try during the first few months of your baby's life for a few nights in a row. Sometimes your baby might take it and other times he won’t.

Observe your baby's night waking patterns for a few days. Is she waking up at the same time every night, regardless of a dream feed or the last feeding? This may mean that your baby is not necessarily waking up from hunger, but from habit - and might have a sleep association of being fed back to sleep at a certain time.

If your baby's sleep habits don't change, or he isn't interested in the dream feeding, then don't worry - dream feeding isn't for everyone!

However, if it does seem to work for your baby, then great! Just know that you will want to transition to no dream feed when your baby reaches 6 months old or so. You can stop "cold turkey" or just make the dream feed shorter and shorter each night for several days in a row.

Trying out the dream feed will definitely take a little experimenting, but it's worth a shot to try and see if it works for your baby and your sleep!

Other resources to check out:

Newborn Sleep Course and/or 4-12 Month Sleep Course

One-on-One Sleep Coaching

Ebook: Your Guide to Sleeping Through the Night


Rachel GortonComment