Dream feeding: How to dream feed your babyUpdated Feb 17, 2023
Maybe you have heard the term “dream feed” from a friend, in one of the many sleep training articles you have read (ever heard of the Ferber method or the Cry-it-out method?), or in your favorite parenting group. Wherever you were first introduced to the commonly used strategy to encourage fewer night wakings, we bet you still have some questions!
We’re glad you’re curious and are excited to help you better understand dream nursing or bottle feeding and how filling up your baby’s tummy just before their longest sleep can help everyone get a better night’s rest.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
What is a dream feed?
To put it simply, it’s a sleepy nursing or bottle feeding session given to your baby in the late evening (hours after they’ve already gone to sleep at bedtime), usually just before you go to sleep yourself. This practice of waking your baby to eat can help parents sync the longest stretch of their baby’s night sleep with their own. The idea is to shift your baby’s normal feeding time a bit earlier, and it works best for babies who wake at night due to hunger.
Note that offering breast milk or formula at this time typically won’t help improve sleep if a child is waking due to a sleep onset association rather than hunger. For example, if an infant older than 4 months will only fall asleep while being fed at bedtime, they will more likely need to be fed back to sleep when waking in the night between sleep cycles, even if they aren’t hungry. Offering a twilight feed in a case like this is unlikely to improve your baby’s sleep.
At what age can you dream feed?
Great question! Parents around the world first introduce this twilight feed at various times. It is never too soon to introduce a sleep feeding into your baby’s schedule, although some prefer to wait until their baby graduates from the newborn phase. Dream feeding is most used for babies between 6 weeks and 10 months old.
While many older breastfed babies (who are also consuming solids) are capable of going 10 - 12 hours overnight without a feeding, some simply are not. The age at which a baby can go all night without a feeding depends on several factors. While most 10 month olds are ready or will be ready, to fully wean at night, some babies may continue to need at least 1 feeding overnight until closer to 12 months.
Let’s take a look at the optimal ages to dream nurse or bottle feed.
Dream feed by age chart
|Dream feed by Age||Why it is the optimal age|
|Dream feed at 6 weeks old||6 weeks is a great time to add a sleepy feed to your baby’s feeding schedule. Around 6 weeks, many babies have just come out of their 4- to 6-week growth spurt and begin showing signs that they are ready to sleep for longer periods overnight.|
|Dream feed at 3 months old||3 months is a very popular age to add a last feed before midnight. By 12 weeks, many babies can go one stretch of about 3 - 4 hours (or longer) without a feeding. Adding a dream nursing or bottle feeding a couple hours before midnight may help your baby sleep until 1 or 2 AM.|
|Dream feed at 4 months old||4 months may be the most popular age to begin dream feeding. Between 4 and 6 months, babies will often experience another growth spurt and naturally show signs of needing an extra night feeding (even if they previously dropped an overnight feed). If this sounds like your baby, sleep feeding may be the answer!|
|Dream feed at 6 months old||6 months is another ideal time to resume or begin. At around 6 months, babies’ bedtimes typically get earlier, leaving more time for nighttime sleep. Feeding your baby again a few hours after they have gone to sleep for the night can be the “magic trick” that gives you and your baby peaceful sleep until the early morning hours.|
|Dream feed at 10 months old||Some 10 month old babies, who are still waking to feed at night, can also benefit from a last feed around 9 or 10 PM. A well-timed dream feeding at this age helps some babies sleep until it is time to wake up for the day. However, do note that a dream feed can interrupt a baby’s natural sleep cycle, and they may continue to wake in the early morning hours. Older babies may sleep better with one feeding between 3:00 and 5:00 AM rather than a dream feed.|
When is the best time to stop the dream feed?
Babies will not need a dream feed forever. The best time to stop or drop it depends on a few things. At Huckleberry, we take into consideration:
Your baby’s primary feeding method (i.e., breastfeeding, bottle feeding, combination feeding, and if solids have been introduced)
Calorie intake during the day
How ready you are to stop the feeding
Whether your baby is waking from true hunger or a sleep onset association
How helpful the feeding is to your baby’s sleep schedule and ability to sleep longer as a result of a late-night last feed
How do I dream feed?
Now that you know what this sleepy feed is, what age you can offer this feed, and the best time to stop, let’s help you learn how to dream feed your baby.
Step 1. Rouse the baby.
After your baby has been sleeping for 1 - 3 hours, you will want to gently wake up your baby. Many families ask us, “How awake should my baby be for the dream feeding?” Ideally, you want your baby to remain drowsy and awake just enough to take a full feeding.
Keep the lights off or very dim.
Be boring! Try not to talk, move around, or make a lot of noise.
Be mindful as you pick up your baby from the crib or bassinet. Slow and steady movements help keep you and your baby safe and reduce the chances of waking them fully.
Step 2. Get ready to feed.
How long or how much to feed your baby at this final feed of the night varies. Breastfed babies may need to nurse for just a few minutes (e.g., 5 - 10 minutes) or half an hour. There is no magic twilight feed duration that applies to every breastfeeding mom and baby. Bottle-fed babies, like breastfed babies, will require differing amounts, depending on their age, size, and how recently they last ate.
Step 3. Put the baby back to sleep.
After the feed, your goal is to put your sweet one back in their sleep space without them waking up fully. This can be tricky, but with practice and patience, it can be done!
Use slow/steady movements to gently lay your baby back down to sleep. If your baby wakes fully, ideally, they will fall back to sleep in the same way that they fell asleep at the beginning of the night. Follow safer sleep guidelines by laying your baby down on their back.
Let’s not forget burping!
Not every baby is a “big burper” or needs to burp following every feed. You know your baby best; if your baby tends to need a burp after finishing a feed, be sure to get one before laying your baby back in the crib or bassinet.
Bonus round! The double dream feed…
You read that right. Some parents double down on the dream nursing or bottle. The double feed is when you purposefully offer your baby two sleepy feedings in the evening, roughly 2 hours apart, with the final feed occurring close to midnight.
Dream feed weaning
Once a family is ready, they can stop waking their baby for the feedings and let them wake naturally when they need to eat. Another option is to offer a little less milk or formula each night. For example, parents can gradually lessen the time spent nursing by a few minutes or reduce the formula in the bottle by 1 - 2 ounces.
Dream feed schedule
Here is an example of a dream nursing or bottle schedule.
6:30 PM Bedtime feeding
7:30 PM Bedtime
9:30 PM Parent rouses baby for dream feeding
10:00 PM Baby is back to sleep
1:30 AM Baby wakes for night feeding
4:30 AM Baby wakes for night feeding
7:30 AM Wake up
Pros and cons of dream feeds
|Pros of dream feed||Cons of dream feed|
|Encourages longer stretch of sleep overnight||Family may prefer a more organic feeding schedule|
|Helps parents feel more rested||Baby may be difficult to wake for feed|
|Protective of milk supply||Baby may wake up fully and need help going back to sleep. Babies helped back to sleep may develop (or maintain) a helped-to-sleep association which can lead to increased night waking.|
|Helps baby receive adequate calories||Parents may prefer an earlier bedtime for themselves|
|Promotes a more predictable schedule||Requires planning and forethought|
Dream Feed FAQs
Q: Is a dream feed right for us?
For babies 10 months or younger who are waking from hunger (which can also manifest as early risings), you might consider offering a dream feed to lengthen their stretches of nighttime sleep.
Q: Is a dream feed guaranteed to work?
Dream feeds help some families get more sleep, while others don’t find them very useful. We find that dream feeds won’t help babies sleep better if they are waking for reasons unrelated to hunger, such as a sleep onset association or schedule issues. You can always give it a try for a few nights to see if it will work for your family.
Q: When is the ideal time to offer a dream feed?
The ideal time to offer a dream feed is before the parent’s bedtime, typically between 10 PM and midnight.
Q: Will offering a dream feed lower my milk supply?
Feeding your baby again in the late-night hours sends the signal to your body to produce more breast milk and can promote an increase in milk production.
Q: My baby has reflux, can I still dream feed?
Babies with reflux may need to be held upright for 10 - 30 minutes after a feeding. If your baby requires upright time after feedings, be sure to factor in this extra time when planning your night feeding schedule with a dream feed.
Q: Can I dream feed with formula?
A sleep feeding can be done with breast milk or formula.
Q: Should I wake my baby to feed at night?
Waking a baby for a dream nursing or bottle feeding right before the parent’s bedtime can sometimes lengthen night sleep for the entire family. This can be particularly helpful if a baby is waking at night from hunger. However, waking a baby to feed at night won’t typically help extend sleep if a child is waking for other reasons (such as a sleep onset association).
Q: Can dream feeding cause early waking?
A feeding before the parent’s bedtime won’t typically be the cause of an early morning waking habit. However, some babies will continue to wake during the early morning hours to feed, even if they are offered a twilight feed.
Q: Can a dream feed reduce night wakings?
Yes, in some cases, offering an additional night feeding before the parent’s bedtime can extend sleep. Offering breast milk or formula at this time tends to be most helpful if the child would otherwise wake from hunger in the middle of the night.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.