Maybe you have heard the term “dream feed” from a friend, in one of the many sleep training articles you have read, 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 his 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, usually just before you go to sleep yourself.
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 be more likely to need to be fed back to sleep when they wake between sleep cycles, even if they aren’t hungry. Offering a twilight feed in a case like this is unlikely to improve 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 feeding schedule, although some prefer to wait until their baby graduates the newborn phase. Dream feeding is most used for babies between 6 weeks and 10 months old. 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 4-6-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 a.m.|
|Dream Feed at 4 months old||4 months may be the most popular age to begin dream feeding. Between 4 months 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. 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 can also benefit from a last feed around 9 or 10 p.m. A well-timed sleep 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 - 5:00 AM.|
When is the best time to stop the dream feed?
Babies will not need a sleep feed forever. The best time to stop or drop the feeding depends on a few things. At Huckleberry we take into consideration:
The 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, as the parent, are to stop the feeding
Whether the baby is waking from true hunger or a sleep onset association
How helpful the feeding is to the 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. Wake 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 or make a lot of noise.
Be mindful as you pick up your baby from his crib or bassinet. Slow and steady movements help keep you and your baby safe and reduce the chances of waking him 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! Again, use slow/steady movements to gently lay your baby back down to sleep. 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 burp him before laying him back in his 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 2 sleepy feedings in the evening, roughly 2 hours apart, with the final feeding occurring close to midnight.
Dream feed weaning
Once a family is ready to stop the sleep feeds, they can stop waking their baby for the feedings and let the child wake naturally when they are ready to eat. Another option is to offer less milk or formula each night. For example, parents can gradually lessen the time spent nursing by a minute or two 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 p.m. Bedtime feeding
7:00 p.m. Bedtime
9:30 p.m. Dream feeding
10:00 p.m. Baby is back to sleep
1:30 a.m. Night feeding
4:30 a.m. Night feeding
7:30 a.m. Wake up
Pros and Cons of dream feed
|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|
|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?
A: For babies 10 months or younger and waking from hunger (which can also manifest as early risings), you might consider offering a “Dream Feed” to lengthen night sleep.
Q: Is a "dream feed" guaranteed to work?
A: 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 due to 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?
A: The ideal time to offer a dream feed is before the parent’s bedtime, typically between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Q: Will offering a dream feed lower my milk supply?
A: 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?
A: 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: A sleep feeding can be done with breastmilk or formula.
Q: Should I wake my baby to feed at night?
A: 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: A feeding before a 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 for a feed, even if they are offered a twilight feed.
Q: Can a dream feed reduce night wakings?
A: Yes, in some cases, offering an additional night feeding before the parent’s bedtime can extend sleep. Offering breastmilk or formula at this time tends to be most helpful if the child would otherwise wake from hunger in the middle of the night.
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