Decoding the Dream Feeding Method
Anyone with a new baby knows the struggle of getting them to sleep through the night.
It can be a guessing game that leaves you frustrated, overwhelmed and severely sleep-deprived. However, if you’re past the newborn stage, a technique called “dream feeding” may help you and your baby catch some much needed “zzzs.”
Look at all the reasons your baby might wake up at night. In many cases, babies wake up because they’re hungry and need to feed.
With that in mind, it makes sense that increasing your baby’s evening calories can help them sleep for longer periods.
Think of it like topping off a half-full gas tank so you won’t have to stop on a long drive. Dream feeding can minimize or postpone one of the most common reasons infants wake up during the night: rumbling in the belly.
What exactly is dream feeding?
The name says it all. Dream feeding involves feeding your baby once they’re asleep. This can extend the amount of time your baby sleeps by removing hunger from the equation.
As a result, dream feeding can be extremely helpful with babies who don’t sleep through the night. The trick is in learning how to do it without waking your baby up completely.
Your baby may be too drowsy for a full meal but getting that late-night feed can extend baby’s sleep time by a couple of hours. To new parents, those extra moments are like precious gold!
What is the best time to dream feed my baby?
Timing your dream feed depends entirely on your schedule, however, it’s typically best to do so between 10 pm and midnight. Consider what time you go to bed and what’s best for your baby’s age group and daily schedule.
In theory, if you feed your baby (without fully waking them) before going to bed, they’ll be full enough to sleep for longer periods at night, thereby avoiding those 2:00am wake ups!
When can I start dream feeding my baby?
A great thing about dream feeding is that there are no hard and fast rules. Every baby is different, and in the early weeks, they probably won’t have a sleep schedule at all. Newborns usually sleep in sporadic spurts, ranging from 1-4 hours.
Around 1-4 months old, baby sleep schedules become more predictable as they can sleep for 3-4 hour periods more regularly. This is commonly when most parents decide to introduce a dream feed.
Pro Tip: To start, have an idea of how long your baby normally sleeps before getting hungry. For instance, if your baby typically sleeps for 5 hours uninterrupted, you may try dream feeding about two hours in. Ideally, this will help increase their sleep time to 6 or 7 hours.
How can I implement dream feeding?
Step 1: Put baby to bed at their normal bedtime.
Step 2: Observe your baby over the next couple hours before starting to dream feed. Once he enters a semi-awake, dreamy state is the ideal time to start. Here's how you can tell when it's time for your baby's dream feed:
- Baby is stirring but not quite waking up.
- Baby’s eyes are moving around beneath their lids, suggesting REM sleep.
Step 3: Once you’ve identified these signs, gently remove your baby from the crib and start feeding as quietly and gently as you can.
Step 4: Feed the baby until she’s satisfied and burp them with a soft pat on the back.
After your little one is back in bed, you should do the same. Ideally, the baby will stay down for an extra 2-3 hours.
Many babies will still feed even if they aren’t in this half-awake condition, so don't worry if your baby appears to be asleep when you go to feed them.
When you pick up your sleeping baby for a feeding, the goal is to minimize stimulation—so don't turn on the lights, sing to them, or change their diaper unless necessary.
Pro Tip: Keep your Baby Shusher close in case your baby wakes up during a dream feeding session. That way, you can quickly twist it on to soothe baby back to sleep.
Sample Schedule for Dream Feeding Baby
6:30 pm: Feed baby to put them down to sleep.
7:00 pm: Baby falls asleep.
10 pm: DREAM FEED
10:30 pm: You head to bed.
4:00 am: Baby wakes for a feeding
4:30 am: Baby returns to sleep, and you return to sleep.
7:00 am: The baby awakens to eat and begin the day.
Why should I dream feed?
Dream feeding helps both parents and babies get more sleep.
Many baby books, including those by Baby Whisperer author Tracy Hogg, who originated the term "dream feed," and Save Our Sleep author Tizzie Hall, support the idea that dream feeding helps babies sleep for longer periods.
In other words, you’re training them to sleep through the night, though this will not happen immediately.
Depending on their age and weight, young babies may still wake up for a few nights, but the aim is to push those wakings later and later. The goal is to get baby sleeping from the dream feed all the way through to the morning.
Dream feeding isn’t for everyone.
Keep in mind that dream feeding may not work for every baby. Because each baby is unique, you should experiment and adjust their sleep schedule until you find a groove.
"It can work beautifully for some kids," says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, "but for some babies, it won't work."
Similarly, dream feeding may not be suitable for all parents; you may want to go to bed at 8 or 9 pm and sleep until your baby's first natural wake-up. That's fine, too!