You may have heard whispers about dream feeds helping a baby sleep through the night. It sounds like a magical sleep solution but this sleep approach isn’t a one size fits all.
In this blog we cover off how to dream feed, what a successful dream feed looks like and explain why they can work for you and your baby.
Dream feeds are an interesting concept and many parents are curious to know if a dream feed will help their baby sleep longer at night.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is when your baby is given a feed whilst they’re sleeping and they remain asleep throughout the course of the feed. The dream feed occurs at night (before midnight) and is designed to encourage your baby to experience a more consolidated sleep over the duration of night.
Not to be confused with a late feed (which your baby naturally wakes for around 10:00/11:00pm at night), a dream feed is only a dream feed if your baby stays asleep. If your baby wakes for a feed it’s not considered a dream feed.
A dream feed works by picking your sleeping baby up, rubbing a bottle or nipple near your baby’s top lip which makes them instinctively latch and start to drink whilst asleep. This is where it can get interesting because some babies will turn their head away from the teat or nipple, continuing to sleep, none the wiser food was on offer.
A dream feed can also allow mum or dad to share the load, with one parent staying up to offer the feed, whilst the other parent heads to bed earlier to catch that first 6-8 hours knowing bub has had a milk feed around 10:00/11:00pm.
Should I attempt a dream feed?
Over the years I’ve learnt that dream feeds really are 50:50. Some babies go for it and some just don’t. The only way to find out is to give it a go and see what happens.
What is the benefit of a dream feed?
The benefit of a dream feed is a baby sleeping into the early AM hours and waking closer to morning. In an ideal world you would be going to bed after the dream feed and not waking again before morning. (Or at least this is the goal!).
The dream feed teaches your baby to have one feed (once age appropriate) before midnight, instead of after midnight. Tired mums and dads then receive a nice chunk of uninterrupted sleep, ‘Yes please!’. There’s also the added benefit of your baby waking hungry at 7:00am, instead of still being full from their 3:00am feed.
What age is best to introduce a dream feed?
If you have a newborn, it’s not yet time to introduce a dream feed. I recommend trying the awake-late feed (outlined in this blog under, Can I dream feed a newborn?) and then wean onto a dream feed around 12-16 weeks.
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When is the best time of night for a dream feed?
For a successful dream feed you want to catch your baby in their first and deepest stage of sleep over night. This runs from 6:00/7:00pm through to 11:00pm so the ideal window to dream feed is between 10:00-11:00pm.
It might surprise you to know that if you dream feed earlier than 10:00pm, your baby’s digestive system learns they get another feed in a couple of hours so your baby thinks there’s no need to have a full feed at bedtime. Dream feeding prior to 10:00pm encourages the bedtime feed to not be as full or complete.
Expert Tip: If you happen to fall asleep and wake at 11.30pm (past the ideal window to dream feed) I recommend forgetting about the dream feed for the night and instead going back to sleep. In this scenario it’s better for your baby to wake naturally hungry then run the risk of disturbing their sleep (waking them up meaning it will no longer be a dream feed) when they aren’t yet hungry.
When should you give the dream feed a miss?
Now that we know what a dream feed is, there are some scenarios where a dream feed is not the best option.
As previously mentioned, some babies won’t latch for a dream feed so the decision is essentially made for you, however some babies do latch but then don’t take a full feed. Examples of this include a short breastfeed or a bottle-fed baby only taking a 60ml bottle and refusing to drink any more.
This scenario can often set your baby up to snack all night long, meaning it would be better not to dream feed and instead allow your sleeping baby to wake when they are hungrier and will feed better.
Some babies wake every 2 hours after a dream feed which is a sure sign you need to drop the dream feed and allow your baby to naturally sleep longer.
Alternatively, you may have a baby who takes a full dream feed and then wakes as soon as 1:00 or 2:00am. This is another example of the dream feed not working in your or your baby’s best interests.
If you dream feed and experience regular 1:00 or 2:00am wake ups then I suggest you stop the dream feed and let your baby have their longest stretch of sleep from 7:00pm-12:00/1:00am, when they will probably wake for a feed naturally.
A good rule of thumb is your baby should sleep for a further 5-6 hours minimum after a dream feed. If you aren’t getting close to this, the dream feed isn’t working as it should.
When should I drop the dream feed?
Once your baby starts solids you can begin to reduce your dream feed. When you feel they are well established on 1-2 meals a day (¼ – ½ a cup) you can safely drop the dream feed all the way to nothing, knowing they won’t wake hungry as you’ve replaced those calories with solids. This is usually around 6 and half months.
If your baby is 6 months old or over, it’s time to start thinking about dropping the dream feed otherwise we run the risk of disturbing their night sleep patterns and encouraging further wake ups.
If your baby needs a night feed and is well over 6 months, it’s best to allow them to wake naturally hungry rather than schedule a night feed.
Can I dream feed a newborn?
It’s not recommended to dream feed a newborn as they often wake as early as 9.30/10:00pm for a feed anyway. They’re also often very sleepy around 10:00pm and the dream feed will make no difference to how long they sleep at night.
Newborns also commonly cluster feed until 5-6 weeks old, so often aren’t in bed early enough for a dream feed.
Once your newborn has a bedtime routine (settling easily between 6:00-7:00pm) and waking for their first feed a little later than 10:00pm, you can try a scheduled awake- late feed to see if this helps your newborn to consolidate another big chunk of sleep.
Awake-late feeds for newborns
With awake – late feeds you want to aim for a good 45-60 minutes awake time at around 10:00/10:30pm (based on a baby aged 6-12 weeks), and in this window you would do a full feed and nappy change. Allow your baby to fully wake up before starting the feed to ensure they’re awake enough to take a full feed.
If awake-late feeds encourage your newborn to then sleep for 3-5 hours (depending on age and size), then this style of feeding is working, and you should only have to get up once more before morning.
So now you know the down low on dream feeding will you be giving it a go?
With dream feeds working about half the time, choosing to dream feed depends on whether you as the feeding parent are happy to wait up until 10.30pm, or if you would prefer to go to bed early and get some much-needed shut eye.
As a sleep consultant my advice is to consider dream feeds as simply another way to promote more consolidated sleep for your baby (if it works for you) but don’t stress about them if they don’t work for you and your baby.
And if your night sleep is already very fragmented and your baby is over 16 weeks, very rarely does introducing a dream feed help. Your baby more likely needs to begin to work on self-settling skills in order to consolidate some chunks of his/her night sleep, and adding in another feed will not do this.
Confused about when it’s time to drop a feed? You can find everything you need to know here
Is your baby waking during the night? Find out the 4 most common reasons your baby is waking overnight on the blog