Most parents, at one point or another, start searching for some way (or maybe any way!) to help their babies sleep through the night.
One technique that many parents try is something called a ‘dream feed’. When you dream feed, you wake your baby from sleep (just enough so that she will eat), and then feed her right before you go to bed yourself. The theory behind dream feedings is that your baby will take in a full feeding while still being mostly asleep, which will in turn maximize the amount of sleep you can squeeze in before it’s time for the next feeding. Dream feeding works for both breastfed and formula fed babies.
Sample Dream Feeding Scenario
Here’s an example of how a good dream feeding scenario might look:
- Baby goes to sleep around 7 p.m.
- You dream feed around 10 p.m. before you go to bed.
- Baby sleeps until 4 or 6 a.m. or later, giving you a glorious 6 to 8 hours of sleep straight.
Sounds great, right? Well, for some families, it is. But for others, dream feeding doesn’t work so perfectly.
So, is dream feeding a good solution for your baby? Let’s investigate!
Dream Feeding Works Well As A Short-Term Solution (Especially For Newborns)
For some families, dream feeding works well and is an absolute God-send. This is especially true for families with newborns. Dream feeding can be a great way to maximize sleep during the newborn stage. Remember, newborns need to eat fairly frequently, so dream feeding can be an excellent way for mom and dad to work in a feeding without completely waking the baby.
Dream Feeding May Not Be A Good Long-Term Solution
However, dream feeding is not a great long-term solution to baby sleep problems, and it is not something we usually recommend for older babies.
For one thing, sleep changes after the 4 month sleep regression, and the sleep that your baby has during the first part of the night tends to be very deep. So you might have trouble rousing your baby enough that he’s actually interested in eating. In this case, any feeding your baby does likely will not be enough to consider it a full feeding.
For another, some babies wake up too much when they’re awoken for a dream feed — and they may be quite cranky about the wake-up call! In this case, the dream feed can really backfire, since you’ve created a problem by waking your baby up when she was sound asleep. And it may be hard to get her back to sleep, which can end up meaning less sleep for both you and your baby.
Finally, some families find that even if they do successfully dream feed (baby wakes enough to take a full feeding but not enough to be wide awake), their babies still wake up an hour or two later for another feeding, even though they’ve recently eaten. In this case, the waking is probably out of habit, and not out of hunger. Some babies also tend to wake more frequently after their first wake-up of the night.
Here’s Nicole’s explanation as to why we usually don’t recommend dream feeding to our consultation clients:
“I generally don’t recommend dream feeds as a solution. Of course, I personally am not against dream feeding, philosophically (some people believe it goes against the idea of demand-feeding and is not respecting the baby to force a meal on him), and I don’t think it hurts to try it (though it might take a week or two to get back to where you were if things go crazy.) But, in general, I think they can be problematic. Dream feeds can make a night-waking habit that otherwise might not be there and it is difficult to know just when to stop dream feeding and your baby is fully capable of sleeping all night without that feed. After all, some babies start sleeping all the way through the night as early as 3 or 4 months. Given how hard it was to get my son to sleep, I generally would not risk waking him up just for my sake. I did try it exactly one time, he was too sleepy to eat, and I felt guilty for even trying, so I didn’t try it again!”
Instead, if your baby is past the 4 month mark and is still struggling with nighttime waking and short, inconsistent naps, we recommend beginning the process of gently weaning your baby away from his sleep associations, and helping him learn to fall asleep on his own.
Then, once your baby is older, you can gradually begin weaning away from night feedings. We usually recommend cutting breastfeedings down to 2 per night (and formula feedings down to zero or one per night) at 6 months of age. By 9 months or 10 months of age, if your baby is still waking at night, we recommend an attempt to wean away from all night feedings.
Have you tried dream feeding? How did it work for you and your baby? Share your thoughts and experiences with the rest of us!
Dream feeding is helpful in the short-term, but if your baby isn’t sleeping well, you may need to try a different long-term strategy. Use these resources for help:
- Nighttime Waking? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better.
- Nap Problems? Be sure to check out our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes and/or check out Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-to” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
- Have a Newborn at Home? Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, 4 Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep.
- Want Unlimited Product Access? Join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately!
- Need Personalized Help? For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.