Since some babies won’t sleep through the night without a feeding until some time after 9 months old or longer, some parents swear by something called a “dream feed” to help their babies sleep longer.
But, what is a dream feed and at what age should you try it?
What Is a Dream Feed?
A dream feed is where you feed your baby while he or she is still asleep before you go to bed yourself.
Some moms breastfeed before they go to bed and others (or their partners) give their baby a bottle, sometimes without even picking up the baby.
The theory is that you will get a longer stretch of sleep, yourself. After all, if your baby can go 5 hours without eating, but goes to bed around 7 PM, that means you will need to feed the baby around 12 AM when you’ve only gone to bed at 10 PM.
That’s only two hours of sleep!
If you dream feed the baby around 10 PM, then it’s possible your baby won’t wake again until 3 AM giving you both a 5-hour stretch of sleep.
The question is, will this work and should you do it? For some people, a dream feed will be a Godsend.
At What Age Can You Dream Feed?
Most parents will begin to dream feed any time between 6-8 weeks old and 4 months old, once your baby no longer needs to eat every 3 hours at night. However, it’s not too late to try a dream feed even at 6 months old since many babies will increase their caloric needs around this time.
Most parents will continue to offer a dream feed until they are confident their baby can go all night without eating AND sleep a total of 11-12 hours without eating.
Keep in mind that if you stop the dream feed before your baby is ready, he or she may start to wake up too early for the day.
In my experience, most formula-fed babies can stop dream feeding around 6-8 months old and most breastfed babies can stop around 9-12 months old.
How You Do a Dream Feed?
To give your baby a dream feed, you simply feed your baby while he or she is still sleeping.
For example, your 5-month old baby goes to sleep around 7 p.m., you feed them around 10 p.m. before you go to bed, and baby might sleep until 4 or 6 a.m. or later, giving you a glorious 6 to 8 hours of sleep straight. If you go to bed early and have your partner/spouse give the dream feed and you can get even more sleep!
If your baby wakes up during a dream feed, soothe her back to sleep as you would at bedtime. It may take a few nights for your baby to get used to a dream feed.
When it works, a dream feed is a wonderful thing!
What Time Do You Dream Feed?
What time you do a dream feed will depend on your baby’s schedule as well as your own. Usually, the dream feed is between 10 and 11:30 p.m., at least 3 hours from the bedtime feeding or longer. This is based on the assumption your baby is going to sleep between 6 and 8 p.m. and you plan to go to bed between 10 and 11:30 p.m.
As you can imagine, if your baby goes to bed around 8 p.m. and you go to bed around 9 p.m., you will not likely be able to do an early night dream feed.
However, some parents will do a dream feed between 4 and 6 a.m. if they are trying to stop their baby from waking up too early. For example, your baby might be able to sleep through the night until 5 a.m. but then wakes up for the day. Way too early! You might set an alarm to feed the baby at 3 or 4 a.m. such that your baby sleeps through 6 or 7 a.m.
Do You Pick Up the Baby?
If you are breastfeeding, you will, of course, need to pick up the baby unless you are quite the acrobat!
If your baby is taking a bottle of breastmilk or formula, some babies will stay in their bed, finish a bottle, and continue sleeping. So, there is no need to pick them up and helps keep them asleep.
But, it’s not mandatory that you NOT pick up the baby. Most babies will be fine to be picked up. You should do whatever will keep the baby asleep and get the feeding done as fast as possible.
Do Dream Feeds Work?
Sometimes, yes. Unfortunately, not always.
As I explained how babies sleep at 4 months old, the first part of the night is the deepest sleep of the night for all babies and children over 4 months (approximately). Therefore, it might be very difficult to rouse your baby enough to feed any old time you want to.
Some babies will awaken just enough to eat and stay asleep, but others might not wake up enough and others will wake up too much and be cranky that you woke them up (especially if they aren’t hungry!).
Dream feeds also seem to have a bit of an “expiration” date – generally speaking, dream feeds are most helpful for babies under 6 months old who may still require multiple night feedings.
Another way dream feeds sometimes “don’t work” is when you feed your baby before turning in for the night and she STILLS wakes up at 2 a.m. (or whenever).
Some babies also tend to wake up even more frequently after the initial night feeding, so dream feeding does the opposite of what is intended.
Should You Give A Dream Feed?
I don’t recommend dream feeds as a solution for ALL families, but they do work well for some babies. And, in the end, we need to find the “right” solution for each unique baby even within the same family.
Some people believe it goes against the idea of demand-feeding and is not respecting the baby to force a meal on him. If it feels “wrong” to you, then perhaps you skip it. If you view it as helping your baby as much as it helps you, give it a try!
A baby’s tummy is small and as I always say, there are many adults who can’t go 11-12 hours without eating, so I am not sure why we expect our babies to.
If you decide not to try a dream feed or it doesn’t work, I typically recommend, night-weaning down to just two night-breastfeedings or zero to one formula/bottle feeding around 6 months old and one breastfeeding or no bottle feedings by 9-12 months old, if your baby hasn’t done it on their own by then.