What Is a Dream Feed?


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You put your baby down for the night, and settle down to sleep yourself a few hours later. But as soon as you drift off, your baby wakes up to feed. You are super frustrated, and oh so tired. But then you start to wonder: “If my baby seems to wake up three hours after I put them down each night, what if I just feed them right before I go to bed, while I’m still awake?”

Enter dream feeding, which involves feeding your baby a few hours after they go down for the night (and hopefully before you go to bed). The idea is to “tank them up” before your bedtime, in the hopes that your baby will sleep a longer stretch before waking up again.

Dream feeding refers to feeding your baby a few hours after they go to bed, and before you go to sleep yourself. This is a parent-initiated feed, meaning that you offer your baby the breast or bottle even though your baby hasn’t woken up to feed. During a dream feed, babies usually have their eyes closed and are half-asleep, in a dreamy state.

The idea of feeding your baby when they aren’t fully awake may sound strange to some parents. But that’s your aim here. “It's called a dream feed since you want your baby to stay sleepy,” says Julie Connelly, certified sleep coach and founder of The Sleepyhead Coach.

The goal of dream feeding is to stretch your baby’s first chunk of sleep out, so that they are less likely to wake you in the early hours of the night. The idea is that their hunger is satisfied for a longer duration at night. When it works, it’s a win-win for both parents and babies.

How to Do It

If you are considering trying dreaming feeding, you likely have tons of questions. Let’s take a look at parents’ most common concerns.

When to Start Dream Feeding

First, you’re probably wondering at what age it makes sense to try this with your baby. In the early newborn days, baby feeding and sleep schedules are fairly erratic—your baby may not even know the difference between night and day at first. So trying to adjust their feeding schedule at that stage can be tricky and might not work.

Experts agree it’s probably best to try a dream feed when your baby is a little older. By 2-3 months old, babies typically can go three to four hours between feeds, so this may be a good time to start. All babies are different, though, so look to your own to determine when clearer feeding/sleeping patterns emerge and when adding in an extra feed might work.

How to Time the Dream Feed

You might also be wondering when in the evening to do your feed. The feed usually happens about three hours after you put your baby down for sleep, says Connelly. Most parents time the dream feed around when they typically go to sleep themselves.

“The idea of having them take that feed closer to 10–11 p.m. versus 1–2 a.m. helps them align their long nighttime stretch with when you would be going to bed,” she describes.

Sample Dream Feeding Schedule

This is a schedule based on a baby who feeds every three hours and who can go for a longer stretch at night. It is meant to align with when parents go to sleep, so that their baby’s longest stretch of sleep coincides with when parents are sleeping.

  • 7 a.m.: Feed
  • 10 a.m.: Feed
  • 1 p.m.: Feed
  • 4 p.m.: Feed
  • 7 p.m.: Feed
  • 10 p.m.: Dream Feed
  • 10 p.m.—4 .am.: Sleep (hopefully!)
  • 4 a.m.: Feed

How to Know That Your Baby Is Ready

Here is how to know if your baby is ready to try a dream feed. You want to find a time when your baby isn’t out cold, but also when they aren’t fully awake, says Victoria Regan, MD, pediatrician, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. “Try to find a time when the baby is in a period of sleep where they are moving in their sleep, and then gently arouse them to feed by either putting the baby to breast (or bottle nipple if formula feeding),” she describes.

Erin Hamilton-Spence, M.D., IBCLC, a neonatologist at Pediatrix Neonatology of Texas, suggests taking steps to minimize your baby fully waking up. “Dream feeding means feeding your newborn/infant while they are almost entirely asleep,” she says.

During the dream feed, keep things quiet and mellow. This isn’t the time to change their diaper or do anything else to wake them. Feed them in a half-asleep state so that they will go back to sleep right after, Dr. Hamilton-Spence advises.

To Burp or Not to Burp?

Finally, many parents wonder if burping is necessary during a dream feed. Dr. Hamilton-Spence’s advice is that burping your baby is not essential, though you can certainly do it if you think they need it. “The need to burp after feeding really depends on each baby; some can go without it,” she says. Dr. Regan shares that it's not essential or unsafe to forgo burping, but if your baby is prone to gas, it can be very helpful.

What Are the Benefits of Dream Feeding?

Dream feeding can be helpful to both parents and babies. The biggest draw, of course, is the potential of giving yourself an extra period of uninterrupted sleep. “The sleep deprivation experienced by most new parents will drive you to try almost anything,” Dr. Hamilton-Spence commented. If dream feeding works, and your baby goes four hours till the next feed, this can definitely be a huge win and give you a nice amount of restorative sleep. 

Dream feeding can also be helpful for babies who are having feeding issues, says Dr. Hamilton-Spence. “Dream feeding may be helpful for infants who are really struggling with weight gain to add more calories without fully waking to feed,” she says. Of course, if your baby is having any trouble gaining weight you should talk to their pediatrician about this and what additional steps you should take to increase their weight.

The best part is that there’s really no harm in dream feeding, whether it works or not. It’s also a “gentler” form of sleep training than most. In fact, says Dr. Hamilton-Spence, dream feeding is the opposite of training your baby to sleep through the night.

“If this is your goal, dream feeding is not going to help,” she says. “However, if parents are hoping to either add calories or to optimize their early night sleep, this may be a good fit.”

Tips for Making It Work

Our experts shared some tried and true tips for making dream feeding work best for you. Here’s a cheat sheet to keep in your back pocket:

  • If your baby is out cold: “My favorite tip is if baby is super sleepy when attempting the dream feed, try unswaddling them a bit or tickling under their chin or even their toes,” says Connelly.
  • Keep it dark: “I like to keep the lights off and interaction to a minimum so that baby can go right back into their sleep space afterwards,” Connelly recommends.
  • Prepare the scene: “Parents should prepare everything for the feed (e.g. water, pillow, phone and low lights), then calmly and quietly move the baby into feeding position,” Dr. Hamilton-Spence suggests.
  • Mindset is everything: “Set realistic expectations as this method does not work for all babies,” says Dr. Regan. “Be patient and give it three to five days to see if it works for your baby.”

Potential Challenges

The truth is, all babies are different, and dream feeding doesn’t always work. Although there was an older, small study from 1993 which found that babies who were fed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. tended to sleep longer stretches, there are no recent studies about dream feeding. As such, dream feeding is really not an evidence-based technique. That doesn’t mean you can’t try it, though!

Connelly says that she sees it work in her practice, but just not consistently. “Honestly, I see it work maybe 50% of the time,” she says. “So if you try it for a few nights (typically three to five nights) and baby is either too sleepy to even take the feed, or they take it but it doesn't shift any nighttime feeds, then simply stop offering it and move on.”

Carolynne J. Harvey, certified infant and toddler sleep consultant and founder of DreamBabySleep, has similar mixed feelings. “I'm a ‘maybe’ on the dream feed,” she says. For some babies it really does work well, she says. But for others, it can disrupt their natural sleep rhythms. “I suggest you try it for five to seven days and if it improves sleep, stick with it. Otherwise, skip it,” she says.

Dr. Hamilton-Spence agrees that the technique doesn't work for everyone. "This only works if the baby stays mostly asleep," she says. "Otherwise, you may find a baby who’s just had a refreshing nap and ready to party at midnight." Her suggestion is similar to Harvey's: try dream feeding two or three times, and stop doing it if it isn't helping you reach your sleeping goals.

A Word From Verywell

The months or years that your sleep is broken by a wakeful baby can be extremely challenging. It’s totally understandable that you’d be looking for a method to get a little more uninterrupted shuteye. Dream feeding is one method that may work to get you some extra ZZZs in. But it doesn’t work for everyone. If you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Thoracic Society. Sleep in Infants.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Stages of Newborn Sleep.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Failure to Thrive.

  5. Pinilla T, Birch LL. Help me make it through the night: behavioral entrainment of breast-fed infants' sleep patterns. Pediatrics. 1993;91(2):436-444.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.