If you’ve considered dream feeding your baby, or even wonder what this odd word means, you’ve come to the right place!
I dream fed my babies and will tell you how to make it work, why to do it, and also how to eventually stop the dream feeding.
I’ve heard so many times that moms should dream feed their babies to help them sleep longer periods without waking up.
In my view, that’s not the only point at all!
Instead, this technique has one very positive additional benefit; it may improve mom’s sleep! A very good reason indeed! (You can find more sleep tips for tired moms here.)
So what does dream feeding a baby really mean?
Well, it simply means that you feed your baby while he or she is still asleep. Obviously, it can be done with both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.
But it can be a bit hard to make it work at first, so below, you’ll find the tips I’ve found useful to make dream feeding work.
Dream Feeding Baby: The Ultimate Guide
In this article:
Why dream feed?
For many moms, waking up for feeding only one or two hours after going to bed is torture!
Why would you dream feed a baby? Well, it is only meaningful with babies that wake up a few times at night for feeding.
There are basically two important benefits of dream feeding.
Dream feeding Benefits for the New Mom
First, by dream feeding your baby right before YOU go to bed, chances are that your baby will remain asleep for a few more hours. This way mom gets a few nice hours of undisturbed sleep before she has to attend to the baby for the first time that night.
For many moms, waking up for feeding only one or two hours after going to bed is torture! And the fact that you know that you might have to wake up soon can cause insomnia, making the problem even worse.
So start dream feeding and increase your chances of a few first hours of good night’s sleep.
And sleep deprivation is linked to several adverse health effects, taking your own sleep seriously is key as a new parent. A study from 2021 even suggested measurable accelerated biological aging for moms during the sleep-deprived postpartum period. (See references at the bottom of the article).
Dream feeding Benefits for Baby’s Sleep Pattern
Secondly, dream feeding may actually teach your baby to sleep longer stretches and eventually sleep through the night. Not much research has been done on this, but one study (referenced below) compared babies that were vs. were not dream fed over an 8-week period from birth to 2 months old.
After only 3 weeks, the dream fed babies slept significantly longer stretches than those not dream fed. And at 2 months, all the dream fed babies slept through the night (defined as sleeping for 5 hours without interruption), while only 23% of the control group babies slept through.
While this was a small study, it does indicate that it can be worth giving dream feeding a try, don’t you think?
Maybe you’re wondering why not simply wake the baby up for feeding?
Well, it can make your baby both very sad and wide awake.
When to Start Dream Feeding Your Baby?
A common question to ask is at what age to start dream feeding. The most recommended age is at around 3 months because, at that time, babies can, theoretically, go without feeding for 7-8 hours.
Dream feeding at, say, 11 pm would theoretically mean that your baby sleeps until 6 or 7 am.
If your baby is around 3 months, go ahead and try this!
However, if breastfeeding is well established (or the formula feeding is running smoothly), you might want to try earlier. The research study mentioned above regarding the benefits of dream feeding was carried out on newborn babies until they were two months old.
If you think about it, newborn babies literally dream feed all the time. :-) They tend always to fall asleep while feeding. And they feed frequently around the clock.
So, what would be the point of dream-feeding a newborn baby?
Again, if the goal is to improve mom’s sleep rather than only focusing on getting the baby to sleep through the night, then dream feeding when YOU go to sleep, and thereby, maybe, getting a few hours of undisturbed sleep, is a very good reason, in my view!
The first few months as a new mom are SO exhausting! Of course, you should do everything you can to make life better!
So I would say – try dream feeding as early you want!
It is also certainly possible to start dream feeding an older baby. If it works, it is possible that feeding them in their sleep when you go to bed will help them sleep through one or two night feedings. Just try it! :-)
The closer your baby is to their first birthday, the less is the need to eat at night for hunger. Many certainly still wake up to eat, though! In such a case, you can try any of these three methods to stop the night feedings if you want.
(Remember that you are NOT failing if your baby continues to wake up at night, regardless of what any sleep experts tell you! Most babies do. But dream feeding your baby might still help improve both your baby’s and your baby’s sleep.)
How to Start Dream Feeding?
Here’s how to dream feed in practice:
- You take your baby up in your arms and sit comfortably somewhere close to your baby’s bed. Make sure that there are no loud noises or bright lights around that can wake your baby up.
- Have your breast or bottle ready.
- Start to poke your baby’s mouth gently with your nipple (or the bottle’s nipple). Sometimes it is easier to get the baby to start eating if you leave a drop of milk on the nipple.
- If your baby doesn’t react, try to carefully open your baby’s mouth a little bit and insert the nipple. You can then move the nipple a little bit inside your infant’s mouth to trigger the suckling reflex. For babies younger than 4 months or so, it can also be effective to stroke the palm of his hand or foot. Don’t ask me why, but it works!
- If your baby still doesn’t start sucking, try changing your position a bit to disturb the baby’s sleep, although not enough to wake him up. Then offer the breast again or insert the nipple into his mouth.
Unless your baby is in a deep sleep, this will work eventually.
In my experience, the first few times of dream feeding your baby are the hardest to get the baby to start eating. After a while, the child somehow learns to eat while asleep.
Should I Burp the Baby after Dream Feeding?
Burping the baby or not after dream feeding is not clear-cut yes or no. If you can lift your baby up very carefully and burp him or her without waking them up, it is, of course, good. However, it is not certain that it is needed.
If your baby has been eating while completely asleep, chances are that they didn’t swallow very much air at all, and burping isn’t necessary. This is similar to when breastfeeding a baby while lying down. The feeding will be slower, and the baby is not likely to swallow as much air.
The best you can do is to experiment with what works for your baby! If he or she squirms or seems to need a burp, go ahead; otherwise, try without it and see if it works.
None of my kids needed burping after dream feeding, but some babies certainly do.
Should I Change Diapers After Dream Feeding?
Many newborn babies poop every time after feeding, especially if they are breastfed. In such a case, you definitely need to change diapers after dream feeding to avoid diaper rash. If your baby has not pooped, then I would say no – unless the diaper is so heavy that it will not last through the night anyway!
But diapering does risk waking your baby up, so only do it if you really have to! And definitely use a baby sleep sack that opens at the bottom for diapering unless your baby is swaddled.
If the Dream Feeding Doesn’t Work
If dream feeding your baby doesn’t work at all, try again tomorrow and maybe at a slightly different time. Babies, like other people, have periods of deeper and lighter sleep, and dream feeding is certainly going to be easier if your baby is not in a deep sleep.
Try observing your baby. If very still and completely relaxed, chances are that they are in a deep sleep. If he is moving ever so slightly or making noises, he might be in light sleep and thereby easier to feed and also easier to wake up, so be careful.
If your baby does wake up, don’t panic. Just feed him/her as you would usually do when he wakes up at night, and he will likely go back to sleep.
If your baby wakes up every time you try feeding him/her or if he/she simply won’t eat while asleep, give it up! Babies are personalities right from the start; some simply won’t accept dream feeding. But most will…
How to Stop Dream Feeding Your Baby
After a period of dream feeding your baby, you might begin to wonder if it is really necessary to go on.
Sure, at some point, it is time to stop. One reason, of course, is if you don’t think you really gain any extra sleep from it. Then simply quit.
If you do gain extra sleep, but start believing that your baby might actually continue to sleep even without the extra feeding, then you can try to decrease the time spent dream feeding (i.e., give less food and see if your baby continues to sleep well). Or you can also stop slowly by moving the time for the dream feeding forward and see what happens.
Or go cold turkey! You can always start dream feeding your baby again if needed. So don’t be too scared to experiment a little bit! Only then will you know what works.
Good luck and sweet dreams!
- Help Me Make It Through the Night: Behavioral Entrainment Breast-Fed Infants’ Sleep Patterns
- Postpartum sleep loss and accelerated epigenetic aging
Are your dream feeding your baby, or do you want to? I would love to hear your thoughts about it!
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.