Dream Feed: The What, How & Everything Else You Need to Know

A dream feed might just be the solution to helping your baby sleep through the night! This article covers everything from what it is to knowing if it’s right for you and your baby! Continue reading to learn:

What is a dream feed
Why a dream feed could be good for your baby (and you!)
Should I dream feed my baby?
How do I dream feed?
Dream feed Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Dream Feed?

A dream feed is basically exactly what it sounds like: you’re feeding your baby while they are still dreaming. More specifically, a dream feed is when you feed your baby while she is still asleep by gently rousing your baby enough to feed or nurse her in an effort to reduce middle-of-the-night wakings and feedings.

Dream Feed

Usually, you would do a dream feed some time between 10pm and midnight. Parents choose the time of the dream feed based on when they are going to bed themselves and what seems to work the best for their baby. The idea is that if you feed your baby (without fully waking them) before you go to bed, they will be full enough to sleep  a longer stretch at night and/or until the early morning, which means you could potentially avoid a 2:30 or 3:30am. wake up!

Why can a Dream Feed be good for your baby (and you)?

Many moms find that a dream feed helps their baby sleep for longer stretches through the night, which results in more rest for both baby and mom! According to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Baby on the Block, research has shown that introducing a Dream Feed around 11pm reduces night wakings among 3-month-olds, which is the ideal time to start a dream feed.

Once babies reach 3 to 4 months of age, they’ll eat 8-12 times throughout a 24-hour period, and most are capable of going 7 to 8 hours without a feed. Many babies will still wake up multiple times for a feed out of habit, since as a newborn, they were fed more frequently to keep their tiny stomachs full. Until you’ve weaned night time feedings, your baby won’t be sleeping through the night. But even after they reach the point when they can go a long stretch without a feed, if their last feed is between 7 and 8pm before bed, and they sleep 7-8 hours, that puts them waking between 2:30 and 3:30am. Many babies, depending on their age, will wake up a second time around 5:30, which means your schedule might look a little something like this:

Without a dream feed

6:30 P.M.

Feed your baby before putting them down for bed

7:30 P.M.

Baby goes to sleep

11:00 P.M.

You go to sleep

1:30 A.M.

Baby wakes up for a feed

2:30 A.M.

Finish feed, settle baby back to sleep

3:00 A.M.

You fall back asleep

5:30 A.M.

Baby wakes up for another feed

6:30-7 A.M.

Finish feed & maybe get baby back to sleep…but it’s already time for you to start your day!

Alternatively, if their last feed is at 11pm, before you go to bed, and they sleep 7-8 hours, they’ll be waking up around 6am. Meanwhile, you’ve had a night of uninterrupted sleep as well!

With a dream feed

6:30 P.M.

Feed your baby before putting them down for bed

7:30 P.M.

Baby goes to sleep

10:30 P.M.

Dream feed

11:00 P.M.

You go to sleep

2:30 A.M.

Baby wakes up for a feed

4:00 A.M.

You fall back asleep

7:30 A.M. or later

Baby wakes up, you feed & start your day!

Some babies might still wake at 3am out of habit, if they’re used to usually being fed at that time. If you do a dream feed at 11pm and they wake around 2:30-3am, try to help your baby get back to sleep without a feed. Even if you can push it another hour and you feed them at 4am instead, you can keep pushing the second feed later over time until you get to your desired wake up time!

The Zen Sack can be helpful in weaning and eventually dropping the second night time feed. Because of its weighted center, the Zen Sack provides the same comfort and security of your hand resting on your baby’s chest, which can help them soothe back to sleep after that 3am wake up and break the association of feeding and/or being held. Many moms have seen success in combining a dream feed with the use of their Zen Sack or Zen Swaddle to get their baby sleeping through the night.

Zen Sack Premier

Sweeter Sleep Story

Before we started using the Zen Sack she’d wake up every 2-3 hrs. Started the Zen Sack around 4 months. My little one (breast fed) started her bedtime routine around 7:30 and be asleep by 8pm…I’d dream feed her before I went to bed (11pm). She stays asleep until 5am! At that point she eats and goes right back to sleep until about 6:30am.”

– Courtney D., March 2018

Read more reviews  

The Zen Sack™: can help your baby sleep
through the night & tech them to self soothe

Shop Zen Sacks

Getting more sleep is no doubt the most attractive benefit of a dream feed, but it’s not the only one! Feeding or nursing your baby while they are still asleep also lessens the risk of an association forming. As we mentioned, weaning night time feedings is an important step to getting your baby to
sleep through the night (remember, you should only decrease feedings when your baby is developmentally ready as determined by your doctor), but  it can be very difficult to break the association of feeding to get back to sleep. However, since a dream feed is done while your baby is still sleeping, no association will form.

Think of a Dream Feed as acting proactively instead of reactively. You feed your baby before they wake, instead of feeding them once they’ve already woken up and need to be soothed back to sleep.

Additionally, doing a dream feed means your baby won’t get distracted like they might during a feed while they’re awake. The dream feed allows them to focus only on feeding and ensures that they get the proper amount of food they need per day.

Should I Dream Feed My Baby?

How do I know if dream feeding is right for me and my baby? It’s like that old saying, you’ll never know unless you try! The Baby Sleep Site mentions that a dream feed could be problematic for some babies, but notes that there is usually no harm in trying. Other sleep consultants, like – Tizzie Hall, A.K.A the “International Baby Whisperer”, highly recommend a dream feed:

From the experts

“The reason I recommend the dreamfeed, is to try to avoid you having to get up more than once in the night. When your baby is about eight weeks old, I recommend the dreamfeed at 10:30 at night. If you followed the routine but didn’t have the dreamfeed, your baby would go to sleep at 7pm and maybe wake between 11pm and 1am for the next feed. Let’s say your baby woke at 1:30am, you would get up and feed your baby. Maybe your baby would be back in bed asleep at 2:30am, but he might wake again at 5:30am for another feed. Then, by the time you have him asleep again, it would be time to get up and start the day. With the dreamfeed, your baby may sleep until let’s say 2am and then when back in bed; he is more likely to sleep until 7am. This means you have only had to get up once in the night.”

Tizzie Hall, Director of Save Our Sleep

If you or your baby falls into one of the following categories, you should consider trying a dream feed:

  • Your baby is past the newborn stage (2 to 3 months or older), and can now go longer stretches without a feed.

  • Your baby doesn’t feed enough during the day or gets easily distracted while feeding, and you’re concerned she might not be getting enough food.

  • Your baby is overcoming a cold/illness and needs to maintain their hydration.

  • You are breastfeeding and your breasts feel full, making you uncomfortable.

  • You’re having trouble getting your baby to sleep through the night.

Dream feeds do not work for every baby, but they do work for many! Moms who have seen success with it, encourage any new mom to give it a go.

How Do I Dream Feed?

Step 1: Rouse Your Baby without fully waking them up. Your baby will need to be alert enough to take your breast or a bottle, but you want to be extra careful not to fully wake them, which could lead to a cranky baby and throw the whole night off. For some babies, all you need to do to stir them is gently take them out of the crib and position them to feed. If your baby needs a little extra help, see our FAQs for tips!

Step 2: Feed them! Continue on like you would during a normal feed. Make sure their head is slightly elevated, as feeding while lying flat poses a risk of choking. If you’re bottle feeding, you can usually wiggle the bottle into the baby’s mouth to initiate suckling. If you’re breastfeeding, get your baby to latch on to start suckling. If you’re having trouble getting them to take the breast or bottle, they probably aren’t awake enough – see our FAQs for tips!

Dream Feed FAQs

Q: Should I leave my baby swaddled for the dream feed?

A:In most cases, yes. Leave your baby swaddled. You want to stimulate them as little as possible – only enough to get them to feed. Unswaddling might wake them up.

The Zen Swaddle will also help her sleep longer because of its gently weighted chest and sides that mimic your touch. However, if your baby is too drowsy to feed, unswaddling might help them wake up enough.

Q: What if my baby is too drowsy and won’t eat during the dream feed?

A: Some babies will take a little more stimulation than others to get them awake enough to feed, just make sure you don’t rouse them too much, or they’ll completely wake up! Here’s some tricks you can try rouse them enough to get them to feed:

  • Run a wet wipe or cloth across his cheek

  • Rub or tickle the bottom of his feet or chin

  • Put some milk on his lips

If those don’t work, put your baby back down. You can try again briefly a little while later, if you’re still up. If it doesn’t work, don’t force it. Like they say, “never wake a sleeping baby.” You don’t want to run the risk of having a cranky baby all night because you accidentally woke them up mid-slumber. If you try without success for a few nights, give it a rest for a couple weeks and come back to it.

Q: When should you start dream feeds? Is it ever too late to try a dream feed?

A: Dream feeds work best for babies 3-9 months old. When your baby is a newborn, they need to be fed frequently because their little tummies can only hold so much. Once they get between 3 and 4 months old, they’re ready to start going longer stretches.

However, after 9 months old, if your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night, a dream feed probably won’t help as much. At this age, there are likely other sleep associations that are keeping them from sleeping a longer stretch at night.

Q: Should I change my baby’s diaper after the dream feed?

A: Only if you feel it’s necessary. You’ll know best once you try a dream feed for a few nights. Again, the idea is to stimulate your baby as little as possible. A diaper change might wake them up, so avoid it if possible.

However, if your baby wakes up a hour or two later because of a wet diaper, it might be necessary to do a quick change after the dream feed before putting them back down.

If you find your baby needs the diaper change after a dream feed, we’d recommend using the The Zen Sack. Its gently weighted center will help keep your baby calm and drowsy while you sneakily use the 2-way zipper to make a quick diaper change!

Sweeter Sleep Story

I love this[Zen] Sack and so does my 4 month old son! I ordered up a size so he would be able to wear it longer and it works perfectly! It is so soft and the zipper is perfect for late night diaper changes. Will definitely be using this for a while!

– Amazon Customer, 6/15/2017

Read more reviews  

Q: Should I burp my baby after the dream feed?

A: During dream feeds, babies tend to take in less wind because they are so relaxed. When you’re finished the dream feed, just sit him up for a couple minutes to allow any trapped air to escape.

Q: Should I dream feed at the same time every night

A: The timing of your dream feed will be based on what is best for you and your baby. You can experiment with different times, especially when you first start, to try and find the best time range for your baby. Once you find it, keep it consistent.

Q: What if my baby won’t eat for the dream feed?

A: Parents are encouraged to try for at least a week before giving up on a dream feed all together. If your baby won’t eat for the dream feed, they simply might not be awake enough and require some extra gentle stimulation. Alternatively, dream feeding might not be for your baby. Try to establish it for a week, but know that a dream feed is not for everyone!

Q: What if my baby still wakes up multiple times in the night and/or wakes up more than normal after trying dream feeding?

A: Dream feeds are not for every baby. It’s also not a fool-proof solution to sleeping through the night. For some babies, there may be other things at play that are causing them to not sleep through the night, in which case, check out our article When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night and What Might Be Preventing It?

If you tried a dream feed and your baby started waking up more than before introducing the dream feed, it may be messing with their natural sleep cycles, or prompting them to want to eat more than normal – which is exactly the opposite of what you want! In this case, dream feeding might not be the right solution for your baby, but you can check out our other 8 Solutions to Sleeping Through the Night!

Q: When Should I Stop Dream Feeds?

A: Once your baby is consistently sleeping through the night (without a 3am/second night feed), you should try gradually moving the dream feed earlier each night until you can drop it all together. Typically by 9 months old babies can sleep through the night on their own, without any help from a dream feed. If your baby starts waking earlier as you start the dream feed earlier, go back to doing the dream feed at the time you were previously and try again in a couple weeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *