How to Properly Dream Feed Your Baby

Last Updated Oct 15, 2018.

Dream feeding is one of those terms that gets tossed around so much that everyone assumes that everyone else knows the exact meaning of the term. Yet when you dig a little deeper, you realize that people have WILDLY different definitions of the same exact term!

Just so everyone is on the same page — a dream feed is when a parent goes to their sleeping infant, picks them up to breastfeed (or props them up either in their crib, or in a caregiver’s arms, to offer a bottle), feeds the child, and then puts them back down *asleep* without the baby ever having woken up. A dream feed is NOT a dream feed if a child opens their eyes at any point in the process, or if the feeding is in response to a child waking up. Generally speaking, a dream feed is done between the hours of about 9:30pm and 12:00am. Technically, if all other terms are met, but the feed is done outside of these hours, the feeding is still a dream feed.

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The Right Age for Dream Feeding

Dream feeds are a great tool from birth (or a few weeks after, when babies are not quite so sleepy), through to when a baby is done being swaddled. It is very challenging to dream feed a baby, even a very young one, without waking them up if they are not swaddled. Generally speaking, it’s wise to stop dream feeding around 14–16 weeks of age, because after this age babies become a lot more awake and aware and dream feeds tend to disrupt the rest of their overnight sleep.

Benefits of Dream Feeding

I like dream feeds for young babies not because they necessarily prevent babies from waking up to eat at night, though sometimes this is the case, but more so because I appreciate the “insurance policy” of extra calories at night. As long as a baby is young enough that the dream feed itself does not wake them and fracture their remaining nighttime sleep, doing a dream feed can insure that they are getting as many calories as possible during each 24 hour period.

Some babies respond beautifully to a dream feed, especially those with reflux! From about 7pm on through to about 2 or 3am, the body is flooded with the melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for many things, chief amongst them making the body feel drowsy and relaxing the long muscles (abs, legs, and arms). Since the abdominal muscles are relaxed, it’s common for babies with a lot of reflux to tolerate a dream feed without spitting up, and possibly without needing to be burped or held upright afterwards. I can speak to this from personal experience with my own extremely reflux-y, wholly unmedicated daughter. Since the concern for calorie intake is so high with reflux babies, dream feeds can be especially useful for them.

Burping while Dream Feeding?

If you feel your sleeping baby needs to be burped, go ahead and attempt to burp them as you normally would during the day. Check in with your pediatrician to ask how long to attempt a burp for, before giving up and putting baby baby back to sleep.

The bottom line is that a dreamfeed, if understood for what it truly is and if done correctly, can benefit baby AND parents by offering an extra dose of nutrition and helping baby sleep (and parents too)!

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6 Comments

  1. Aimee March 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Hi! Just wondering why it isn’t a good idea to DF a baby after 16 weeks? My LO is 20 weeks and we just started doing a DF. It’s worked wonderfully the past two nights, but am now concerned about our timing! This feed is his only one between 7pm and 7am…

    • Natalie March 29, 2017 at 9:01 pm - Reply

      Hey!! If you can keep a DF and it doesn’t cause any issues, that’s great. Typically after 4 months of age the DF just becomes another waking that baby starts to have. I would get an okay from the doc on when it’s okay to cut all night feeds, then stop the doing the DF (if you’d like). Also, the DF can actually wake the baby (they make look asleep, but it really does rouse them a bit when you feed them) and that waking can cause issues with the rest of their night’s sleep.

  2. Diana June 22, 2017 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Hi! i need some help! My LO is 16 weeks and we started doing a DF about 2 weeks ago. She goes to bed at 7pm (she can put herself down to bed, we sleep trained and she learned that one rather quickly) and we DF around 1045pm. But she won’t sleep past 4am and lately she has been waking at 3am! We let her cry about 30 min then go in to soothe her and then she will sleep until 7am. Has the DF disrupted her sleep cycle? Am I destined to wake up in the middle of the night forever?? Should I go back to the way it was before? Before, she would sleep from 7pm to about 1am and then feed and then wake again around 5am. The DF has allowed me to get a much-needed 4-5 hour uninterrupted stretch of sleep. help!

    • Natalie Willes June 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Hi Diana! If baby is being assisted to sleep at any time throughout the night, then unfortunately she’s not fully sleep trained :/ I don’t think it’s the DF that is causing the early morning wake up but rather that she’s looking for assistance to fall back asleep. I would love to help – please check out my Baby Sleep Trainer Program if you are still having issues: https://www.babysleeptrainer.com/my-program/ <3

  3. Melanie October 8, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Hi thanks for the help, my question is- can I leave the baby in the rock n play for the dream feed or is it necessary to pick her up? She has reflux very bad. Is on Zantac 3x a day. So I am curious to see if this will work and want to give it a try.

    Thanks!

    • Natalie Willes June 14, 2018 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Hi Melanie! It is not necessary to pick baby up if she’ll take a bottle. Simply prop her up (if needed) and feed her the bottle where she’s sleeping without waking her.

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