[no-toc] What is Dream Feeding and How Does It Work?
Babies need a lot of two things: feedings and sleep. So, what happens when those two needs converge? How can you feed your baby at night and ensure they get the rest they need to keep growing big and strong? Simple: Dream Feed.
In this article we’ll explain what dream feeding is, the best way to dream feed, and how dream feeding makes your life easier, too.
What is Dream Feeding?
Dream feeding is a method in which you feed your young baby while they’re half-asleep. The purpose is to keep your baby asleep while also ensuring they get the nutrients they need.
By dream feeding, you provide your baby with the sustenance they need while also allowing them to continue sleeping.
Often times dream feeding happens before you the parent or caretaker go to sleep. Since babies need early bedtimes, many of us stay up 2-4 hours after our baby. If you do, you can dream feed before you go to bed.
If you are not up that late or your baby typically feeds later than you’re up, you should set your alarm a few minutes ahead of their typical wake-up time.
When Do I Dream Feed?
Dream feeding happens in that time between newborn stage, when sleep is super disorganized, and 4-6 months, when your baby’s circadian rhythm begins to develop and they can sleep for longer periods.
That said, many babies benefit from dream feeding between 2-4 months – after they can sleep 2-3 hours without waking for food.
What Time Should I Dream Feed?
You can dream feed before you go to bed or a bit later – it largely depends on your baby’s schedule. That said, wait for your baby to be in a deeper, REM sleep – we explain baby sleep cycles here. REM sleep is deeper sleep. This means that your baby will be less likely to wake when you lift them for a dream feed.
Note: Always wait 2-3 hours between your baby’s last meal of the day and dream feeding. You want to make sure your baby is hungry enough to take milk but not so hungry that they wake up ahead of you.
How Do I Dream Feed?
Whether you dream feed before bed or you set an alarm to get up in the night, the how to dream feed process stays the same:
- Gently remove your baby from their crib and gently rouse them. Good, tender ways to rouse your baby without waking them include tickling their feet, dabbing their forehead or cheeks with a damp washcloth, or changing their diaper if it’s dirty.
- Keep your voice and lights low. Any loud noises or bright light will wake your baby.
- When you baby rouses a bit, place your nipple or bottle to their lips. Most babies will instinctually latch on without waking up.
- Allow your baby to feed until they’re done.
- Burp them with delicate motions.
- Place your baby on their back in their crib.
- Go back to sleep – you deserve all you can get!
What is the Best Position for Dream Feeding?
To dream feed, follow the same positioning as if your baby were fully awake: slightly upright in your arms to avoid too much gas intake.
What If My Baby Falls Asleep While Dream Feeding?
While you typically do not want to feed your baby until they fall asleep, it’s alright if this happens during dream feeding because your baby has already fallen asleep for the night.
The reason you don’t want to feed your baby until they fall asleep is because then feeding will become a crutch. The goal of sleep training is to teach your baby how to fall asleep independently without any cuddling, feeding, or outside assistance. If your baby becomes accustomed to falling asleep while eating, they’ll expect or even need to feed to fall asleep.
For more tips on how to create a healthy sleep routine and overcome your baby’s challenging sleep habits, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It will guide you step by step on how to get your baby’s sleep, back on track.
How Do I Burp While Dream Feeding?
Burping can be done in exactly the same way during dream feeds as during the day, only be sure to be gentler. If your baby fusses and you soothe them, keep your voice low.
The best positions for burping during dream feeding are:
- Over Your Shoulder: An easy and unobtrusive position is an over-the-shoulder burp – just remember to put a spit towel on your shoulder!
- On Your Lap: Lay your baby across your knees or lap and gently pat their back until they burp.
- Sitting Up: Though this is an effective burping method – supporting your baby in the sitting position – it may also wake your baby more than you want.
What if My Baby Doesn’t Burp After Dream Feeding?
It’s alright if your baby doesn’t burp after dream feeding. If they don’t burp, they’ll pass gas later. If, however, they fuss and cry, then definitely give burping another go – if your baby has woken enough to cry, a little burping won’t disturb their sleep more than it already is.
How Dream Feeding Helps Parents
While it can be a bit difficult setting an alarm to wake up ahead of your baby, it’s far better than the hectic, harried feeling of waking to a screaming, hungry baby. That’s one of the first benefits of dream feeding – you’re in control, rather than reacting to your baby.
But dream feeding has other benefits, too:
More Sleep: Since dream feeding helps your baby sleep longer, you get more sleep, too – a benefit that has broader effects than just being well-rested. Getting more sleep helps…
Improves Mood: If you’re better rested, you’ll be in a better mood at home, at work – everywhere. Overall, a study shows that women who sleep coach describe being less depressed than peers who don’t sleep coach their babies.
Improves Relationships: Along those lines, your better mood means you can be a more attentive, supportive friend, partner, or spouse.
Improves Safety: Drowsiness is almost as dangerous as drunken driving. Being tired slows reflexes and diminishes decision making. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drowsy driving leads to over 83,000 car crashes.
Improves Parenting: Since sleep coaching helps you be more rested and happier, you’ll also be a more patient, attentive, and enthusiastic parent for your little one. Everybody wins!
How Long Can You Dream Feed?
Dream feeding is a very utilitarian practice that should only be done for 2-4 weeks as a way to help your baby sleep longer while they’re still feeding often. It should be completed by the time they’re 4 months old.
When Do I Stop Dream Feeding?
Stop dream feeding when your baby can sleep 3-4 hours without feeding, which usually happens by 4-6 months. At that point your baby’s circadian rhythm has started to develop and their sleeps will consolidate at night – this is why 4 months is the best time to start sleep coaching.
Dream feeding for too long may form a habit in which your baby starts waking up for a mid-night meal.
What’s the Difference Between a Dream Feed and Night Feed?
A dream feed is used only when your baby cannot stay asleep for longer than 4 hours without feeding. It’s used for smaller or newer babies.
A night feed, meanwhile, is a feeding that takes place at night after your baby has learned to sleep for a longer stretch. Night feedings go on longer than dream feeds – some babies are ready to night wean at 5 months and for others they may need to feed overnight until they are 9 months old. It's good practice to establish ‘ok to feed’ times overnight as not every time your baby wakes do they need a feed and many babies will get into the habit of snacking all night – which is exhausting for you! If you’re looking for help with overnight wakings and when to feed, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers for expert support. No matter what, it's always a good idea to check wtih your pediatrician before deciding to night wean.
Should I Change My Baby’s Diaper After Dream Feeding?
It depends. As a general rule, it’s best not to change your baby’s diaper overnight unless they’ve soiled it. Wet diapers can typically be left until morning if the diaper is absorbent and if your baby sleeps through it. If your baby wakes from a wet diaper, definitely change it then. And if your baby has made a bowel movement, that should be changed immediately, too.
“The effect of mild sleep deprivation on diet and eating behaviour in children: protocol for the Daily Rest, Eating, and Activity Monitoring (DREAM) randomized cross-over trial,” BMC Public Health.
“Infant sleep and feeding,” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing.
“Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight,” Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.