What Is Dream Feeding?...And How Do I Do It?
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Newborn babies eat a lot. Breastfed infants eat about every two to three hours and formula-fed babies hit the bottle every three to four hours…and that doesn’t stop when bedtime calls. In fact, bottle-fed babies often continue night feedings until they’re around 6 months old, whereas breastfed babies may continue up to a year. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to tame night-waking. If your little one wakes up hungry each night, it’s smart to increase daytime milk (research shows that infants who received more milk or solid feeds during the day are less likely to feed at night) and boost their evening calories by way of a dream feed. Think of a dream feed as topping off your car’s gas tank...so there's no need to refuel during the journey ahead. Offering your baby a dream feed will eliminate—or at least delay—one of the top reasons babies wake through the night: a rumbling tummy.
What is dream feeding?
Dream feeding is when you rouse your baby—without fully waking them up—to feed them one more time before you turn in for the night. Babies who go to sleep between 6pm and 8pm often wake out of hunger in the middle of the night. But research has shown that sneaking in an extra feed between 10pm and midnight can reduce night wakings, helping babies stay asleep until a more “reasonable” time of the morning. This can become part of your little one’s regular sleep schedule.
How do I dream feed?
The goal of a dream feed is to offer your little one more meal before you hit the hay, so that you and your baby’s schedule sync better…and you both sleep better. Ready to try it? Follow these steps:
Step 1: Gently take your baby out of the bassinet or crib between 10pm and 12am, or whenever when you go to bed. Keep the room dim and quiet, except for white noise. Doing this during Baby’s more active REM sleep is ideal. During REM sleep your baby may flutter their eyelids, make little squeaks and squawks, or move around more than usual.
Step 2: Keep your baby swaddled. There’s no need to unswaddle—or change your baby’s diaper—if they’ll take the feed that way and their diaper isn’t soiled. (If your baby is super sleepy, you may need to rouse them a bit by gently tickling their toes.)
Step 3: Touch Baby’s cheek with your breast or bottle. Placing your breast or bottle on your baby's cheek or lower lip will wake up their rooting reflex and get your baby to start eating.
Step 4: Offer a brief feed. Encourage nursing for 5 to 10 minutes on each side. For bottle-fed babies, try for about 3 ounces.
Step 5: Burp your baby. Many parents ask: Do you burp a baby after a dream feed? and the answer is always yes. You want to burp a baby after a dream feed—or any feed—before putting them back down on their back.
How to get a baby back to sleep after a dream feed:
Oftentimes, a baby who has just enjoyed a dream feed can be returned to their bassinet with nary a wakeup. But if your little one has woken up during or after a dream feed, you can get them back down with the help of the 5 S’s: Swaddling, Side/Stomach, Shushing, Swinging, Sucking.
First, if you haven’t already, swaddle your baby and put on some rumbly white noise. I recommend playing white noise all night, but you can turn up the volume as you’re putting your baby back down. The most effective white noise for sleep is continuous, monotonous, and at a low-pitch, like my SNOO sounds download or SNOObear, Happiest Baby’s white noise lovey.
At the same time, gentle rhythmic motion can help lull babies to sleep. In fact, a 2019 study in the journal PLOS ONE found that the magical mix of swaddling, white noise, and rocking “evokes an immediate calming response” when caregivers soothe their infants and when they use SNOO, my responsive bassinet. SNOO uses womb-like white noise and motion (and a built-in swaddle!) to quickly settle babies back to sleep after a feed…usually adding sleep for the whole family.
Other time-tested tricks to help a baby sleep after a dream feed include rocking in a rocking chair, walking with your baby in your arms, bouncing on an exercise ball, and offering a pacifier, which fulfills the Sucking portion of the 5 S’s. As an added bonus, research suggests a bedtime paci helps lower the risk of sudden infant sleep death, or SIDS.
As you put your little one back into their bassinet, do my quick wake-and-sleep trick, which teaches your baby to fall asleep on their own. Here’s the gist: Right after you put your baby down, gently rouse them with a gentle tickle on their feet until they barely open their eyes. After a few seconds, they’ll close their eyes again and slide back to sleep. If your little one fusses, pick them up for a feed or a cuddle, then repeat the gentle-tickle-to-wake routine.
Set your baby up for dream feed success:
As I mentioned earlier, the one-two punch of adding daytime calories and dream feeds can really work wonders to help babies sleep longer. Try offering cluster feeds from about 4pm till bedtime. Cluster feeds are a series of quick milky meals given to Baby every one to two hours. They’re meant to load your little one’s system with calories to keep them well stocked with nutrition through the night. At the same time, put your little one down for night-night safely swaddled with your trusted white noise on. Consider this another “dream team” to help Baby sleep better!
Why dream feeds are great for your infant:
A wonderful thing about dream feeding is that doesn’t interfere with your little one’s need to feed at night. Instead, dream feeding simply shifts your baby’s feeding schedule just a bit so that it’s more conducive to your sleep schedule, too. Plus, dream feeding means that…
- Your baby will get the extra calories they need to sleep better.
- Your baby is eating a meal at a convenient time, so you can sleep longer, too.
- You’re not responding to your baby’s crying with food, which is important because reacting to cries with a feed can inadvertently encourage your baby to eat more at night.
- Your baby will eat less during the night and therefore be hungrier in the morning, which will boost daytime eating.
Should I wake my baby for a second dream feed?
If your baby frequently wakes around 3:30am despite having an earlier dream feed and using strong, rumbly white noise, consider setting your alarm and giving one more dream feed at 3am. Again, it’s best to keep the lights dim and to not talk or cuddle too much at this hour. You want to be loving when you feed your baby, but you don’t want your little one to think that it’s time to play! The idea is to pick up and feed your little one before they wake you, so you’re giving your baby the nourishment they need, but not rewarding them for waking and crying.
If you must do this early-morning dream feed, every three days, reduce the 3am feed a bit more by giving a little less milk than usual. If you’re nursing, just feed on one side for the second dream feed. If you’re bottle-feeding, you can try doubling the amount of water the formula directions suggest—for just ONE feeding and ONLY for a couple days. This is very important: It’s dangerous to dilute baby formula for meals. It can cause serious health problems. Diluting for this ONE wee-hour feed for a brief period of time is different. The purpose of the extra water is to fill your baby’s stomach with enough ounces, but fewer calories. This can help babies sleep through to morning…when they will be hungry and ready to eat their full bottle again. Again, this is a temporary fix only to be used for the 3am dream feed—and only for a couple of nights.
When should I stop dream feeding?
All babies are different, so there is no specific age recommendation for stopping a dream feed. My general rule is that you can bid adieu to the dream feed 2 to 4 weeks after your baby is sleeping well from the time of your dream feed on through to the morning. (Learn when your baby might start sleeping through the night.) Of course, if the dream feed isn’t working for you, there’s no need to continue!
Final Thoughts on the Dream Feed and Other Sleep Tips
Offering a dream feed to your snoozing baby before you declare “lights out” may give you a chance to catch more precious ZZZs, which, of course, is fantastic! Giving a dream feed can also help train your sweet pea to stay asleep for longer stretches…and that skill can carry over to better night sleeps down the road, too. Beyond dream feeding, if your newborn baby is having difficulty sleeping, you may need a little extra help lulling them to dreamland. This is where I hope SNOO can help exhausted families by automatically soothing fussing with gentle rocking and white noise. You can learn more about SNOO and find other great sleep resources below:
- SNOO Success Stories
- All About Your Baby’s Wake Windows
- What to Do When Your Baby Won't Sleep in a Bassinet
- How to Turn On Baby’s “On Switch” for Sleep
- Sleep Regression 101
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.