What does it mean to give your baby a dream feed and how do you do it? Learn all about the dream feed, why some moms swear by it, how to stop dream feeding, and why I no longer recommend it.
It seems like parents will try almost anything to get their baby to sleep through the night. Sometimes these tips are magical in helping your baby sleep better (hello swaddling!) and other times they are a total waste of time or money.
One of the sleeping tricks I read about in Babywise when I was pregnant with Evelyn was implementing a dream feed. We started it when Evelyn was about 6 weeks old and continued to do it every night until she was 12 weeks.
Looking back, I don’t think it actually helped her sleep at all!
Sleep experts are pretty split on whether to drop a dream feed or keep one as part of your nightly routine. Plenty of sleep books recommend doing them for several months.
I personally don’t recommend keeping a dream feed to clients anymore based on my experience and wanted to share the information so you can make an informed decision for your family.
What is A Dream Feed?
So what is a dream feed exactly?
A dream feed is a way to top off your baby before you go to sleep. Since babies are typically put down for bed between 7 and 8 pm, they get in a good stretch of sleep before their parents go down for sleep.
A dream feed is when a parent goes in before going down for the night—usually between 10 and 11 pm and gives baby one last feeding without waking baby up.
The hope is that this top off will help baby extend their night sleep. Your baby takes the feed while they are asleep or “dreaming” and then goes back down with a full belly.
Mom or dad hits the hay for the night and hopes that baby doesn’t wake up for several hours (or until the morning).
The ideas is that if your baby is sleeping a 4, 5 or 6-hour stretch of sleep at night then a dream feed might help them sleep that stretch during the time that you are also asleep.
Sounds like a dream right?
In theory it makes total sense! But the problem is sleep doesn’t always work that way!
Can A Dream Feed Disrupt Sleep?
Doing a dream feed can actually have the opposite effect on a baby’s sleep, Babies tend to sleep the hardest and the longest in that first sleep cycle. Once they start sleeping longer stretches, they might give you a 5-hour stretch in the first part of the night.
Going in and doing a dream feed can actually disrupt the best stretch of their sleep. By feeding them you are interrupting part of their sleep cycle.
We found when we did a dream feed, we got the same results as when we didn’t do a dream feed. When we fed our daughter at 7 pm and then did a dream feed at 10 pm, she would wake up around 1 am.
When we stopped doing a dream feed and fed her at 7 pm, she still woke up at 1 am.
Filling her with calories at 10 pm didn’t help her 1 am wake ups. Those went away with time and development as she grew! Learn more about how to wean night feedings if you’re struggling!
Dream Feed Pros and Cons
In addition to disrupting a baby’s sleep, another reason I advise parents to stop the dream feed is it doesn’t allow us to focus on other reasons your baby might be waking up in the middle of the night.
When we stop doing a dream feed, we are able to see the whole picture of a baby’s sleep environment and asses if they are truly waking out of hunger.
When to Stop the Dream Feed
When to stop dream feeding is where a lot sleep experts differ. Some people say to continue it up until 9 months old. Others say drop it before your baby turns four months.
We dropped our dream feed around 12 weeks because each time we did it Evelyn took fewer and fewer ounces. Sometimes she would barely take an ounce from the feed, so it became pointless.
The reason some people recommend dropping it by four months is because that is when your baby’s sleeping patterns change, and the 4-month sleep regression often hits.
Around four months old is also when babies start to become more aware of their surroundings. They might start to wake up when you feed them.
If you are doing a dream feed and seeing an improvement in your baby’s sleep, then keep at it. But for many babies, you can stop the dream feed and you’ll get similar results.
How to Stop Dream Feeding
When you’re ready to drop it, it’s a really, really easy feed to drop. Just don’t do it that night!
Take the extra time and try to go to bed a little earlier. We just stopped doing the dream feed cold turkey one night (since she hadn’t been eating much at that time anyway). I was so nervous but she ended up waking at the same time the next morning!
When we have our next baby, I won’t even use a dream feed at all!