What Is Dream Feeding? And How Do I Do It?
If your baby wakes up hungry each night, besides boosting daytime milk, it makes sense to boost evening calories by dream feeding your baby. Think of it like topping off the gas tank of your car by filling it to the brim...so there's no need to refuel during the journey ahead. The dream feed will eliminate—or delay—one of the top reasons babies wake through the night: rumbling in the tummy.
What Is Dream Feeding?
Dream feeding is when you rouse your baby—without fully waking—to feed one more time before you turn in for the night. Research shows that sneaking in one more feed between 10pm and midnight reduces night wakings for young babies and helps them achieve longer stretches of sleep.
How Do I Dream Feed?
Ready to try it? Follow these steps:
- Gently take your baby out of the bassinet or crib around 11pm.
- Place your breast (or the bottle) on your baby's lower lip; she should start feeding, without fully waking.
- Encourage nursing for 5-10 minutes on one side and the rest on the other side.
If she has a hard time feeding, you may need to rouse her further so that she isn't sleeping too deeply to eat. To do so, you might change her diaper, tickle her toes or cool her head with a wet washcloth.
How to Get Your Baby Back to Sleep
To get your little one back down after the dream feed, the 5 S's (Swaddling, Side/Stomach, Shushing, Swinging, Sucking) can really help.
First, swaddle your baby if you haven't already, and play some rumbly white noise. I recommend playing it all night, but you can turn up the volume as you're putting your baby back down.
In addition to white noise, rhythmic motion makes babies sleepy. If you're expecting, or your baby is less than 2 months old, you might consider SNOO Smart Sleeper, a responsive bassinet that uses both sound and motion (and a built-in swaddle!) to soothe babies quickly and add sleep for the whole family.
Other time-tested tricks are rocking in a rocking chair, walking with your baby in your arms and bouncing on an exercise ball. And finally, you might offer a pacifier if your baby soothes by sucking. (As an added bonus, a bedtime paci helps lower the risk of sudden infant sleep death, or SIDS.)
As you put your little one back in bed, remember to do the quick "wake and sleep" trick, which teaches your baby to fall asleep on her own.
Why Dream Feeds Are Great for Your Infant
- She'll get the extra calories she needs to sleep better.
- The meal's at a convenient time (so you sleep longer).
- The feeding is not in response to her crying (responding to cries with a feed can inadvertently encourage your baby to feed more at night.)
- She'll eat less during the night and therefore be hungrier in the morning, which will boost her daytime eating.
Should I Wake My Baby for a Second Dream Feed?
If your baby frequently wakes around 3:30am in spite of the dream feed and using strong, rumbly white noise, consider setting your alarm to give one more dream feed at 3am. The idea is to pick up and feed your little one before she wakes you, so you're giving her the nourishment she needs, but not rewarding her for waking and crying.
If you have to do this early-morning dream feed, make sure you give a little less milk than usual. If you're nursing, just feed on one side for this second dream feed. If you're bottle-feeding, add double the amount of water the formula directions suggest (just for one feeding) for a few days.
It’s important to note that it’s dangerous for parents to dilute milk for meals…that leads to malnutrition. Diluting for just this wee-hour feed is totally different. The purpose of adding extra water is to fill the stomach, but with fewer calories, so your baby sleeps through to morning…and is ready to eat again when she wakes.
Remember, your goal is to provide the same amount of calories in a 24-hour cycle but to shift more of the feedings to waking hours—this adjustment can significantly improve nighttime sleep! So, don't talk or cuddle too much at 3:30am. You want to be loving when you feed your baby, but not get her thinking it's time to play!
At What Age Should I Stop Dream Feeding?
Your goal with dream feeding is to help your baby sleep from the time you go to bed through until the morning. All babies are different, so there is no specific age recommendation. My rule of thumb is that you can bid adieu to the dream feed a month after your baby is sleeping consistently well from the time of your dream feed on through to the morning.