Dream Feeds: Do They Work?
Updated: Jul 11
Short answer: for some babies, yes. For others, no.
I tried it with all three of my children, unsuccessfully. With Noah, we tried it after we had sleep trained him around 5-6 months, in hindsight, when he really didn’t need it anymore. I was also doing it wrong so there’s that! With Hannah it actually made her wake up MORE – every hour after I fed her, in fact. And with Lukah it was just more of a disruption to his sleep than anything. It was always my desperate attempt to get just a little more sleep when they were newborns, but it never worked. I hated it.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try it! Maybe it will work for you. In theory, it seems to make sense…
For more details and everything you need to know about dream feeds, keep reading!
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is a late evening feed where the baby is gently roused to take the feed – without waking them enough for them to be too alert or cranky – with the hope that it extends into a longer stretch of sleep before needing another night feed. Usually this feed is offered before the parent goes to bed, around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.
How to do a dream feed:
Your baby likely ate last around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. before you put them to bed. Roughly 4 hours later, if they’re still asleep, you’re going to go in and gently rouse them. They only need to be awake enough to be able to latch onto a bottle or breast. You can gently stroke the side of their cheek to trigger their rooting reflex – this will help them wake up just enough to latch and start suckling. The idea is that they are taking the feed while they’re still asleep so they go right back into their crib or bassinet without fully waking.
If it doesn’t work the first time or two, that’s okay! Give it a solid week before deciding if this is something you want to do or not.
Why, in theory, dream feeds work for some babies…
Young babies wake at night because they’re hungry and need to eat. Offering the dream feed essentially fills their tummy and should extend that sleep until they are hungry again, hopefully a few hours later.
The idea is that you’re stretching this long stretch of sleep to align with yours. So, if you go to bed early, say 7:00 or 8:00 after the baby does, offering a dream feed wouldn’t make sense since that would interrupt your sleep. If your partner would offer a bottle as the dream feed, this could help you get a longer stretch of sleep.
Pros of Offering a Dream Feed
Can help baby and parent get a longer stretch of sleep
The baby can sleep through with less disruptions to their sleep
Sleep between the baby and parent(s) is more aligned
Can help increase and/or stabilize a breastfeeding mom’s milk supply
By anticipating their need for food, it can decrease crying at night
Your baby may be less cranky since they’d essentially be getting more sleep at night
Knowing you might get a longer stretch of sleep can improve your overall sleep as the parent
Because they’re asleep, the baby may not experience as much pain if reflux is an issue
If the baby isn’t a great feeder during the day, this is an easy way to get in some extra calories
Cons of Offering a Dream Feed
As the parent, you might have to stay up later to get it in
It doesn’t work for every baby – for some, it can disrupt sleep and cause more wakings
The baby may actually fully awaken and have a hard time going back to sleep
Offering a dreamfeed disrupts natural sleep cycles
Dream feeds can be difficult to stop, as they can become habitual, promoting the feeding and sleep association
Ignores hunger cues from your child
It can cause gastrointestinal discomfort
Dream feeding can be really beneficial! But it can also disrupt sleep and hinder more than help your sleep situation. If you want to try it, go for it! Give it a solid week and see what happens. There are no set rules when it comes to dream feeds. It’s more of a trial and error type of strategy that may or may not work, and you won’t know unless you try it.
Eventually your baby won’t need to eat at night and it’ll be a non-issue. For more on this, make sure you check out our Night Weaning Bundle at Raising Happy Sleepers.