Dream feed: What is a dream feed?

The benefits of feeding your baby before bed

May 24 2019

A dream feed is when you feed your baby while they’re still asleep, usually at about 10pm or 11pm, just before you go to bed for the night. The idea is that the baby will sleep longer through the night on a full stomach – ideally all the way through until morning, without needing any settling.

People have probably been doing dream feeding for decades but the term was first coined by Tracy Hogg in 2001 in her bestselling book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.

You can dream feed if you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. The practice has its fans and critics. Some people swear that a dream feed baby will sleep through the night, while others find it makes no difference and their baby still wakes up at 3am. It’s important to note that everyone is different and dream feeding is not right for everyone.

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How to dream feed
If you’re keen to try it, here are some dream feed tips. Gently lift your baby out of their cot without waking them and feed them on both breasts or give them a bottle. You can encourage them to latch or suck by stroking their cheek or chest. Don’t burp them or change their nappy (unless of course it’s been soiled). Dream feed practitioners say because babies are asleep, they are unlikely to take in extra air so they don’t need burping. Just put them straight back to bed, still asleep.

If your baby won’t feed, wait until they stir and show signs of moving into a lighter sleep, then try again. Keep the room dark and quiet so your baby doesn’t wake up.

If they are still waking up in the middle of the night after the dream feed, give them three nights to adjust.

When to stop dream feed
Most baby sleep experts say the dream feed works best when the baby is between three and nine months old. Though you can use the technique on a newborn and some baby sleep experts say it can be an effective way to encourage very young babies to sleep through the night, others say babies younger than 10 weeks are usually too deeply asleep to drink.

Most experts agree babies over nine months shouldn’t need a dream feed to stop them waking in the night. If your baby wakes up during the dream feed, stop and put them down awake so that they don’t associate feeding with getting them back to sleep.

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The pros and cons
Dream feeding has its benefits. Many parents say it helps their babies sleep for longer stretches at night and if another carer gives the dream feed, of either expressed breastmilk or formula, you can go to bed earlier. It also provides additional calories for babies who don’t feed much during the day.

Critics say dream feeding disrupts babies’ natural sleep cycles and can lead to fragmented sleep and possibly more waking up. Some also believe it creates a habit that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

There haven’t been any proper randomised, controlled studies into dream feeding so most of the pros and cons are based on anecdotal evidence and people’s opinions. The bottom line is that dream feeding doesn’t work for every baby.