What Is a Dream Feed for Babies?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 22, 2022
5 min read

You’ve just put your baby to sleep and plan to finish a few things before you hit the bed and get some well-deserved sleep. But you’re woken by your baby, who wants to feed again. While it’s normal for babies to want to feed multiple times a night, you also need to get enough rest. The idea of a dream feed is to help you and your child get uninterrupted sleep while making sure that they get enough nutrition. We look at how to prepare a dream feed and its pros and cons.

Your infant may want to feed at unusual times, and this may cause you and your child to lose sleep. A dream feed is a method to nurse your baby without waking them up before you turn in for the night. In other words, it’s a planned meal that lets you decide when your child eats to avoid waking up at odd hours.

A dream feed is typically done between 10 p.m. and midnight. The last feed for your baby helps them sleep for a longer time, while also giving you a chance to get some undisturbed sleep. Medical experts believe you can give your child the day’s last feed irrespective of whether they’re awake or asleep. But it should be given right before you sleep.

If your baby sleeps in the same room as you, you can nurse or bottle-feed them without waking them up. If your baby has a separate room, you can still pick them up to nurse them or even use a rocking chair to make sure they remain asleep. While there’s no right or wrong way to dream feed, the most critical aspect is to avoid any disturbance that could wake your infant.

Infants automatically turn their heads and look for the nipple when you place your breast or bottle on their cheek. This is called a rooting reflex. Sometimes, your baby might be deep asleep. In such cases, you can rouse them a little to nurse them or wait for a few minutes before trying again. The exact dream feed schedule will depend on when you and your baby sleep and on your infant’s age. But nursing your baby right before you sleep usually gives you anywhere between three to eight hours of sleep before they wake up again.

There are pros and cons to planning a dream feed for your baby. It’s important to consider all factors before you decide to go down this path. Some of the pros of dream feed include:

Reduced night feedings. Research shows roughly 57% of babies under the age of one slept for more than eight hours at a stretch. But the study did not indicate whether the babies woke up due to hunger or out of habit. Keep in mind that sleeping patterns differ in children.

Using dream feeds may lower the number of times you’ll need to nurse your child during the night. Another positive of a dream feed is once your baby gets older, it’ll no longer wake up for a feed, and it becomes easier to discontinue the dream feed.

Lesser interruptions when you feed. Sometimes your baby can get engrossed in the world around them, and this could disturb their feeding. In some cases, drinking just one bottle could take as long as an hour when your baby’s awake due to constant distractions. Feeding your infant while asleep reduces the chances of interruptions, and you’ll be surprised to find the bottle empty before you’ve even realized it.

Longer sleep for your baby. You’ll need to feed your baby roughly every two hours, amounting to around eight to 12 feeds in a day. This can be exhausting. Another factor to consider is that you usually have a few chores to run after putting your baby to sleep. When you decide to rest, it might be time to feed your baby again.

Nursing your infant right before you sleep might help them sleep for longer, giving you some extra rest. The goal is to feed your baby without waking them up, and if you’re able to do this, you may be training them to sleep for longer hours at a stretch.

Sometimes a dream feed may not work out as you expected.

You may wake up your baby. At times, you may end up waking up your baby when you’re trying to feed them. According to research, infants up to six months old spend as much as 50% of their time in REM sleep. Out of the four stages of sleep, REM sleep is the deepest. Infants also have shorter sleep cycles. So, if your baby is in one of the lighter sleep cycles when you try to feed them, chances are they’re likely to be woken up.

Sometimes, this is not a big deal. However, if your baby wakes up regularly while you are nursing them at night, you may find it harder to wean them off the night feeds later on.

You may need more diapers. You may want to change your baby’s diaper when you’re nursing them. Otherwise, they might wet the diaper later, which means that it will disturb your sleep.

If you’re wondering whether a dream feed works or if it’s safe for your baby, you can consider some scenarios where it would be a good option.

Your breasts are too full. If you have an abundant milk supply, nursing your baby before you sleep will help you rest better. If your breasts feel too full at night, giving your baby that additional feed should help.

Your baby can’t sleep for long hours. Many infants are unable to sleep for long and usually like to feed frequently. Sleeping through the night (around six to eight hours) would mean your baby would miss at least two feeds. Giving them a dream feed right before you sleep allows your infant to sleep for longer without missing out on their feed.

You need to nurse your baby early in the morning. If your infant has a habit of getting up before sunrise for a feed, gradually getting used to a dream feed might be a good idea. This would help them sleep for longer and wake up later for their morning feed. Although it might take some time for their body clock to get used to the routine, it becomes easier over time.