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The basics of a dreamfeed. The things you need to know to help the dreamfeed effectively work for your baby to sleep through the night.
The dreamfeed is a helpful tool to help your baby sleep through the night when you are also sleeping through the night. Baby need so many feedings in a 24 hour period, and the dreamfeed is a way to make sure another feeding happens during your day so fewer need to happen during your night.
The term “dreamfeed” comes from the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (affiliate link) by Tracy Hogg. A dreamfeed is simply a late feeding that starts typically between 10-11 PM. The baby is already in bed, but you go in and feed baby one last time before heading off to bed yourself. The idea here is that baby gets a feeding in just before you go to sleep. When baby starts sleeping 7-8 hours straight without eating, these 7-8 hours then fall between 10-6, giving you a good night stretch to sleep yourself.
The dreamfeed is not necessary. If you would rather feed baby and put her to bed in the 7-8 PM hour and then head to bed yourself, go for it. The downside to not doing a dreamfeed is that it will likely be that the 7-8 hour stretch of sleep between night feedings will come between 7-2 instead of 10-6. If you are okay with this, there is nothing wrong with it. What you have to do is be prepared so when you hear stories of the 8 week old sleeping through the night, from 10-6, and yours is still waking up around 2 am, you can not be discouraged. You can remind yourself that your baby is also sleeping well and there is nothing to worry about.
Some babies do not respond well to the dreamfeed. Some won’t wake up for it and some sleep mores soundly through the night without it. Always do what is best for your baby; however, also be sure the dreamfeed legitimately does not work and the problems is not with your implementation of the dreamfeed. Some babies are very particular about certain aspects of the dreamfeed, so you might be able to tweak one thing and get a great stretch of sleep in the night.
In general, a dreamfeed works well for most babies. Some babies take work to get to take the dreamfeed initially. I had babies who needed a lot of time and effort put into establishing the dreamfeed before it was really a benefit. For me, it was something I wanted to establish. I wanted to be able to stay up past baby’s bedtime to spend time with my husband. With effort, I established a dreamfeed with those babies.
Here are the basics of a dreamfeed to help you get baby sleeping through the night.
What You Need to Know About the Dreamfeed
The time of the dreamfeed is usually between 10-11 PM. If you get the timing too late, you start to run into disrupting natural circadian rhythms, so experiment with times within that hour. I have had babies who were very sensitive to the timing of the dreamfeed. For example, 10:35 meant the baby slept well that night, but 10:30 or 10:45 meant a fitful night of sleep was ahead of me as well as an early morning waking. I literally set an alarm on my phone so I could get the timing right for that baby.
Please note the time of the dreamfeed is between 10-11 PM. Do not start 11 or later unless you are fully positive your baby needs to go later. Try that 10 PM hour before moving into the 11 PM hour.
To learn more about circadian rhythm and how it impacts sleep patterns, read this post.
I did the dreamfeed in the baby’s room. I kept the light as dim as possible (I always had my husband install a dimmer in the baby’s room if there wasn’t one there. You could also use a lamp). I would go in and close the door after me so the room could stay dark and quiet with no distractions.
Ideally, you will get baby, feed baby while baby is still drowsy, and put baby back to bed all without ever waking baby up. Do try to burp your baby even if you are worried about waking baby up. You don’t want baby getting an uncomfortable gas bubble and wake up in pain later in the night.
Younger babies, like newborns, might need to be woken up more for the dreamfeed to get them to eat anything. You might need to unswaddle your baby to wake baby up enough, but you might find unswaddling wakes baby up too much.
Many people wonder if they should do a diaper change or not at the dreamfeed. I change a diaper for newborns. In older babies, I don’t typically change the diaper unless there is, of course, a bowel movement.
If your baby is not responding well to the dreamfeed, you might either not be waking baby up enough or you might be waking baby up too much. This was my process for a newborn’s dreamfeed:
- Get baby up
- Unswaddle baby
- Feed baby half the feeding. You might have to work to get baby to wake up. Here are some tips on feeding sleepy newborns
- Burp baby
- Change baby’s diaper
- Give baby gas medicine or gripe water if needed
- Reswaddle baby
- Feed the other half of the feeding
- Burp baby
- Put baby back in bed. Baby does not need to be asleep, but I did make sure baby was relaxed as I explain in the article The Four S’s (I also show it on video).
This pattern enables you to wake baby up more initially to eat since newborns are typically very sleepy in general. It also gets baby’s diaper changed. Then it gets baby all cozy again so she can go right to sleep when the dreamfeed is all done.
For an older baby who wakes up easily, you might leave baby swaddled the whole time. You might start off by unswaddling and changing the diaper right away, then reswaddling before you start to feed baby (the risk here is baby messes the diaper after you start the feeding).
If your baby keeps the dreamfeed until baby is older, you might not change the diaper or unswaddle at all. I had two babies who kept the dreamfeed until 6/7 months old, and as they got to be older, I just went in, fed, and put baby back to bed (it is worth noting neither baby was still swaddled by that older age).
The dreamfeed is ideal between newborn and about 4 months old. Most of my babies held on to a dreamfeed beyond 4 months old. Hogg suggests keeping the dreamfeed until 8 months old. Go with what works best for your individual baby. Once your baby is ready to drop the dreamfeed, see Dropping the “Dream Feed.”
The dreamfeed can be something that really helps you to get good sleep at night so you can function during the day. It can take effort to establish it, but it is well worth your efforts! For more information, see my post on Dreamfeed FAQs.