What is a dreamfeed and how can it help your baby sleep through the night. This post answers all of your questions about a dreamfeed.
When you have a baby, you want to do everything you can to get as much sleep as you can. If baby sleeps, that means you can sleep.
A great tool for helping baby to sleep longer through your night is the Dreamfeed. Keep reading to learn what it is and how to implement it.
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- What is a dreamfeed?
- What time should I do the dreamfeed?
- Why do I need a dreamfeed?
- Should the dreamfeed be at the exact same time each night?
- What if my baby won’t eat for the dreamfeed?
- Should I un-swaddle my baby for the dreamfeed?
- Should I change my baby’s diaper at the dreamfeed?
- Should I burp my baby at the dreamfeed?
- Should I wake my baby up for the dreamfeed?
- When do I drop the dreamfeed?
- How do I drop the dreamfeed?
- RELATED DREAMFEED POSTS
- Reader Questions
What is a dreamfeed?
A “dreamfeed” is referred to as the “late evening feeding” in On Becoming Babywise. This is the last feeding of the day before you go to bed.
It is called a “dreamfeed” because baby has been put to bed for the night and you are simply getting baby up to get one last feeding in the day before you go to bed.
If baby needs 8 feedings in a 24 hour period, but has had only 6 by the last evening feeding, then adding a dreamfeed means baby only eats one time in the night while you are asleep instead of two times.
For more on the dreamfeed definition according to Babywise, see Dream Feed and Babywise.
For more basic information on the dreamfeed, see The Basics of a Dreamfeed.
What time should I do the dreamfeed?
The dreamfeed is typically between 10-11 PM. Baby will be in bed already before this feeding.
In the early weeks of baby’s life, you might want to go to bed around 8 PM or so because you are so tired! That is fine.
Just set an alarm to wake up and feed your baby the dreamfeed. A feeding after 11:30 PM is not a dreamfeed; that is a night feeding.
Time your dreamfeed 2.5-4 hours after the final feeding of the day. You want baby to be hungry enough to take a good feeding at the dreamfeed.
However, you don’t want it so late that it disrupts nighttime sleep. Disruption to nighttime sleep will cause baby to wake earlier in the morning.
So let’s say your last feeding of the day is at 7 PM. You will then want to do your dreamfeed anywhere from 9:30-11:00 PM.
You may need to try different times of the dreamfeed to find what is best for your baby.
Take note of what time you do the dreamfeed and how baby sleeps. I found that McKenna sleeps later in the morning if her dreamfeed is closer to ten then if it is closer to eleven.
Brinley was super sensitive to her dreamfeed timing. She had a perfect five minute window.
When she was a few months old, if I missed that window, it meant she woke in the night instead of sleeping through the night.
Your timing really can matter (but don’t worry, most babies are not as sensitive as Brinley was). Take good notes.
You can get a printable book of logs here to help you out. These are the same logs I used for my babies and they help SO MUCH!
Why do I need a dreamfeed?
Your newborn baby needs to eat 8-12 times per 24 hour period. By doing a dreamfeed, you work a final feeding in during a typical “day” for you so you can get more nighttime hours of sleep.
Once baby reaches a point that he can sleep through the night, he will be able to sleep through your night also.
If his last feeding is 7 and he then sleeps 7-8 hours, that puts him waking at 2:30-3:30. But if his last feeding is 10 and he sleeps 7-8 hours, that puts him waking 5:30-6:30.
Should the dreamfeed be at the exact same time each night?
You can do it at the exact same time. However, I don’t think it is a bad idea to vary it.
Varying it has several advantages.
One is that baby won’t metabolically come to wake up for a feeding at that time (though I think this is rare).
Another is that you can experiment and find the best time range for the dreamfeed.
Once you find it, you will most likely want to stick to it so you can get the best nights rest as possible.
If your baby is like Brinley and really needs that specific dreamfeed time, do not vary it. Do it at the same time each night.
What if my baby won’t eat for the dreamfeed?
You already know the benefit of the dreamfeed. It is worth your efforts to get the dreamfeed working.
However, after you have put forth a good effort for it, if baby won’t eat, put it aside for a period of time.
Kaitlyn would not eat for the dreamfeed, so I didn’t bother. I mean, I tried for a few nights without much success. There were tears on my part! It can be so frustrating.
I quickly moved on and gave up on the dreamfeed idea.
Instead, I fed her at 8:30 and then went to bed. Over time, however, her days lengthened out and her 8:30 feeding moved to 10:00.
She then had a dreamfeed.
McKenna also didn’t eat well for the dreamfeed at first. I worked harder to establish it, though, so we could go down to fewer night feedings sooner.
The work paid off.
Note that Tracy Hogg, the Baby Whisperer, says that if you are trying to get a dreamfeed and cluster feeding in, the dreamfeed is the more important of the two. If cluster feeding interferes with the dreamfeed, shoot for the dreamfeed instead.
Should I un-swaddle my baby for the dreamfeed?
Possibly yes, possibly no.
When McKenna was a young newborn, I unswaddled her so I could wake her up.
Around 3 months old, I still unswaddled her, but it wasn’t to wake her up. It was because I started the night with her in a lighter swaddle blanket and moved to a warmer one after the dreamfeed.
You can definitely leave your baby swaddled if she will still eat well while swaddled. There is no one right or wrong thing to do here; just do what is best for your individual baby.
Should I change my baby’s diaper at the dreamfeed?
In the first couple of months, I always change the diaper after every feeding–even the middle of the night.
Once the baby starts to sleep 7-8 hours at night, I move to a bigger diaper for night if necessary and don’t change the diaper at the dreamfeed.
So, again, change if you find it necessary. If not, put some diaper ointment on the bottom and leave it for the night.
Should I burp my baby at the dreamfeed?
My answer is yes. Hogg’s answer is no.
She says that a baby is so relaxed for the dreamfeed, they don’t need to be burped.
I actually disagree with this. For a newborn, they are no less relaxed at the dreamfeed than they are for any other feeding in the day. They are always sleeping while eating. And yet, they need to be burped.
With an older baby (say around 4 months or older), you might not need to burp the baby. Some babies burp on their own by this point, so you don’t necessarily need to work on burping.
My thought is this. Would you rather take a few minutes and try to burp baby, or risk having baby wake up in the night due to gas pains?
I think trying to burp is well worth it. You might not get anything out, but it is worth a shot.
Should I wake my baby up for the dreamfeed?
This is again dependent on the baby.
Some find baby sleeps better at night if she wakes during the dreamfeed. Others find baby sleeps better if she doesn’t wake for the dreamfeed.
Keep notes and see what works best for your baby. You want to work to get a full feeding in, but weather she truely wakes up or not is completely up to her reaction to it.
When do I drop the dreamfeed?
Most Babywise babies will drop the dreamfeed somewhere from 3-7 months old. I think most will be ready around 4ish months.
You can start to consider it once baby has slept from the dreamfeed until your morning wake up time consistently for two weeks. Read more at When To Stop the Dreamfeed.
Hogg says to keep the dreamfeed until baby is about 8 months old. You can choose to do that, but I doubt it is necessary for most babies.
The dreamfeed can really start to interfere with night sleep as baby gets older (see Note below).
How do I drop the dreamfeed?
There are a few methods you can choose from when dropping the dreamfeed.
You can drop the number of ounces (or time spent nursing) slowly over time.
You can move the time up over time (from 10:30 to 10:15, then to 10:00 etc.) or just cold turkey. See Dropping the “Dream Feed” for more details.
NOTE: some babies don’t do well with a dreamfeed. This will be true if it is disrupting baby’s natural sleep patterns. This is more likely to be possible if baby is 4 months or older.
If you think the dreamfeed is disrupting sleep but baby still needs the food, try having the dreamfeed at a different time. Otherwise, try dropping it and see if that fixes things.
The dreamfeed is very much worth doing if you can make it work. It is one of my favorite tools for helping baby to sleep through your night. It can take some work, but it is well worth your efforts!
RELATED DREAMFEED POSTS
- The Basics of a Dreamfeed
- The Benefits and Drawbacks of Doing a Dreamfeed
- Dropping the “Dream Feed”
- Dream Feed and Babywise
- Poll Results: What Age (Approximate) Did You Drop the Dreamfeed?
The Devines said…
Hi again! After our 10pm DF (which he is very sleepy for) our 7wk old LO is now waking at 1am and 4am (his morning start time is 6:30), at which points he only nurses for at total of 5 minutes on one breast and falls asleep. He is IMPOSSIBLE to nurse. What to do?1) Should I be trying to wake him to nurse (ie: cold cloth ect) or do I treat this as a DF?2) Could he just be waking because he has a dirty diaper? Should I just change him and rock him back to sleep?3) I can’t believe I am going to ask this: Is he sleeping TOO LONG? Essentially from 7pm – 6:30?4) He is feeding well at 6:30 – does this mean that I should try to eliminate one of the night feeds (ideally the last one) and if so is CIO the only way seeing as though I can’t exactly feed him less and less each night as he isn’t taking much in the first place? Thank you SO much for all of your help. You are so valuable to the BW community of parents!
Babywise Mom said…
Devines,1-You want to get a full feeding even out of a DF. 2-Definite possibility3-Probably not4-Since he is not really eating for that 4 AM feed, you can try to eliminate it. My guess would be he doesn’t need it. There are the ideas in this post as well as CIO. Decide what you are most comfortable with. If he wakes with a dirty diaper at this time, I would change his diaper before CIO, though. You are welcome!
The Devines said…
Hey Plowmanator, Thanks for the advice, and I think I may have noticed from your recent post on reviewing “Happiest Baby on the Block” that you’re pregnant again. If so, congrats!A quick question cause I’m still unsure of something, both from your answer and from Babywise as well:1. My 8-week old has a dreamfeed at 10. He then wakes up for a night-time feed at around 1am, and then another night-time feed at 4-5am. My question is: for the 1am and 4-5am night-time feeds, I’m unsure on whether or not he’s allowed to wake and fall asleep at the breast during these. Should I be doing everything I can to keep him awake? Or everything I can to keep him asleept, i.e. treat these as dreamfeeds?Thanks, an again I appreciate all your time.
Babywise Mom said…
Devines, I am pregnant, thanks! A dreamfeed doesn’t mean you don’t try to get a full feeding, it just means they aren’t necessarily fully awake for this feeding. I personally do everything I can to get a full feeding in at each feeding, even in the middle of the night. Otherwise, there is no reason they would make it longer between feedings because they aren’t getting a full feeding.
Hi Valerie, Thank you so much for this blog. It has helped me and my son tremendously!I am needing some help on understanding bedtime and the DF and wondering if I can get your thoughts.I am struggling to see the bedtime feed (last feed before DF, right?)as a true bedtime. This is because after this feed my son will wake up after 3-3.5 hours if I just let him go as long as he wants to. However, he will go anywhere from 5-8 hrs. (we are making SUCH good progress!) after the DF. Is the purpose of establishing a bedtime routine for the future when we eventually drop the DF? Also, I was wondering about the DF. Is it ok to put baby to bed totally awake after the DF? Sometimes my son eats, falls asleep, and stays asleep once I put him in bed. Other times he eats, pulls off, and wakes up when he does. Then he goes into the crib awake. Is either ok?I also wanted to tell you an exciting update. My son, at 7 weeks, was making good progress to sttn. He had slept one night a week since 6 weeks 5+ hours. Then he would go back down to waking 2-3 times in the night. Once he stopped eating his first feeding of the morning well I decided to try what you recommended about decreasing the amount of food. At 7 weeks I did this for the first time. When he wakes he usually sucks well for 2-3, sometimes 5-6 min. then “comfort sucks” and I can definitely tell the difference. I started taking him off once he switched into comfort sucking. He wasn’t too happy at first but didn’t cry longer than a couple minutes the first night.Then, that week, we had 3 times where he slept 7.5 hours and one time 8!!! The very next night I heard him wake up, cry for about one minute softly, then suck his thumb back to sleep. He never did that before. I feel like decreasing the comfort sucking at night really helped him get the memo to self soothe! Thank you! This was great because it involves no night crying. 🙂
Babywise Mom said…
Catharine, I just found your question as I was cleaning up the comments…I was never notified via email about it like I usually am, so I am sorry about the delay.I am glad to hear about your great success! That is exciting!Yes, you want to establish a routine before bedtime for future dropping of dreamfeed. For the dreamfeed, you want it to look like a middle of the night feed. You get him, feed him, possibly change his diaper, and then put him right back down to go back to sleep. But you want to have a routine where you do hugs, kisses, stories, prayers if you are so inclined, etc. And it is perfectly okay for your baby to be either awake or asleep after the dreamfeed when he goes back in the bed. Some babies do one or the other, and some do both. Once again, I am glad to hear of your success!
Valerie, Congratulations on the news of a baby girl! How wonderful!
This question does not have to do with baby toys, but I thought I should post here to make sure you get it. I would like to know if I should drop my dreamfeed now. Max will be 15 weeks tomorrow and still eats 6 times a day (3 hour schedule) on formula. I’d like to know if you consider him STTN if his last feeding is at 10:30 and he wakes up at 7:30 (when we wake him up). The only catch is he usually stirs and makes some noise around 5:30ish and I sometimes have to give him his paci, sometimes not. Do you think that’s still STTN or no?If you think he’s ready to drop the dreamfeed, do I put another ounce in his bottle at the other feedings to help him drop that last one or no? Thank you for your help!
Babywise Mom said…
Amy, I do consider that STTN–he is going 8 hours. As a side note, I would watch the paci and make sure that doesn’t become a necessary habit for him; it does get that way for some.I breastfeed, so I am not sure about adding more to other feedings. A breastfed baby will either drop the dreamfeed cold turkey, or will move it back slowly. One thing for a breastfed baby is that mom will have more milk in the morning since the DF was skipped. So I would definitely add some more in the morning. It couldn’t hurt to add and see how he takes it. Sorry I am not much help with that. Be sure to see the many dreamfeed posts (you can click on the blog label “dreamfeed”).
I just had my third son on Dec 1st and have him on a three hour schedule which he does great with. My question is the night time feeding. I feed him at 11:3 pm and then again at 2:3am. After that feeding we let him go and he usually wakes three hours later at around 5:30am. Should I feed him at 11:30 pm and let him go or do I continue as I am? Or should I feed him at 2:30am and then if he wakes at 5:30 am try to sooth him, holding him off as long as possible?? I can remember what I did with my first two, but I know they both slept through at eight weeks….any hel is appreciated since I’m very tired :).
Thanks so much, Tina
Babywise Mom said…
Boysrus, I would feed at 11:30 then let him go. After that feeding, let him go again. Be sure to start him at the same time each morning for his morning waketime. I wouldn’t hold him off at 4 weeks (or 5) of age. Good luck!
Hello! So I know this post is well over 10 years old, but I thought I would comment and see if I could still get some help with my Dreamfeed questions.
I am a first time mom, so I’m still figuring out how all the feedings work. At this point, my baby (Malakai) is 12 weeks old and I always feed him at 8pm and 8am and let him decide the night feedings between. He usually gets up between 2 and 4:30 and then sometimes will wake again between 5 and 6 (6-7 feedings). I originally tried the Dreamfeed at 11, but he refused to wake up for it, so that’s why I dropped it. Well now I’m curious if I added the Dreamfeed if he would sleep until the morning and skip the night feedings. Unfortunately, the last two nights, I tried and he continued to wake up the normal times in addition, so he’s back to 8 feedings. Do you think that’s because my body has adjusted and he’s getting very little milk at 11 (it’s been about a month). Should I keep trying with the Dream feed, or should I go back to letting him wake up whenever he wants? Do you think my milk will return soon at 11?
Anyway thank you for your encouraging blog and I hope even though your kids are probably teens by now that you can still help this young mother!
Babywise Mom said…
You have a lot of good thoughts. I think it is definitely possible you wouldn’t have a ton of milk at that time, though I would guess you have at least 4 ounces.
The timing of the dreamfeed is important. 11 is later than is ideal–if you want to keep trying it, I would go for 10:30ish.
However, he is old enough that you might not want to push it. Babies drop it between 4-8 months, so it might be worth it for you.
If it were me, I would probably try a few different times and see if you can find a dreamfeed time that helps him drop one of those night feedings, but then I would just let it be if it didn’t work.
But on the other hand, if he is one who would keep the dreamfeed for the next few months, it would be worth it to push for it now and get 3 months of solid night sleep. So always go with what you feel is best for your little one!
This post was originally published July 2009