You’ve finally gotten your baby to sleep, taken a few precious moments to breathe, maybe eaten a meal alone (miraculous!) — or let’s be honest, mindlessly scrolled through your phone. You can barely keep your eyes open though, and soon enough, you’re in bed yourself, ready to catch some precious Zzz’s.

But within an hour or two of your eyes closing — BAM! — baby is awake, starving.

You love your sweet babe and understand that very young babies need to wake up at least a few times a night to eat. But you deserve some rest, too! This is one of those times that makes an exhausted parent desperate for any possible solution to prolong their baby’s sleep. If only your little one could give you a few solid uninterrupted hours before needing to be fed again.

Well, there might be a simple solution out there for you. Enter dream feeding.

Dream feeding is exactly as it sounds. You feed your baby while they’re semi-awake, or in a dreamy state.

Most of us wake to feed our babies when they give us a signal (stirring or fussing), but when you dream feed your baby, you’ll be the one to rouse them from sleep and initiate a feeding.

These feedings usually occur an hour or two after your little one has gone down for the night, generally soon before you go to bed yourself. The idea is to “tank your baby up” before you go to sleep in the hopes that they’ll be able to sleep a longer stretch before waking again.

You do this feeding when you’re still awake so it’s more convenient for you. This way, you can go to sleep knowing baby’s been fed and might be able to let you sleep a little longer than usual (fingers and toes crossed!).

Related: We asked sleep consultants how to survive the newborn days

One of the best things about dream feeding is that there are no hard and fast rules. You can start dream feeding your baby when you think they’re ready.

It’s best to try dream feeding when you have a sense of how long your baby can usually sleep without needing to be fed, because this will allow you the most leeway in terms of adjusting their schedule with that dream feed.

All babies are different, but in the early weeks, your baby will likely not have much of a feeding schedule at all. Newborns generally have their nights and days mixed up and will sleep very erratically, waking every 1 to 4 hours.

Between 1 and 4 months, most babies are sleeping 3 to 4 hour stretches or longer, and this is usually when parents consider adding in a dream feed.

Signs your baby is ready for dream feeding

Your baby might be ready for dream feeding if they:

  • are about 2 months of age or older
  • have a somewhat regular bedtime and nighttime feeding schedule
  • are growing well on breast milk or formula
  • can generally settle back to sleep after waking

Again, dream feeding has no set rules. So while this is a basic dream feed how-to, you can adjust it according to your own needs and lifestyle:

  • Put your baby to sleep at their bedtime as usual. Most parents will feed their baby at this time.
  • A few hours later, right before you go to bed yourself, notice when your baby has entered a semi-awake, dreamlike state. Here’s how to determine if it’s a good time for your baby’s dream feed:
    • you notice your baby stirring slightly but not fully waking
    • you see your baby’s eyes moving around under their lids, indicating REM dreaming

Note: Many babies will happily dream feed even if they’re not in this half-awake state, so don’t sweat it if your baby seems to be out cold when you go to feed them.

  • Place the breast or bottle near your baby’s lips — don’t force them to feed, but wait for them to latch on. Breastfeed or bottle feed your baby to your baby’s satisfaction. If you generally burp your baby after feeding, do so now. (Here’s how to burp a sleeping baby.)
  • After your baby is settled back to sleep, go to sleep yourself. Hopefully you won’t hear from your baby for another 3 to 4 hours!

If dream feeding is working for you and your baby, you can do it for as long as you wish. There’s no harm in slipping in an extra feeding time for your baby, and it’s especially wonderful if it affords you a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep. It’s really a win-win situation.

However, babies are always changing (we know you know this!) and by 4 to 6 months, many babies can sleep more than 3 to 4 hours at a time without feeding. At this point, it’s worth skipping that dream feed and seeing if your baby will naturally sleep a longer stretch without any intervention.

Benefits for baby

Babies need to eat very frequently in their first few months of life, including at night. According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), newborns eat every 2 to 3 hours, or about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours; babies are still eating every 4 to 5 hours at 6 months of age.

Unlike sleep training methods that encourage babies to sleep longer stretches without eating, dream feeding doesn’t interfere with a baby’s normal need to be fed at night. It just tweaks your baby’s schedule a bit so that babies and parents are on a more similar sleep schedule.

Benefits for parents

While experiencing sleep deprivation is normal and very common among parents of infants, it doesn’t come without a price. Sleep deprivation can damage your physical health by changing your hormonal balance and metabolism and decreasing the functioning of your immune system. It can also increase your risk of depression and anxiety.

If dream feeding offers you a couple more hours of solid sleep, this is major benefit. Not only that, but if you’re a breastfeeding mom, dream feeding won’t lower your milk supply by skipping feedings. You’re only gently attempting to slightly change timing of the feeds.

The obvious drawback of dream feeding is that it may not work for your baby, or it may not work consistently. Again, all babies are different, and while it would be incredible if your baby took their dream feed easily and successfully, you can’t predict from the onset what will happen when you try.

Some babies will be able to wake up slightly for their dream feed, go back to bed, and then sleep longer because their tummies are full. Other babies will either not want to be bothered to eat at the time that you attempt to wake them, or will wake up too fully and be difficult to get back to sleep — not a fun situation for a parent to be in if they’re hoping to go to sleep themselves!

Other babies will happily dream feed but still wake up an hour two later, ready to feed again. Welcome to the bottomless pit that is your newborn’s tummy!

These are all normal scenarios. Don’t beat yourself up too much if your baby doesn’t seem to take to dream feeding.

Here’s what your evening might look like before and after you try dream feeding.

These times are approximations, and are based on a baby who wakes every 4 to 5 hours at night. All babies and families adopt different schedules that meet their needs, so if your normal schedule looks a little different, don’t fret.

Before dream feeding:

  • 6–7 p.m. Feed, change, and possibly bathe your baby. Put them down to sleep with a full tummy.
  • 10 p.m. Go to bed yourself.
  • 11 p.m. Baby wakes for their first nighttime feed — possibly just an hour after you’ve gotten in bed yourself!

After dream feeding:

  • 6–7 p.m. Feed, change, and possibly bathe your baby. Put them down to sleep with a full tummy.
  • 9:30–10 p.m. Dream feed your baby, and then go to bed yourself
  • 3 a.m. Baby wakes up for their first nighttime feed — and you’ve gotten 5 hours of sleep in a row!

My baby wakes up fully when I dream feed

Solution: Make sure you’re rousing your baby when they’re still in a half-awake state. They should be fairly still and not super alert when you try to wake them. Make sure to keep the lights dim and limit sounds and outside stimulation.

My baby dream feeds but still wakes up an hour or two later

Solution: Your baby may be going through a growth spurt or in a particularly fussy period. Babies have times when they’re more wakeful — that’s normal. Try dream feeding again in a few weeks and see if it works.

Dream feeding has stopped working for my baby

Solution: This one’s a bummer, especially if it’s previously worked really well.

But dream feeding isn’t meant to be a permanent solution to your baby’s sleep. Most parents will use it for just a few weeks or months and find that their baby naturally begins to sleep longer stretches anyway as time goes on.

Other parents find that dream feeding works until their baby has a growth spurt or begins to teethe. You can use dream feeding on and off in any way that works for you.

Think dream feeding sounds like a great solution for you and baby? Awesome. Go ahead and try it. Honestly, the worst thing that will happen is that it won’t work.

If it works for you, that’s great. Enjoy that longer stretch of sleep before your little one wakes again. Don’t be surprised, though, if dream feeding isn’t the solution for better sleep every night. Babies are unpredictable when it comes to sleep, and you may find yourself trying several different sleep “tricks” over time.

Also know that there’s nothing wrong with you or your baby if you’re unsuccessful with this particular method. There’s no sense comparing your baby to other babies — and the beautiful truth is this: All babies sleep longer stretches in due time, whatever method you do or don’t try. Hang in there — you got this.