Stave off sleep deprivation by tag-teaming overnight feeding

Parents of newborns: Jenna’s overnight feeding how-to will save your sanity (or, at least, slow its departure):

When my daughter was about 5 weeks old, we were going OUT OF OUR MINDS with sleep deprivation. A friend shared this with me, and I swear, its the best single piece of parenting advice i’ve ever gotten.

“The Dream Feed” works with either formula or expressed breast milk. Not knowing if you’re breast or formula feeding, here’s my breastfeeding version. Formula sort of speaks for itself. Here’s what we did:

  1. Pump the equivalent of a 4ish ounce bottle over the course of the day.
  2. Make sure baby will take a bottle from Dad.
  3. You put baby to bed, say 9-10ish…whatever time she/he goes to sleep, presumably with a feeding.
  4. Dad is totally responsible for all things baby related from the time you get her down until about 5 hours have gone by…so, say 9-2. This includes feeding, changing, rocking, driving, whatever.
  5. You, then, are responsible for all things baby from 2-7 am, or whenever the morning starts.

Basically, this lets both of you get a solid 3-5 hour block of sleep/downtime. If one parent works outside the home, that person should take the first shift so they get the sleep closest to the workday. (If both parents work, consider switching off.) Moving baby to his/her own room isn’t necessary, but it helps!

This routine saved our sanity, I swear. Eventually, my husband got SOO good at this that he could change M’s diaper IN HER SLEEP and feed her the bottle WHILE SHE WAS IN HER CRIB. Seriously, I never figured that one out, but that’s another hack for another day. Hope this helps someone!

This looks very much like the schedule we eventually stumbled upon when our son was a baby. But we had to suffer weeks of sleep deprivation first!

Anyone else have tips for sharing the overnight feeding duties?

Related: Organize pumped breastmilk in a six-pack carton


  1. Beth A. says

    My husband is a truck driver, so he’s not home 3 or 4 nights a week. When he was home, he would always be the one to get up with the baby. He was squeamish about diapers, so he’d bring me baby and all necessary supplies, I’d change the diaper (sometimes in my sleep it seemed)…then he’d take baby to the living room to feed him. He also always made sure all the bottles were cleaned and filled with water (waiting for powdered formula) before he left to drive. Over the weekends, he’d take the majority of the nights and I’d take one night to let him sleep through the night.

    This routine worked for us from the time I went back to work until D started sleeping through the night.

  2. says

    Hey, my hack is to make sure your husband is basically an insomniac and doesn’t sleep much anyway; so guess who gets up with the crying baby?

    Oh, I’m sure we would work something out if he wasn’t, but since he only sleeps for 2-3 hours at a time and will wake up at the drop of a pin, he’s up already and gets the duty. If he ever is asleep, then I take over the duties.

  3. Carrie says

    Ours was a pretty good sleeper, probably because we did the dream feed.

    I’m a night owl, so around midnight before I turned in for the night, I would pop in to her room, pick her up and nurse her in the dark and then put her right back down. She would only rouse a little bit, if at all. Unless she was poopy, I wouldn’t change her.

    This would get her through until 6-7am (unless she was going through a growth spurt – all bets off with those!) and allow me a solid chunk of sleep time. I could never get her to take a bottle, and waiting 12 hours to nurse would have been pretty painful, so the midnight nursing session worked really well for us.

  4. Sara says

    This idea is the only thing that kept me sane (-ish) during the first several months of my twins’ lives. We got this advice from my lactation consultant — yup, I nursed those babies til they were nine months old! The lactation consultant basically ordered me to have Daddy do one overnight feeding of expressed milk + diaper changes, etc., so I could get a block of sleep and recover from my C-section. I never would’ve insisted on it otherwise, but this routine was a god-send!

  5. says

    my oldest would never take a bottle from ANYONE. We worked out a similar system but instead of Hubby giving her a bottle, he would bring me to her around 10:30 or so and I would nurse her in our bed. I got to where I would hardly wake up for this and when she was done, he took her back to her crib. There were some nights when I would go to bed as early as 8:00 to get in a good chunk of unbroken sleep. (I wouldn’t do that every night – usually just twice a week or so.)

    It’s amazing what a four hour block of sleep can do in the midst of sleep deprivation!

    Great hack.

  6. heather says

    This is a great idea, but what do you do when the baby won’t take a bottle and has got it’s days and nights mixed up?
    To make matters worse it’s the second cild so sleeping when it sleeps isn’t an option.

  7. cindy says

    My husband and I did the tag-team thing with our twins too. Getting that solid block of sleep was the only thing that kept me sane in those early days.
    We filled bottles with the needed amount of water and left a can of formula in the bathroom next to our daughters’ room. If we put hot water in the bottles when we went to bed, it cooled down just enough to be the right temperature by feeding time.

  8. Jen says

    The tag team saved my life when my baby was a newborn. I had to sleep far away from the baby for it to work, though. So, we had a pack n’ play downstairs where we put him down for the night. Then, my husband carried the wakened, feeding baby upstairs and put her down upstairs for me to get the next feeding.

  9. the23rdelf says

    Once my husband went back to work after 3 weeks, we started with two nights on, two nights off. As my son got older and his sleep patterns changed, we changed our wake-up schedule. This method keeps the load even, and no-one goes so long without sleep that you become non-functional. I went back to work after 2 months, and we kept it the same. Now, after 2 years and a kid that’s up EVERY day at 6am, I wake up M-F mornings, and dad does weekends. Works for us, but mostly because if it gets too unbalanced, we talk it out and adjust as needed.

  10. Dan Reed says

    This is almost exactly what my wife and I did with our son Mal.

    It allowed us to both get some decent rest, I could work in the morning, and my wife was home with Mal.

    Once home I’d take him for a while so she could get a break.

    She would go down at 8pm for bed. I’d stay with Mal (him sleeping on me) until midnight, then I’d feed him..

    I’d put him down, and most of the time he’d sleep until 5am, where my Wife would get him, and then put him back down…

    I could get up, she slept until 8ish.. I’d get a full 7 hours, she’d get some good shuteye.

    We swapped feedings from day one, I really think its helped me bond with Mal.. now at night, either one of us can put him down, or be with him in the day time.. (13 mos)… I think it was fantastic for all of us.

  11. says

    This sounds very similar to what we did with our second baby and it really helped me keep my sanity. She wouldn’t take a bottle but she would take a pacifier from anyone other than me. Once she had made it clear that she could go four hours without a feeding by sleeping that long a few times, I fed her and went to bed at 9 and my husband was in charge until 1. I slept in the guest room since she was still sleeping in our room and he would come and get at 1 or whenever she woke up him up after that.

  12. Clayton says

    People think we were crazy when we tell them this, but my wife and I got up together for every night feeding for the first 4 months. It worked because our daughter would always go right back to sleep if it was night. My wife would pump while I fed the baby. We would both be done and back in bed in 20-30 minutes. That way neither of us was up too long and we both got decent sleep. If our daughter hadn’t been an amazing sleeper it wouldn’t have worked, I’m sure.

  13. says

    As a La Leche League Leader, I have been reading and re-reading this hack and I would like to add something to the discussion. Breastfeeding moms, please do not try this with your newborn. Feeding often is the only way to build up and regulate your milk supply. Going 5 hours or more without breastfeeding can cause a drop in supply, leading to the vicious cycle of adding formula, which causes a further drop in supply. I have worked with many moms who have gotten started on this path and then faced a hard road of rebuilding their milk supply, or weaned. Additionally, a 5-hour break can cause engorgement and pain for mom. And pain is not good parenthacking.

    Another way to manage nighttime feedings is to keep your baby close to you. Nursing while lying down, once you gt the hang of it, allows mom to sleep while nursing. Heaven.

    If you must attempt something like this, please make sure your milk supply is well established. And pay close attention to your body’s signals, and your baby’s, to re-evaluate if your supply does drop.

  14. says

    This approach really works! Our tweak to the routine is to sleep in different rooms. We’ve been doing this for about 2 months and my daughter is 3.5 months old.

    The baby usually goes down at 7-ish. My wife and I tend to hit the sack at 10. She takes the master bedroom and I head off to the guestroom. She pops in ear plugs and I’m in charge until the second time the baby awakes. Around midnight, I’ll get up to give a bottle, change her and put her back down. She’ll wake up again between 3 and 4 at which time it’s my wife’s turn. We switch rooms at this time. Now, I am in our bedroom and once the alarm goes off, I have the flexibility to get ready for work without disturbing my wife and baby.

    Now that we are getting enough sleep and the baby is sleeping better, we are returning to the same room.

  15. Dana says

    This did not work for us at all. I could not relax enough to sleep if I knew I would be on deck soon. (I was seriously reaching a level of psychosis before we finally decided to try something else.) The only way we could work it out was to just switch nights. This work so much better for us. B/c if with the exception of really bad nights, you knew whose turn it was and the other person could stick ear plugs in and just sleep. It amazed me how much easier it was to get up multiple times if I knew that the next night I could get almost a full night’s rest. Of course, I wasn’t able to breast feed….

  16. Katherine says

    For both of our infants (not twins) my husband and I also developed this rountine (including using a guest room or ear plugs to get uninterupted sleep while using a co-sleeper in our room). We would agree on a schedule each evening that took into account who was most exhausted (and needed to sleep early in the evening) and the next day’s work schedule.

    We even did this rountine with any family member that would sleep over to help out in the first few weeks.

    I nursed for over a year with both kids (two years apart), but in each case it took 5 weeks before either one would latch. So I pumped around the clock for 6+ weeks. This routine was a life saver! I often might wake during my husband’s shift to pump, but then I could go back to sleep while he did the feeding, changing, and comforting.

    We still use a modified version of this schedule when our 4 year old goes through a period of difficulty putting himself to sleep (initially and during the night) and we need to re-Ferber him for a few days or week.

  17. says

    I second Amie. The easiest way to get a full nights’ sleep with a newborn (or in our case, twin newborns) is to co-sleep and feed them in your sleep. I don’t even know how many feeds my two have overnight.

  18. says

    @mikhala, me, too – I had no idea how often the twins woke to nurse. Cosleeping isn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of simple adjustments that can make it work if it is even a maybe. (We added an extra bed to give us enough room for cosleeping with twins.) More sleep for me.

    Our ‘split’ on this was that when the twins were born, DH took the older two as his night assignment, and I took the twins. Cosleeping made that sane (granted, I also wasn’t pumping at that point). I know a lot of twin moms who did pump early on and dream feeds helped a lot, though. Even for those who were cosleeping. :)

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  22. Melissa says

    This is how we handled the night time feeds for our twins too. They came home from the hosptial on a 3 hr routine (3-6-9-12) We did midnight together and then went to bed. I did 3am by myself and then DH did 6am by himself and then went straight to work. We both got about a 5 hr stretch that way. It was not pretty before we figured that out!!