I love my sleep. I knew when I had babies that my precious sleep would be interrupted. I was fine with that, and was willing to make that adjustment for my sweet little ones. But the thing is, I really do love my sleep, so I wanted to maximize the sleep I could get. Like lots of new moms I researched a ton on newborns. I learned that most newborns have one long chunk of sleep in their twenty four hour period. I knew what I needed to do was try to line that long chunk up with when I would be able to sleep too.
Starting out this was reasonably easy to do. Newborns tend to have later bedtimes, in that they nap so much during the day their big stretch of sleep starts later at night. I would put my baby to bed at the same time I went to bed. They usually napped off and on in the evening, then we would all go to bed together after their final feeding. That worked really well for the first several weeks. Eventually it wasn’t working as well. My children were too alert and distracted to sleep in the living room with us until late bedtime. It was time to get them to bed at an earlier hour, but I still wanted that long period of sleep to line up with my own sleep. Enter the dream feed.
The dream feed is pretty simple. After your baby goes to bed at an earlier time, around 7 or so, you go back and feed them again around 10. They pretty much sleep through this feeding. (Oh to be able to eat and sleep at the same time like a baby. They are really doing things right. 😉 )This disrupts the sleep cycle just enough to restart it, and allows you to make sure the baby has a full belly. What hopefully happens at this point is that you get to go to bed and enjoy a longer time period of uninterrupted sleep that coincides with your baby’s long time period. Everyone gets good sleep!
I loved the dream feed with Ben. It just made sense to ‘top off the tank’ before I went to bed. I kept the lights low in his room, let him eat, and put him back to bed without him waking up most nights. With the girls it was a little harder. It’s a lot harder to do the gentle up and down when you have to pick up one girl, bring her to the nursing spot, go get the other and bring her to the nursing spot. Then get the nursing pillow on and the girls on the pillow, and finally feed them. They would wake up during this process sometimes. They usually fell back to sleep while eating, so I didn’t worry too much about that initial wake up. In order to help them stay asleep after nursing Pat would come up and gently move each girl to the bed. It was a process of sorts, but it worked for us. They would have a full belly, and we could all go to sleep!
I have found figuring out when to drop the dream feed to be a bit of a trial and error process. With Ben I thought he could go without it a few times and he disagreed. It took a few attempts to drop it. When I would skip the dream feed, he would wake up between 3 and 4 looking to eat. I didn’t want to go back to middle of the night feedings, so I kept the dream feed. I would try skipping it, it wouldn’t work, and we would wait another week or so. Finally at 19 weeks I skipped the feed one night and he still slept all night long! We never looked back and he did really well. With the girls I wasn’t looking to end the dream feed. Honestly with the busy-ness of three little ones I enjoyed the quiet time to snuggle with my girls. But they had a problem with early waking. After trying some other ways to get past the early waking, it was suggested to me that they were ready to drop the dream feed. I tried it one night, and it totally helped! The girls slept through their early wakings and we never did the dream feed again. Interestingly, they were also 19 weeks old when that took place.
The dream feed helps when babies are only sleeping 4-5 hour stretches for their long sleep. It allows you to line your sleep up with theirs better, without having to go to bed too early. This is so vital when you are in the newborn days. Any stretch of sleep is a good thing! When the long stretch of sleep lengthens you get to sleep longer. As your baby gets older ending to dream feed can actually help the sleep cycle so your baby can get past the early wake ups that can be so frustrating. Who knew one little feeding could do so much for the sleep of an entire family?