Before my boys were born, as part of my husband’s benefits, I worked with a lactation consultant. For free! Amazing right? Breastfeeding support from an employer. I digress… The lactation consultant and I discussed my breastfeeding plan, some local resources, and how we could continue to work together after my boys were born and during their first year of life. After they were born, she would write me an email every month or so to check in. We talked about all sorts of things – schedules, breastfeeding support pillows, pumping and other ways to increase and keep my production high, etc. (Check out my post on breastfeeding twins here.)
Then one email exchange changed my life…
There we were, the boys were 5-months-old and we were struggling with sleep. All of us. The boys were putting on great weight and seemed like they were teetering between needing a night feed and sleeping through the night. Some nights were great. Other nights were miserable. While I was happy to give them whatever they needed, the unpredictability of what they would do on any given night was starting to drive me a little crazy.
I shared this new challenge and frustration with the lactation consultant and she suggested that we try a Dream Feed.
My husband and I have a mocking, ethereal/mystical voice when we talk about the Dream Feed (“I’m going to go do the dream feed now,” I’d tell him), but it really did make a huge difference!
The idea is that we would put the boys to bed at their normal time (8pm), then right before I went to bed, I would go quietly into their room, pick one of them up, and put them to the breast to eat (usually around 10/10:30pm). They never once opened their eyes, they just “woke up” enough to eat and back to bed until 7 or 8am. I was starting to consistently get 6, 7, even 8 hours of sleep again. Even just typing this and remembering back to how much that helped us… phew – huge sigh of relief.
Now, did it work every night? No. Of course not. One of them would occasionally still wake up during the night and need to eat. After all, growth spurts and teething don’t work on anyone’s schedule…
There are a few reasons why I think it worked for us.
We had a pretty consistent schedule for the boys, they were good sleepers overall, and offering a feeding to them at this time didn’t seem to interrupt their natural sleep pattern. They were good eaters, didn’t have reflux or allergy issues, and rarely needed a burp when they breastfed. Some believe that doing a dream feed is like forcing a meal on them when they don’t want it, but I never woke them up to make them eat. I put my nipple to their mouth, maybe scratched their cheek or brushed their lips softly to tell them I was there…
If they opened their mouth to eat, great! If they didn’t, then I’d put them back in their bed and moved on.
Now, 3 years later, we are in a similar place with our 5-month-old baby girl. She’s doing great and gaining lots of weight, but is at that same point in her development where she seems like she wants/is ready to sleep through the night, but still needs to nurse from time to time. Again – totally unpredictable. It’s a little different with her, because, while we tried to put her on the same 3-hour schedule our boys had, she was not down with that at all. She wanted to be an on-demand feeder. Again, I’m happy to do whatever she needs, but it means that getting her on a consistent schedule has been a little bit harder. (We’re constantly negotiating new terrain when it comes to raising toddlers and an infant). Because of this inconsistency, the dream feed hasn’t really worked for her. It seems that her sleep pattern is heavier after she’s first put to bed and the dream feed is almost more disruptive for her. We gave it a good try, but we’ll just have to find a different approach for her. Luckily she’s a pretty good sleeper and she’s not making us too miserable.