Dream feeding basically means feeding your baby while they’re asleep. You beat them to the punch so they stay asleep longer. I had always fed Shepard on demand so the idea of jostling him in any way while he had taken one hour and twenty seven minutes to get there seemed insane. I really didn’t want to do it, yet I was going to follow the book’s directions for one whole night no matter what.
He had been waking up to nurse every forty five minutes to an hour – no joke, so I had to guestimate the timing of the first dream feed. I decided on two hours after he fell asleep. I tiptoed into his room at 10:40pm and nervously lifted him out of his crib. He was totally asleep. “I can’t pick him up! What am I doing?!” I sat down and he quickly latched on and ate for ten minutes. He seemed to be asleep still. When he was done I placed him back in the crib and he miraculously turned onto his side and was fast asleep. I tiptoed back out feeling successful and relieved.
Then at midnight, WAH WAH WAH! “Goddammit! That dream feed didn’t work at all!” I exclaimed. Alan said, “Why do you have to be so extreme? He’s stayed asleep three and a half hours – that’s better than usual.” He went in empty handed. So brave. He was in there about seven or eight minutes – no crying. “Well? What happened?” I asked when he got back to bed. He said he just put him on his side and rocked him and sang to him until he went back to sleep. I’m not sure that was authorized by the book but Shepard didn’t get milk, he was not crying and he was asleep. Good enough for me.
I set the alarm for 2am for dream feed #2. So painful. It went very much the same as the first one but I still hated moving him in any way when it had been such a struggle to get him into that state! I put him back in the crib. He was asleep. Phew!
At 5am he woke up crying. My instinct was to go get him and just nurse him in bed for Godsakes, but Alan went in and patted his back, rocked him a little and came back to bed. He was quiet in just a few minutes. At 6am he woke again and this time we did nothing. He cried for just two minutes. At 6:30 he cried again but hallalujah we were allowed to get him because that was our set wake up time. We hugged him and kissed him and praised him, told him what a big boy he was and what a good job he did. He smiled and laughed and didn’t even seem mad at us! We got through the first night! An hour and a half to get to sleep and three wake ups.
The book said after the first night just go ahead and tackle naps right away. So at 9:05am I nursed him for 7 or 8 minutes and as he was falling asleep I put him in the crib. He started crying right away. This is all part of it, I reasoned with myself. I knew the first couple days would be hard. I waited til 9:28 for my first check in and he was SCREAMING! It’s just me now – I got this. He was standing up, tears flying out of his eyes like a cartoon baby. I marched in, put him on his side, patted his back and said, “Nite nite baby boy. Go to nite nite. I love you.” and left. I waited fifteen minutes for the next check in because they only seem to aggravate him. At 9:43, same drill. The room finally fell quiet at 9:47. Only like 35 minutes of crying. That’s progress, right? He slept until 11.
His second nap was at 2pm and I was more haggard than ever. This better be worth it, I grumbled to myself. Same routine, I nursed him for about ten minutes before putting him in the crib. I did it quickly and walked out and waited for the wails…and waited…nothing! He went right to sleep without complaint! He slept til 2:45. Not long enough but I’ll take what I can get.
That night I put him in the crib with dread at 7:15 after a good nite nite routine. I told him I loved him and walked out. I hovered right outside his room anticipating the screams but there was only silence. Alan and I high fived. “Maybe the hard part only lasts one night?” At around 9pm though, he woke up. The main rules of sleep training/dream feeding are to stay consistent so you don’t confuse the baby with mixed messages and to not feed them on demand or else waking up will just become a more of habit and it’ll happen more frequently. So we definitely couldn’t feed him. Alan went in for a quick check in and he faded back to sleep.
I made the bold move to cut out the 10:30 dream feed because I felt like I was rousing him from sleep too soon. This is a meaty twenty pound baby. I knew he could last all night without eating. He just was in the habit of waking up every hour to eat because, why not? Warm milk, the comfort of mama – sounds pretty enticing to me.
I went in at 2am and fed him for 8 minutes. If you’re breastfeeding, you’re supposed to cut down on the minutes you dream feed every night until it lasts two minutes then you drop that feeding. If you’re bottle feeding you lower the number of ounces each night. He woke up at 4am for about ten minutes but we didn’t go in. He next woke up at 6:55am! Night two was a huge success! Just two wake ups. We weren’t getting uninterrupted sleep yet but I could begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Day two of naps went smoothly in terms of crying but he still wasn’t sleeping long enough, just 40-60 minutes. The book said an eight month old baby should be getting about three hours a day of nap time. He was getting about an hour and a half.
I put him in his crib at 7:05. He started crying right away. Damn! 7:15 check in #1, he was standing up. I put him on his side and walked out. 7:16 – asleep! Progress! 11:43 wake up crying. We let him cry ten minutes then Alan went in. Still crying ten minutes later at 11:53. Alan went in again. Midnight, back asleep. 1:30am dream feed, eight minutes. 3:03am wake up crying. 3:13am Alan checked in. Cried until 3:25. Wake up for the day 6:25am. Better-ish? Naps; first one only lasted from 9:15-9:45 but the second one lasted for two hours, from 1:30-3:30pm!
That night of sleep started out great but we took a bit of a backwards step. He was in the crib by 7:30 and without crying went straight to sleep. He woke at 10:10pm but only cried for two minutes. I did a dream feed from 1:30-1:38am. He woke up crying at 4:30am and during his check in at 4:45 I felt that he was soaking wet. His PJs and crib sheets were soaked through. I quickly changed his diaper but just couldn’t face changing the sheets so I took him into bed with me, nursed him and let him sleep there the rest of the night until his 7am wake up. “I’ve ruined EVERYTHING!” I cried that morning but Alan just rolled his eyes and said “It’s gonna be okay”. The first nap that day was a little rough. I was at work but Alan reported that he put him down at 10am after a bottle but he didn’t fall asleep until 10:30. He slept til 11:30. The second one went fine, 3:30-4:40.
So the first week it went like this, usually waking up twice during the night. He was making some progress but it definitely wasn’t the seamless put-him-down-at-7pm-pick-him-up-at-6am I had heard from my friends. The difference was how we responded to his waking. A week and a half in things weren’t getting much smoother and we noticed two things: one, he would often wake up wet in the middle of the night and two; we saw two swollen white mounds coming in next to his two front teeth. Oh great, teething right in the middle of sleep training! Do we quit or do we push through? First thing was easy to remedy. I switched Shepard to disposable diapers for overnight. The cloth dipes couldn’t hold the leaks all night. Problem solved. The teething was a little trickier because the book said not to start sleep learning if your child is teething. Don’t start, yes, but we were already in too deep!
We decided to proceed but relax the rules a bit until this painful burst of teeth had passed. We gave him baby Advil proactively before bedtime and again at 2am. When he woke at 5am and sounded like he was really in pain I brought him into bed to nurse. The next night we didn’t drug him but I brought him into bed again for comfort. The following night he cried in agony of those teeth. I swear he was getting four at once so we dosed him with the Advil again. He faded right to sleep. This went on for about five days.
Once we got through that bout of teething another problem showed itself. Two weeks in Shepard woke up five times in a forty minute period. He would cry for 3 minutes then be quiet for 15, cry for 2 minutes, quiet for 20, cry for 30 seconds, quiet. Finally I went in to investigate and one of the freaking cats, Oscar was going in and out of the cat door over and over, in and out, in and out. The flap would slap against the wall making a loud noise every time. I guess I forgot to mention that we live in a zoo of two big dogs, an old, arthritic pitbull and a Mexican mutt, four cats and one tortoise. The cats’ litter boxes and food are on the balcony outside of Shepard’s room. We have a cat door so they can get in and out as needed. I knew this would become a problem eventually.
We had already dealt with the raccoon invasion a couple months before. A family of five large raccoons were out on the balcony eating the cat food and the dad thought maybe there was more inside. We heard loud growls coming from the baby room and ran in there to find our obese white cat, Michael Jackson hissing at the huge raccoon halfway through the cat door three feet away from our precious baby! I screamed and whisked the baby into our bed as Alan chased off the not-at-all-scared beasts with a broom and brought all the food inside and locked the cat door. The next day he built a screened in balcony so no more animals could get on there.
Now we had to deal with the problem of the cats. Though not a perfect solution, we decided to move one of the litter boxes and their food and water into the kitchen at night and move it all back to the balcony in the morning. Also Alan came home with a new white noise machine that was much louder than the one we had. This combo of a closed door, more white noise and less cat noise worked like a charm. I was still doing a dream feed and he was still waking up about once a night. I began to think the dream feed was actually making him wake up. So, Thursday, January 31st, twenty six days into sleep training we needed a break. We loaded him into his stroller in his PJs and walked to La Cabana down the street. As we drank margaritas and talked with friends we gave Shepard a bottle and barely noticed that he had fallen deeply asleep. He didn’t stir on the walk home or as I unstrapped him and put him in his crib. On the first night I omitted the dream feed he slept all night until 6am!!!
Since then something clicked in his little baby brain. He just sleeps. It was a bumpy road to get here but now we put him in his crib after nite nite routine between 7:15 and 7:30 and we go get him in the morning somewhere between 6 and 6:30. Yes, sometimes he still cries when we put him down and sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night but unless he’s sick, we almost never go in when he cries because it only lasts a couple minutes. He’s gotten so good at self soothing and putting himself back to sleep.
Now that we have such a well oiled machine, I am one of those people who says “Sleep training is the only way!!” Alan and I have our relationship back. One of us makes dinner while the other does bathy time, PJs and cat routine. Shepard plays quietly in his crib while I open the sliding glass door and bring through the litter box and a tray of four food bowls. I read him a book and give him his baba and he fades to sleep. Then Alan and I can have adult time of wine, uninterrupted conversation, dinner, maybe a TV show or movie. I try to be in bed by ten and sleep until Shepard cries at 6. There was a dark period where I never thought we’d get to this place. But here I am! Dark circles gone. Happy and rested baby boy. Oh and when he started sleeping through the night his daytime naps got longer too. An hour and a half for the first one and up to two hours for the second! Our month of sleep training was difficult but in the end it totally worked for us. If we didn’t have seven animals, the leaky diapers and that bout of teething I think he would’ve been sleeping through the night much sooner. Live and learn!