12/16/11

What is a dreamfeed and how do I give it?


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What is a Dreamfeed?
The dreamfeed is the feed that you give baby before you go to bed. It is the feed right after baby's bedtime feed when he is already asleep and in bed for the night.

Other common names for the dreamfeed:
Late-evening feed (Babywise),
the 10 pm-11 pm feed (Gina Ford),
dream feed and lastly,
df (my favorite, as you will see)

Why should I do a dreamfeed?
The df, along with evening cluster feedings (when appropriate) help to "tank up" baby before bed to help him sleep longer at night. It also helps by matching up baby's longer stretch of sleep with your longer stretch of sleep so you can be better rested.

Why should I NOT do a dreamfeed?
Well, obviously if it doesn't work don't do it (see more about this below). That really isn't what I'm trying to talk about here though. I wanted to address that some experts do not recommend a df (i.e. The Baby Sleep Solution). They feel it hinders baby's ability to sleep through the night at an earlier age by disrupting baby's natural rhythm.

What is the best time to do a dreamfeed?
Most experts suggest you do the df between 10 and 11, depending on how long you stay up and how baby responds (this is with a 7 am wake up). A too late of df can lead to fitful sleep with more night wakings and an early morning wake up. Plus, it encourages a baby to eat more during the night which is the opposite of what we are trying to do here. If you are doing a df too late and baby is sleeping great then you might not want to change anything. If baby isn't sleeping perfectly and the df is late, try slowly moving it to an earlier time.

Something else to keep in mind with the df is how long it has been since baby's last meal. You want baby to be hungry for the df so he will take a full meal, have a full tummy and be more likely to give you a long stretch of sleep after.

At the same time, babies go into lighter sleep about 6 and 9 hours after falling asleep. If you give the df, this will probably be 6-9 hours after. This means that baby will probably be going into light sleep around 4-5 am. This is usually just fine, but when babies go through their phase of early morning waking and playing around 5-6 months of age you are setting it up for their light sleep during this time. By moving the df time around you can sometimes stop these early morning play periods (sometimes lasting 1-2 hours!). I suggest moving it earlier if baby can go that long without food. If you move it later kids may wake up a bit later and play still, and they will have an even harder time falling back to sleep as it is even closer to their normal morning wake up time.

How do I give the dreamfeed?
The Baby Whisperer suggests giving the df while baby is still asleep, dreaming away. She suggests you leave the light off and do not have any talking or any other sort of stimulation. Baby should be so relaxed that burping after the feeding may not even be needed, especially with older babies and breastfed babies.

I personally always changed baby's diaper during the df when he was a newborn and eating often at night. I never like leaky diapers (umm, who does?), but I especially don't like them during my one long stretch of sleep at night! Just make sure to change the diaper near the beginning of the feeding so baby is relaxed and ready for bed near the end of the feeding.

I also always burp with younger babies. I really think they need it. I just try to mostly finish up the feeding, burp really well, then do the last tiny bit of the feeding followed by little to no burping.

Some babies do better when woken up completely for the df. Sometimes it is the only way they will eat, and sometimes it simply helps them sleep better at night and wake up later in the morning. Gina Ford suggests you keep baby up for approximately 45-60 minutes during the df for the first 2-4 months of his life or until he is regularly sleeping until the desired morning wake time (at which time you slowly decrease the wake time at the df). Ford believes that failing to keep baby awake at this time is one of the main causes of early morning awakenings, especially once night feeds are dropped.

How to do the dreamfeed with a bottle:
When you use a bottle you can wiggle the nipple in baby's mouth to activates the sucking reflex. Milk also drips out of most bottles simply by holding them upside down which encourages baby to eat. Don't let too much milk come out before baby starts sucking or he may start to gag on it.

How to do the dreamfeed while breastfeeding:
You can do the dream feed while breastfeeding, but it often a bit harder, and sometimes almost impossible with some babies. You can stroke baby's bottom lip with a pacifier, your finger, or your breast to get his sucking reflex going. You can also try to express some milk into baby's mouth to get him interested in eating. Many moms (myself included) will pump and then feed baby by a bottle. Baby often eats more food and more easily this way. Plus, it gives dad a chance to feed baby, gives baby practice with the bottle, and lets you go to sleep a few minutes earlier.

How much do I feed baby for the dream feed?
Feed baby as much as she'll eat. The more the better when she is young. When she is older you may want to slowly decrease how much she is eating. More on that on dropping the dreamfeed.

Does the dream feed work for everyone?
I bet you aren't surprised that my answer to this is no. Nothing works with everyone! Some babies sleep horribly if you give them a df. It really messes up their natural sleep rhythms. You will have to try it and see what happens. Remember to try it consistently for at least a few days before deciding it doesn't work.

Starting late
Start it and see what happens. You may need to do it for several days before your baby (and you!) benefit from it. Yes, I suggest keeping at it even if baby sleep worse at first because this is the case with many babies. If they continue to sleep worse then I would work on the timing of the dream feed. If things still do not improve, then I would consider dropping the df. Take note that you are more likely to have issues and no luck with this the older baby is.

Need troubleshooting advice or DF dropping advice?  Look at Dreamfeed troubleshooting tips and Dropping the dreamfeed.


Did you give a dream feed? How did it work for you?

28 comments :

  1. Hi Rachel thank you for this post, I found it very helpful. I have been giving my 6 mth old baby a df since she was about a month old. She has had really bad reflux and I found this was usually one of the best feeds for her. At about 4 months she started to take less and less at the df so we thought she was ready to drop it but then started to increase again! I've also noticed that she seems to take the least amount of all her feeds at her 7am one when I would have thought she should be most hungry. She was sleeping through till 7 most days but in very recent weeks (which seemed to coincide with the introduction of solids) she has started to wake much earlier and has trouble settling herself back to sleep. I would really like to drop the df but I'm very nervous about doing so as I don't what the early morning wakings to get worse as I'm working hard to get her back to waking at a later time.
    Any thoughts appreciated. Debs

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  2. Debs3693,
    She may have started to eat more at the df at 4 months due to a growth spurt.

    If she takes a small amount at 7 am then it might mean that she really doesn't need the dream feed and isn't terribly hungry then from having it, even though it was a long time prior. Some babies are like this. She may also not be a baby that likes to eat tons first thing in the morning. One of my kids is like this.

    I would let solids get more established before dropping the df. One, because issues have occured with the solids and her tummy may be having some issies. Another becauase soem babies have growth spurts rigth now and you want to know, with everything else going on, what is causing what. It will be confusing if you drop the dreamfeed and she continues to wake if she is now hungry, or it is the new problem, or something else. Does she seem to wake hungry in the morning right now, or is the waking not hungry in the morning happening right now? Just make sure to rule out hunger as an issue. With a df at this age it shouldn't be an issue. She should be able to get her food during the day.

    I would consider a possible phase going on that will pass. I would also consider reevaluating naps. Make sure she isnt' getting too much day time sleep, the morning nap isn't too early, and that she is going to bed not too late (but also not soo early that it is causing her to wake early as it does with somes babies--you will have to test things to figure this out.

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  3. Awesome blog. :-) And helpful! :-D Visiting back from Measuring Flower. Liked you on FB and left you an Alexa ranking. Have a happy new year!

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  4. Thanks for the visit and like Measuring flower!

    Rachel

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  5. I have done df 2x and both he has woken up earlier than I would like for both a middle of the night feed @ 1:30 am and morning wake time 5 :50am. I have been shooting for 7 am

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    1. Cinthya,
      It isn't uncommon for it to make things worse before they get better so I suggest trying for a couple more days at least. With my oldest, he was worse for 3-4 days then he started to sleep longer. They have to get used to the new sleep/feed rhythm. With some babies it will never help and with others it will only help a tiny bit.

      good luck!
      Rachel

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  6. Good post and hoping this really works.My 11 wk old keeps waking 3 to 4 times at night.He gets sleepy by around 7 and I feed him , change diaper and he is asleep by 8.00 pm.wakes up at 10pm and then i feed him and he is up at exactly 12am.Feeds again and then he wakes up at 2.30am( feeds , sleeps ), wakes again at 4.30 and then at 6.30am ( yes every 2 hourly) and he feeds a lot during night time and is very sleepy.i just wish he would drop atleast one feed during night.
    What should i do? use the baby whisperer or the dream feeding ( and what time should i use it)

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    Replies
    1. Jnymom,
      Work on getting full feeds at night. That may mean you will have to stay a bit more awake during the feeds to keep him awake.

      The babywhisperer methods (eat/wake/slep routine, dream feed, ect, see posts) will very likely help things out. Also check out the top sleep tips for some suggestions that may help.

      Delete
  7. Hi Rachel,

    First of all I wanted to thank you for this awesome blog! I just found it and think it is of great help!
    I'm a first time mom and I'm looking for some advice :)
    I didn't know where to post for some advice on how to get back on track after an illness.

    My almost-8-month-old son was a great sleeper from the beginning. He would sleep from 7:30pm to 7:30am since he was born without a df or nf. Then, when he was around 6 months we traveled out of the country to visit some relatives and stayed there for over 3 weeks. We tried to keep his routine as similar as home as possible. The problem was that he got sick. He got a really bad cold. Then, when we came back home he got an ear infection that lasted for 2 weeks :(
    All this time, the only thing that helped him feel better when he woke up several times at night was nursing.
    He's finally over the cold and ear infection. it's been over 2 weeks. However, he's having a lot of trouble sleeping at night. He's waking up several times. We've been able to get him back to sleep by just going in and patting his back. But there is at least once per night that he will wake up and won't go back to sleep or stop the loud crying until I nurse him. I tried the pu/pd and even doing a df but it actually seems to make it worse.
    I really don't know what to do since he had always been such a great sleeper. Now I'm just lost :(

    Any advice would be great!

    Thanks so much, and sorry for the loooong post :)

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    Replies
    1. Sandra,
      My guess is that with his history, he probably doesn't need that feed at night. But he is at an age where many babies get extra hungry so the need for one feed at night for a short time until he has more solids can't be ruled out.

      You have a lot of progress in dropping things down to just one feed. If the short visit seem to be progressively helping, keep them up. Try to keep them short as possible. I suggest giving him a short time to settle when he wakes to see if he can drift off on his own and see if you can stay short enough with him if you do check on him that he goes back to sleep on his own.

      I probably wouldn't introduce the df at this age. You are right that it likely hurts rather than helps. pu/pd sometimes make things worse at first, but eventually things improve. You may want to do an approach of weaning form the feed. Feed less time every few nights. If he is waking at a certain time (and wake to sleep doesn't help), you can moving back the feed a little bit every few nights.

      Once you get things figured out, in the future try to have a plan for illness (which should involve comforting baby, but trying not to give more comfort than he needs to prevent too many new props) and what to do once illness is over (pat baby when he wakes, but only so long etc). You will have ups and downs along the way so you may have to jump back to similar methods like the ones you are doing every so often. Some babies regress more than others during disruptions and some babies do it more often. Hopefully you your little guy will keep sleeping good for you most of the time ;)

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  8. R,
    What is your opinion on changing diapers after giving the dreem feed (obviously always doing number 2)? We have been doing it and our baby girl (almost 3 months) falls asleep directly after, but can be a bit cranky during the change. You wrote that you used to do it before finishing the feed

    I always give the dreem feed at 10 pm and our baby recently started to sleep longer, 6 am the longest, but more often wakes up hungry between 05 - 05.30 am (no diaper change), but after then she lays in her bed talking for some 30-40 minutes before she falls asleep, but she always does fall asleep again. Should I still wake her up at 7 am to feed her? Sometimes she is happy to wake up but other times she is just so tired falling right back to sleep, should I insist on keeping her awake for a while?

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    Replies
    1. Test,
      I think you are fine to change a diaper whenever it works best at night for you. I try not to change more than I need to (so baby goes back to sleep more easily and so he gets used to sleeping more at this time) and I try to do it before baby goes down so he doesn't get worked up. But if it is working fine for you to change it right before she goes back to sleep, then no need to change things.

      See this post
      http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2009/06/morning-wake-time-timing-morning-wake.html
      I'd keep her up after a feed in the am, but it doesn't have to be for long. An hour including feed time is plenty (give or take what works for her).

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  9. hi Rachel,

    I love this website! it is soooo helpful... I am a mother of 2. I fed my first son at night until past 2 years old and ended up having to go through some tearful nights to night-wean him. So the second time around, I am determined to deal with night waking earlier!

    It's been difficult but my 8 months old second son is now on a routine (as per SOS) and goes down alone beautifully for naps and evening sleep. I dropped all night-feeds and am now resettling him when he wakes. His night is 7PM to 6.30AM and he doesn't seem too hungry in the morning. The reason for dropping all night feeds is as follows...

    Twice I worked on having a dream feed at 10.30-11PM. He was initially waking up earlier in the evening and I resettled him until 10.30PM. After ~3 nights, he did not wake before 10.30PM and I gave him a dreamfeed - all seemed good. Then, after ~3 nights, he started waking up earlier and earlier in the evening. I did not manage to resettle him for 1-2hrs and ended up feeding him when it was 10.30PM. I triedd this twice! The same thing happened when I was only giving him one second feed at 3AM: it'd work a while and then he'd wake up earlier and earlier and I'd have trouble resettling him. My impression was that he was waking for a feed and not learning to resettle without a feed. So I decided to completely stop feeding him at night.

    Now, instead of waking ~8 times a night, he's waking on average 2-3 times. For a few days, I just resettled him quickly by just shushing or sometime patting. But now, the first couple of times, I generally manage to resettle him quickly by just shushing or sometime patting and then there is a 1.5hrs waking! It can be at 11.30PM, 2AM, 3AM... He is teething but I give him paracetamol and put cream on his gums when I cannot resettle him. He ends up going to sleep in my arms and I put him back in bed (it takes 1.5hrs because any time I put him back in bed before that, he ends up waking up again). I don't pick him up unless he's crying desperately. Sometimes he wakes up around 5AM and is resettled relatively easily, sometimes he then sleeps through. I tried leaving him in the cot to resettle him last night and he cried desperately for 30 minutes and I ended up picking him up - it was a heart-breaking 30 minutes... At this point I am thinking I will try pick up-put down. I suspect it will take a very long time - he is a very primal willful little boy. It's possible he'll sleep better again when he's not teething but I would like him to learn to go back to sleep after I've given him some medicine (and waited 20 min for it to act).

    I would like to know your opinion re dreamfeed in my circumstances - do you think mine is one of those rare cases when it doesn't work? Do you agree with what I have done re stopping feeds?

    I would also appreciate any advice - I am running out of options...:-(

    All the best,

    Claire

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    1. Claire,
      I think you are fine to have dropped the dream feed. He seems to be doing fine. Most kids on a routine I've worked with seem to do ok going this long at night at this age.

      Pupd seems like a good idea right now. It seems that he will easily jump back into old habits and will also get progressively worse with sleep if you let him and if he has too much attention then. So try to be consistent in your methods and only give attention when he needs it. Don't rush in.

      Rachel

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  10. Thanks Rachel!

    Though I'd give you an update - pick up/put down worked wonders!! I started pick up/put down on a Monday, there were 2-3 very hard nights with ~1h30-2h of pu/pd... And then it dropped to 2x 30min. And on the Saturday, no pick ups, only patting and shushing!! And on the Sunday, he resettled alone and I only had to shush him once!! Since, he's been sick so is waking up a little more but I've almost not had to pick him up and when I do, he is happy with being put back down - it is fantastic! I love that it is a method that does not let the baby cry desperately. My son also seems happier and more reassured in his relationship with me now that I don't let him cry.

    Thanks again. I am so grateful for your website, it is fantastic in that it puts all these various techniques in one place.

    Best
    Claire

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    1. That's wonderful to hear Claire. I'm so glad you've seen lots of progress and found a method that works great for you guys! I hope things keep going great!

      Rachel

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  11. Hi Rachel, I'm struggling with early morning wake up with my DD. She is 24 weeks old but there is no monkey business in the crib. She starts by talking to herself, then fussing, then full fledged crying. We sooth her after she escalates but never pick her up until 6am. We also keep her up until at least 7:30/8am so that's she not getting her last sleep cycle int he AM. She goes to sleep on her own between 7:15 and 7:45 every evening. She typically does a 6-8 hour stretch. Then we feed her once she's hit the 8 hour mark around 3:30 - 4:00 am. She's been waking up at 5am or 4:40 am pretty regularly. We follow a ESW routine during the day. Her naps aren't always at the same exact times, because she varies their lengths each day. We never keep her up for more than 2 hours at time. Do you think we'd benefit from a dream feed?

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    1. Unknown,
      I highly doubt the dreamfeed would help with those early morning wake ups. Wake to sleep may help. Jump on over to the early morning waking post if you haven't already and see if something pops out there to you.
      http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2009/04/early-morning-awakenings.html

      good luck!
      Rachel

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  12. Hi Rachel. I have an 8 week old. He has pretty much set his own bedtime and has wanted to go to bed by 8pm since a few weeks old, he would then wake around 10ish for a feed. The last couple of weeks he has had enough by 7.30ish so we feed him then and put him to bed. He no longer wakes again at 10ish so I've tried to dream feed but it's hit and miss - sometimes he'll take an ounce, other nights 3 ounce. He then wakes anytime from 3.30 to 5.30 before going back to sleep until 7.30 ish. There doesn't seem to be any link between how much he is taking at the dream feed. Should we persevere with the dream feed at 10? Should I be waking him up at 10 so he takes more?? I know he can go 6 or 7 hours so I don't know why some nights he is waking around 3. We do a cluster feed at 5.30 then 7.30 although recently he is practically nodding off at 7.30 and hasn't taken much then either...I felt we were doing really well and now feel like I'm going backwards!!

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    1. Cathy Sellars,
      No need to feel like you're going backwards, babies are always changing, things are just different :)

      You might want to consider dropping that cluster feed at this age. He'll likely end up taking more at the bedtime feed and sleep longer after that.

      With the 3 waking, some kids will go back and forth for a while with feeds--their little bodies are changing a lot. You could try to have him hold out until 5:30 (offer a pacifier etc) and he'll likely get more into the habit of waking then--but time alone will likely extend out the feeds on their own.

      With the dreamfeed, you need to decide if you like the idea of it and if baby is responding well. You could try to wake baby more at the df and see how that goes. dropping cluster feeding may help with that too. If you decide you'd rather not do it and keep that night feeding for longer then that is fine. I think either method is fine.

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  13. Hi Rachel,
    I have a 7wk old breast fed baby & I'm trying to get him down earlier b/c I think he's just ready to go to bed. After his last feed he's sleeping 6-7 hrs but I would like to try the df to see if I could put him down earlier & stretch the night out so he's not waking until 6ish. Do you think I would benefit from this? And, should I try a bottle at the df instead of my breast? I attempted to df last night but I couldn't get him to latch on. Thoughts...?

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    1. Momof2,
      Yes, you certainly might benefit. You'll need to give it several nights for sure to see if it works or doesn't work--some kids end up doing worse with it. Breastfeeding would be easier, so I'd see if you can get him to wake up a bit more and take a full feed then. If you can't, then go ahead and give a bottle--I had to with my oldest.

      Good luck,
      Rachel

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  14. Hi!

    My 10 week old who has slept through the night since about 6 weeks ( usually 9-10 hours) with no dream feed has woken up the last two nights for a feed. once it was at 4:15 then last night 3:15. she goes right to sleep after. I also Custer feed at night. the afternoons actually have 4 feedings before her bedtime at 8 ( nurse every 2-2.5 hours) . I was thinking of trying to bring in a dream feed, which I tried once before when she did this and it didn't work. if I bring in a dream feed I was thinking of dropping one of her feedings. is it just a growth spurt? she is usually in the 50% for weight so she isn't a big baby by any means. what do you suggest?

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    1. JenRussell,
      My guess is that she'll drop the feed again soon. Consider moving bedtime a bit earlier and looking over the setting the stage for good sleep post. You can also try to extend out the feed or feed a bit less and it may drop easily that way if it's turned into a bit of a habit by now.

      best,
      Rachel

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  15. Hi Rachel. Thanks so much for your very useful website!
    I've been doing a dreamfeed with my now 14 week old daughter for about 3 weeks. I was giving it about 10/11, and it led her to only wake up once to be fed in the night-usually around 3.30/4. She'd then wake up around 7, feed, have a nap for an hour or so, then be ready to start her day. We were all very happy with this!
    The last couple of nights however, I've wanted a bit of an earlier night so have gone to bed around 10 and set my alarm for the dreamfeed- but not woken up! Instead, I've woken when my daughter has (around 1ish), fed her (more quickly to full than the dreamfeed as clearly she's woken due to hunger), and then she's slept until 7.30-8. This has also worked very well! However, I wondered if you can think of any advantages/disadvantages to me sticking to the latter rather than reverting to the dreamfeed. Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thanks!

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  16. Hi Hi Rachel,
    My almost 15 weeks old started gloriously sleeping 5-7 hour stretches at 2 months.... But for only about a week, and then has never done it again. She will every once in a great while, randomly surprise me and sleep 5-7 hours one night, but for the most part wakes 2-3 times at night to feed. She is more than double her birth weight, around 15lbs. She used to go to bed around 9:30-10:00pm, but she was getting so fussy it was hard to get her to eat and it was traumatic for us both haha! So the past two nights, I have moved her bed time way up to 8:00 or 8:30, and she nurses very peacefully and goes to sleep. The first night, she fed for 30 min and was out and woke up at 11:30 and 4:20 to feed. The. Second night, she didnt get much of a catnap and was overstimulated so she fed for an hour and did not got to sleep right away, and woke up at 11:15 and 3:15 to feed. My question is, should I keep on doing what we are doing and see if she will naturally put together a long stretch with the new earlier bedtime? Or should I attempt a dream feed? And why if she feeds for an hour, can't make it any longer than the night she fed for a half hour? Thanks for your advice, your site is great!

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  17. Hi Thanks for the great site! I recently (just this last week) transitioned my 8 month breastfed co-sleeping baby to the crib using the sleep lady shuffle method (acting we did an extended even gentler modified approach.) Prior to training he was nursing 8-10 times a night and now I dream feed 3 times per night so that I can be sure he has a full belly since he is used to eating so frequently (even thought he was just comfort nursing). Which dreamfeed should I drop first- the 1am or 4:30 feed? and should I go cold turkey? Im actually just as exhausted getting up and going to the nursery 3 times a night as I was co-sleeping and nursing 8 times a night! I want to do this as smoothly as possible for my little guy so he doesnt have blood sugar spikes that wake him up. Thanks

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  18. My 8-1/2 mo son has been going down OK at 6:30, then waking up at around 10, when we'd pull him into bed. Thereafter, he'd wake approximately every 3 hours, but it was hardly noticeable since he would be in bed. I'd like for him to sleep longer, and preferably in his crib. Since he's already 8-1/2 mo, it seems like the dream feed may not be recommended. Any thoughts? Thanks very much!

    ReplyDelete

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