Baby Night Waking—How To Deal With It
How To Solve Your Baby’s Middle of the Night Wakings
Here’s why your baby might be waking up overnight:
Often leads to night waking, but the waking is usually only triggered by the pain of teething the first couple of nights. Teething pain can occur anytime your baby breaks new teeth — from as early as 3 months to up to a year or older —and while most babies cope with the discomfort well, some are so bothered by teething that it interrupts their sleep. If this is happening with your baby, confirm your suspicions with your pediatrician, and ask about when to offer pain relievers like infant acetaminophen.
● Schedule Changes or Lack of a Consistent Sleep Schedule or Bedtime Routine.
While you don’t have to have every minute accounted for, babies do best with a consistent schedule. Having a regular routine and sleeping enough overnight and for naps can help your baby stay alert for the things that require attention, such as a visit from Grandma and Grandpa, and be ready to fall and stay asleep at night. Major changes to the normal schedule makes the baby overtired, and can lead to night wakings or trouble falling asleep.
● Practicing a New Skill or Approaching a Big Milestone.
Being a baby is all about learning new tricks. During the first year, she’ll learn to roll over, sit up, clap, wave, kick, cruise around like a little turtle and eventually, pull up to a standing position and toddle across the room. What do these milestones have to do with sleep? Everything. Your baby isn’t just learning new skills, she’s also eager to practice them, even during the middle of the night. She’s also being stimulated and storing loads of new information. All that brain overload is a good thing, but it makes it hard to settle down and may cause night wakings.
● Separation Anxiety.
Somewhere around 8 months, you may notice your little one seems extra clingy. She may not want to go to the sitter, or might howl when you leave the room, even for a minute. This baby separation anxiety stage can also cause sleep disruptions when she wakes up overnight and notices you’re not there. While there’s not much you can do to keep your baby from waking up in the middle of the night, you might try a version of sleep training to calm her down and help her self-soothe so that she can get back to sleep on her own, unassisted by you.
● Sleep Regressions.
Many babies go through a sleep regression when they’re 4 months old but there can also be a 6-month sleep regression, an 8-month sleep regression and even a 12-month sleep regression. If your older baby is waking up overnight again all of a sudden and it turns out to be a sleep regression, you may need to try sleep training (or try it again) to get her back on track.
● Craving a Nighttime Feed.
Be selective about when and how often you feed your cranky little one back to sleep. If she’s still younger and at the stage where she needs nighttime feedings, then an overnight snack may be just the thing to settle her down. But for many older babies who no longer need nighttime feedings, it’s a reward you don’t want to get into the habit of offering because it can lead to more frequent night wakings. The exception may be if your baby is going through a growth spurt. Ask your pediatrician how to handle those so that she’s getting enough to eat during the day. If your baby is just gurgling and cooing at night, don’t rush in. She doesn’t necessarily need a snack, and if you leave her alone for a bit she’ll probably fall back asleep on her own. Note: This watch-and-wait approach doesn’t apply to newborns, who need to eat more frequently. Breastfed babies should nurse every two to three hours, and bottle-fed babies every three to four hours, so don’t expect them to sleep for long no matter what time it is.
● Ear Infection.
The pain of ear infections or earaches (caused by wax or other factors) can wake babies in the night. The reason: Lying down changes pressure in the ear, causing pain to become worse at night or during naps. While you’re managing the infection or ear pain with medication prescribed by the doctor, ask your pediatrician whether there’s a safe way to elevate your baby’s head while she’s sleeping and for other forms of pain relief.
What do I do if my baby wakes up in the middle of the night?
While what to do will depend on what’s causing the night waking, there are definitely do’s and don’ts for soothing a baby back to sleep.
● Do check for lights and noise first.
Some babies wake up to stimuli that are barely noticeable to you (but fascinating to them), like the sound of a far-off siren or a light left on in the hallway. A white noise machine or blackout shades can help minimize those distractions.
● Do make sure she doesn’t need a diaper change and isn’t sick or in pain.
A baby with a dirty diaper, or one who’s not feeling well or has hurt herself will wake up overnight fussing, so checking for all those possibilities is a good idea.
● Don’t go rushing in to scoop her up.
If your little one is fussy but not in any distress, resist the urge to pick her up. Instead, try giving her a gentle pat until she calms down, but stop just before sleep comes so she learns to nod off on her own. A pacifier can also help.
● Don’t assume she’s hungry if she’s gotten enough to eat during the day.
If your older baby has been sleeping through the night without eating for a while, starting the habit of feeding her overnight again to soothe her back to dreamland isn’t a good idea and will be hard to break. But if she’s a bit younger and really still does need to eat overnight, then a feeding session might be in order.
How can I prevent night wakings?
Whether your little night owl is hooting because she’s teething, clamoring for a little 1 a.m. comfort or just wants to practice a new skill, here are a few more strategies you can use to minimize wake-up calls.
● Develop a good bedtime routine.
Start gearing up for nighttime about 30 to 45 minutes before you’d like your baby to fall asleep. Give her a bath or infant massage (lotion with lavender or chamomile will help her feel sleepy) and read her a bedtime story before putting her down.
● Feed her plenty during the day.
Make sure the baby finishes her last feeding before she goes to sleep and is eating enough during those daytime feedings. For younger babies, a dream feed right before you go to sleep may help.
● Be a little boring.
Don’t give your baby the idea that nighttime is playtime. Dim the lights, nix the bubbly conversations and limit the sing-songs to soft lullabies. And unless her diaper is dirty, leave it on until morning — even a diaper change can be too much activity until your baby grows out of night waking.
● Don’t skip naps.
It might seem like a good idea to curb daytime dozing for a baby who wakes up in the middle of the night. But this tactic can backfire. While naps help counteract sleep deficit at night, they’re still important for maintaining your routine and supporting baby’s overall health.
Babies aren’t born knowing how to put themselves to sleep when they’re tired or how to wake up when they’re well-rested. This is something she has to learn. Frequent night wakings and other sleep disruptions are all completely normal, and, like everything else, will change once becomes an independent sleeper.