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Baby Sleeping problems … where do I start? I don’t think there’s one single mom in the world that hasn’t struggled with their baby’s sleep at one point in time. And the number one topic for new (or not so new) moms is almost always the little amount of sleep they are getting at night and how hard that is.
But WHY is your baby not sleeping well? Why are they waking up multiple times a night?
Well, let me tell you a few things I have learnt in my almost 4 years since I have had my first daughter.
Waking Up during the Night is Normal
First of all, let me clear one thing: it is 100% normal for your baby to be waking up at night. Whether it’s because they are hungry, or because they need to feel the comfort of you being next to them, it’s all part of their normal development. Yes, you hear of the rare cases of babies that sleep through the night from 6 weeks old but, reality is, most babies don’t until much later. And that’s OK!
Physiologically, babies may still need at least one feed at night until they are well established on solids, around 9 months old. So, don’t panic if you are still getting up to feed your 6 month old in the middle of the night.
I know it’s hard and tiring when you need to get up to go to work at 5.30 am, and you had to get up multiple times to attend to your baby during the night. I have been there. The exhaustion and pressure we put on ourselves make us linger for that moment when our baby will finally sleep through the night.
And, I shall add, consistently through the night! Because babies don’t follow a straight path with regards to sleeping, it’s all up and downs. When you think it’s finally going better, it might just get worse.
But remember that your baby is just a little person trying to figure it all out in this world. Some babies just take a bit longer to learn how to sleep for longer stretches at night than others.
That said, depending on your baby’s age and sleep patterns, there are a few things that we, as parents, can do to improve their sleep, so that we can all get a better rest and feel more energized during the day.
9 Reasons Why your Baby may be waking up multiple times a night
First of all, let me tell you what are the reasons why your baby may be waking up multiple times a night.
1. They are hungry
I have mentioned it before, but I will say it again. Babies may still need to feed at night until they are well established on solids, which is around 9 months. Don’t expect your 6 month old to sleep through the night just because your friend’s baby does it. If you’ve tried consistently to put your baby back to sleep without feeding them for a few nights, but your baby screams until you do feed them, it just means they still need that feed.
That said, if you have an older kid (around 12 months old) that’s constantly waking up for a feed, it’s more likely that they are comfort feeding. If that’s the case, you can stop breastfeeding at night being confident that they still don’t need those feeds.
2. They don’t know how to fall back to sleep in between sleep cycles
This is possibly one of the most common reasons why a baby that’s older than 4 months old wakes up multiple times a night. If you used to have a baby that could sleep 8 hours straight a night, and suddenly starts waking up every 2 hours at 4 months old: welcome to the party!
Around 4 months old, the baby’s brain goes through quite a significant developmental milestone, during which the baby sleep pattern becomes more similar to the one of an adult, and they don’t drift from one cycle to another easily! They actually wake up completely in between each sleep cycle and they need to try go back to sleep by themselves. Their inability to do that is what causes the so called 4 month sleep regression.
3. They are going through a developmental milestone
Crawling, sitting, standing, walking, talking. These are all huge developmental milestones that babies go through and can affect baby’s sleep. Whether they like to practice their new skills at night, or they brain is just too busy to switch off, you may be in for a few weeks on disrupted sleep.
These phases of sleep disruption babies go through are often coupled with a change in their nap routines (dropping naps during the day as they grow), and are called Sleep Regressions. They usually last 2 to 6 weeks, but can drag for longer if not handled correctly.
4. They are either not tired enough or are overtired
Babies that sleep too much during the day, may wake up at night because they are not tired enough. The same happens if they are overtired, because the stress hormone builds up and wakes them in between sleep cycles. Have a look here for FREE feeding and sleeping schedules by age to make sure your baby is getting the right amount of sleep during the day.
5. They are experiencing Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in babies can start any time after 6 months, and you will find that a baby that was always OK to sleep in their own room, will start being upset all alone in their crib at night.
6. They are teething
Teeth in babies usually start to emerge between 6 and 12 months, and the pain behind it might wake your baby up at night.
7. They are too hot or too cold
Babies can wake up if they are too hot or too cold, so make sure that they are dressed appropriately!
Related: How to dress baby for sleep
8. They are loosing the Dummy / Pacifier
Many babies who use a pacifier will wake up between 6 and 12 months of age when the pacifier falls out, and you will need to be the one putting it back in their mouth. You can read here for some pacifier alternatives to break the habit.
9. They are sick
This might seem a bit of a given, but remember that babies don’t sleep well when they are sick. It can be hard, particularly if you are in the middle of sleep training, to stop what you are doing and break the routine. But I really wouldn’t recommend sleep training while your baby is sick.
Instead, have a look at these tips on how to soothe a crying baby, to help your baby cope with the discomfrot.
How you can help your Baby Sleep Better at Night
Once you’ve identified the reasons why your baby is waking up multiple times a night, here are some tips on how to improve their sleep:
1) Help them learn how to fall asleep by themselves.
This becomes critical from when they are about 4 month old and they might be going through the 4 month sleep regression. If baby can only fall asleep with certain sleep associations (i.e. feeding or rocking them to sleep), when they wake up in between cycles they won’t be able to go back to sleep unless they have that sleep association again.
A baby at 4 months old is still young enough not to be too aware of these sleep associations. They will not need or want them so desperately to scream for them for too long. On the other hand, when the baby reaches the 6 months old mark, they will become way more aware and extremely hard to settle if you don’t give them what soothes them to go to sleep. So you might want to work on this with your baby while they are between 4 and 6 month old.
2) Try a Gentle Sleep Training Method
If your child is going through separation anxiety, or you are struggling anyway to improve their sleep and remove some sleep associations, try a Gentle Sleep Training Method. There are 6 different ones that you can try, most of which involve little to no crying, instead of the dreaded Cry-It-Out Method.
The Chair, or Sleep Lady Shuffle Sleep Training Method, is particularly good if your baby is suffering from separation anxiety. This method consists in a parent sitting in a chair near the crib, until their baby falls asleep. Gradually, the parent moves farther and farther away from the crib until they are right outside the door. Eventually, they will no longer need the chair at all.
3) Use Teething Gel
If your baby is teething, you just need to be a bit patient and offer your baby all the comfort they need. What I found to be quite useful is applying some teething gel on the gums before bedtime. Have a look here for teething signs and symptoms.
4) Be Patient with the Pacifier
If your baby wakes up because they lost the pacifier, you have 2 options here: get rid of the pacifier, or be patient and wait until they are old enough to put it back in their mouth themselves.
What we did with our first daughter was leave 2 other pacifiers in the crib, so the chances she could find one by herself were much greater! With our second daughter we hardly used the pacifier during the first 4 months of life, and removed it entirely after that.
5) Use a Sleeping Bag
If your baby is waking up because they are too cold or too hot, make sure you are using a sleeping bag (so they don’t kick off any blanket) and that the sleeping bag is of the right TOG rating.
And did you know that there’s an ideal temperature that allows your little one to be comfortable and safe when sleeping? It is actually a range and experts recommend a temperature between 18 and 21 °C (65-72 °F). So, if you can, use a heater or a fan to keep the room temperature within the range, and dress baby accordingly.
6) Have a Good Bedtime Routine
If your baby loves all the social interaction before going to bed and is very excited when you put them down at night, they will struggle to fall asleep and might wake up at night. You need to help them wind down by removing them from the exciting environment and create a calm sleep routine.
You can try a bath, a massage, a book or a song, for example. The more consistent you are with this routine, the easier it will be for your baby to associate it with sleep.
7) Follow a Good Sleep and Feeding Schedule
This is actually key to make sure that your baby has a good night sleep by not being overtired or not tired enough. Have a look here for sample feeding and sleeping baby schedules to make sure your baby is getting the right amount of sleep during the day.
8) Don’t loose your patience!
If you feel like you can’t handle it anymore, get professional help sooner rather than later. You don’t want to loose your patience at a moment when both your baby and yourself are extremely tired. Loosing patience can also break the consistency of sleep training, which is key for it to work.
Remember that sleep training doesn’t necessarily mean letting your baby cry until they fall asleep by themselves (Cry It Out Method)! There are other gentle sleep training methods that are as (if not more) effective and that involve little to no crying. Check them out here.
9) Don’t get fixated with numbers
I remember I used to constantly count the number of hours my baby was sleeping and think “ok, she slept for 6 hours in a raw… hopefully we’ll get to 8 soon”. It doesn’t work that way. It might get to 8, but it might also get back to 5. You never know.
Accepting the fact that it didn’t matter anymore, also allowed me to fall asleep easier after every time my baby woke up.
10) Stick to your instinct and what you believe in
Every baby and every family is different. Something that works for other (or most) people, might not work for you. If you are trying a sleep training method or a sleep/feed schedule that doesn’t feel right for you, follow your instinct and change it.
I remember I had to increase the amount of time my second daughter was sleeping during the day compared to the sleeping guide I was following. I was finding that she was way too tired by the time I was putting her to bed. Once I increased her afternoon nap, things got so much better at night.
And don’t let anyone else make you feel like you are doing something wrong or like you could do better. We are all doing the best we can as parents, and even though it can be tough as nails, we will make it through to the other side (eventually).
If you have a newborn (newborn to 3 months), you might also want to check out these 5 simple ways to help your baby sleep from Parent on Board.
My Personal Experience
How I Moved from Hell to Acceptance
We (my wife and I) really went through a hard time with sleeping with our first daughter. She wasn’t such a bad sleeper until she turned one. I mean, still waking up once or twice a night for a re-settle and the occasional sleeping through. But when she turned one it all went downhill.
I won’t go through all the details, but know that IT WAS SO HARD. And what made it worse was this constant expectation that it was going to improve soon. And everything we tried didn’t seem to make much of a difference. We were constantly waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel, but the light felt farther and farther away.
Meanwhile, we were hearing stories of our friends’ babies sleeping happily through the night. We felt so defeated.
What personally changed for me, and what is making my experience with our second daughter so much different, was accepting the fact that it didn’t matter when it was going to get better. She would sleep through when she is ready to do so. Waking up at night when you have babies becomes just a natural part of life. Accepting it put everything into perspective and made everything seem a lot easier.
We all go through a Bad Patch
I also realized that we, as parents, all go through a bad patch at night at some point. It might not be until your baby is a bit older, but I am yet to find a parent that hasn’t struggled once with their baby’s sleep. Those parents bragging about their baby sleeping through the night when they were 6 weeks? Now have a 3 year old kid getting out of bed 2-3 times a night.
Sleep Training is a Never Ending Job
Baby’s sleep is NOT a straight path. It’s not a constant improvement. It’s ups and it’s downs. Babies constantly change and so does their sleeping. And sleep training is a never ending job. Just when you think you got through a sleeping regression, there’s another one waiting for you around the corner.
Knowledge is Power
Last but not least, I learnt that knowledge is power, as with so many other things in life. Knowing what your baby is going through at a certain moment in time and what you could do to support them makes all the difference.
With our first daughter we often felt very unprepared and it took us a while to decide to get the help of a sleep consultant and try sleep training. I really recommend that you do get some professional help if you are struggling with baby’s sleep.
I have put together here a list of sleep training methods and personalized sleep training plans that you can have a look at. They also include lots of FREE resources.
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