The use of props to help a baby fall asleep, is the number one reason a sleeping baby wakes up at night (something I learned from the Sleep Sense Program). Here are some common props or sleep associations:
- Bottle or breastfeeding/nursing to sleep
- Rocking to sleep
- Swinging to sleep
- Movement in a carseat or stroller
- Even the *pacifier if your baby is dependent on it
By teaching your baby to fall asleep on her own, and getting rid of sleep props, you will solve most, if not all of your baby's sleep troubles. I am not suggesting, by any means, to be cold or harsh to your baby. As a matter of fact you want to do everything you can, to comfort your baby before bed. Kisses, hugs, and cuddling, is the best part of our bedtime routine! Of course you want to make your baby feel safe, secure, and loved before bed. Just don't let the sleep props be the reason your baby falls asleep. Here's a separate article that explains Sleep Associations/Props and how to handle them.
* A side note on the use of the pacifier. I encourage the use of a pacifier because it has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. However, if your baby keeps waking up and crying in the middle of the night because the pacifier fell out, and you need to keep putting it back in, then you might want to evaluate if you really want to use it. This is a personal choice, one you will have to make weighing your pros and cons. I thought Brianna was reliant on the pacifier, then I put her to the test. I took the binky away, and let her fall asleep without it for a few nights, and she didn't cry for it. So I knew she wasn't relying on it. She fell asleep with it, but didn't care when it fell out. So I decided to keep it. I think I would of kept it either way, at least for the first few months because of the whole SIDS thing. Tell a nurse something reduces SIDS, and she's not going to think twice.
It's also known as our biological clock. It's a 24 hour pattern of biological activities that occur in our body. The sleep-wake cycle is part of that circadian rhythm. As part of sleep-wake cycle our body releases certain hormones during night time to help us fall asleep. It also releases daytime hormones to help us wake up. Babies are born with an under developed circadian rhythm. That's why when you bring your baby home from the hospital, he or she sleeps during the day, and is awake at night. Also, don't forget throughout your pregnancy, your baby was rocked to sleep during the day by your movements. That's why you felt her movements at night when she was awake. So what can you do to help your little night owl? Just keep your baby on a regular feeding cycle. Keep the blinds open, turn on the t.v or radio, and just go about your day as you normally would to help create an association with daytime. Then at night, obviously you do the exact opposite. Quiet all noise, turn down the lights, and establish your bedtime routine. Be patient, it can take some babies up to 8 weeks to know the difference between day and night. To complicate things even more, melatonin (the sleep hormone) is not produced until a baby is about 2-3 months old. So don't get discouraged, it takes a while for a baby to settle into this world.
Also known as the Moro reflex, is a normal infantile reflex. When some stimulus causes your baby to startle, the legs flex and the arms stretch out. This stimulus can be a loud noise, an unexpected touch, or a bad dream. This reflex lasts only a few seconds, but can wake a sleeping baby. Some babies can drift right back to sleep, while others will completely wake up. This reflex usually diminishes by 4 months of age. Until then, the Swaddle Sleep Sack is great. Those nifty velcro patches were intended to keep your baby's arms inside, and prevent awakening from the startle reflex. I watched Brianna, completely wake up from the startle reflex over and over. Her arms would fan out and within seconds, she was completely awake! That's when I decided to put her in the Swaddle Sack. It helped so much and she slept so much better.
At one point Brianna started waking more frequently for a few days in a row, right at the start of winter. I noticed her little hands and feet were cold. Now it's pretty warm in our house. As a matter of fact, I slept in shorts and a tank top. Apparently it wasn't warm enough for Brianna. I had to adjust the temperature for her. When I did, she was back to her normal sleep schedule. The same thing happened in the summer when it got really warm out. At this point she was sleeping through the night, and she started waking up a for a few nights. That's when I realized it was too warm for her. It was only April, I never turn on the air condition this early! I had to put a low fan setting on the A.C. and that kept her comfortable. Babies are picky about the right temperature. We naturally regulated their temperatures for them, while they were in utero. Out here, it's a bit more difficult to get that temperature just right. Getting a warm and snug sleep sack like the Baby Deedee is also a great idea. It replaces the need to use any loose and unsafe blankets, while keeping your baby in a cozy cocoon.
Ok this may sound self explanatory but it's not. You may Think your baby is hungry, but she may not be. Here are some clues that your baby is waking up at night because she is truly hungry:
1. She's wakes up whining at first, then transitions into a louder and louder cry. If your baby wakes up hysterical, she's probably waking up because she's scared or confused, not because she's immediately hungry. Babies will wake up screaming if they fell asleep in your arms, and didn't go to sleep on their own. They wake up alarmed, wondering where they are, and where you disappeared. Sort of like you would if you fell asleep in your warm bed, but woke up in your backyard. That's how alarming it is for a baby, and that's why your baby wakes up screaming.
2. Your baby is waking up consistent with her daytime feeding schedule. Meaning if she's eating every 4 hours during the day, she will probably do the same at night. Especially if she is young. A young baby may only be able to make it 4hrs at night. If your baby is older, her consistent wakings may be purely out of habit, so continue reading to see if other clues are present
3. She only wakes for one feeding. If your baby is only waking for one feeding, and goes right back to sleep, she is most likely hungry and still needs that feeding. If your baby is waking up multiple times a night, chances are she is just comfort feeding. (Unless she is really young of course)
4. When your baby is eating, you hear loud, audible swallows. What I mean is, she is not just playing around, suckling a little here, a little there. She is truly drinking and actively eating. Some babies wake up from a sleep cycle, and just want to be soothed back to sleep, and the bottle or breast is obviously going to do the trick. Brianna was infamous for this. She would wake up, suckle a little, and fall right asleep on me. I would slip her into bed and half hour to an 1 hour later, she did it again. She wasn't hungry, she was using me as a soother! And this went on for months. It wasn't until she was 8 months old, when I learned about sleep props, and that she was actually only comfort nursing.
5. Your baby stays awake during the entire feeding, and usually drinks a large bottle or feeds from both breasts. A baby wouldn't be able to eat that much, if she was not hungry. It is possible that your baby is eating a large amount out of habit, or simply because it's offered and she knows it's an easy way to fall back asleep. If your baby is comfort feeding while her stomach is full, she will eat a little bit and fall asleep on the bottle or breast. So it can be very tricky. You have to really be in-tune with your baby's hunger cues.
6. Here's the biggie, your baby falls asleep after you place her back in the crib awake! Now only a content baby could do that. If you fulfilled her need for calories because she was hungry, and she falls asleep knowing that she is back in her crib, then she was most likely hungry. Otherwise she would put up a fight and stay awake.
When Brianna was finally waking only to eat, I knew she was truly hungry. By now I learned the difference. She would guzzle her milk like it's the last time she would ever have it. She stayed awake the whole time with the sole intention of eating. She didn't play around, waste time, or fall asleep on the breast. When she was done (usually within 10min), I would place her back in the crib awake. She fell asleep right away, of course so did I, and we both woke up with a smile in the morning. She continued to have this one night time feeding, until she was just about 8 months. I even emailed the Sleep Sense Program who's opinion I truly value, just to make sure I was doing things right by still feeding her, and this is the response I got:
That is absolutely fine then as long as she is staying awake for it and falling asleep in her bed, on her own afterward. You're on the right path!
Sleep Sense Client Support
We all heard about this right? Your baby grows at a rapid rate and needs to eat more. Common growth spurts are 7-10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months. Give or take a little, they are not exact. Brianna must of hit every single one of these. She was on a great sleep schedule, then all of the sudden started waking frequently. I knew it was only a growth spurt, because it only lasted 3-4 days. After a while, I loved growth spurts. Because at the end of each growth spurt, she would get right back on her sleep schedule, and even slept a little bit longer. My recommendation, just feed on demand during a growth spurt. If you are breastfeeding, don't worry about your supply being low. Your supply will actually increase to meet the demand of your baby. I always thought it was cool how that works. Don't forget to drink extra fluids. You are going to be thirsty from all the feedings. And if you are bottle feeding, your partner can help with the extra feedings. Growth spurts can be exhausting but thankfully they don't last long.
New Developmental Skill
Your baby learned how to kick, roll, sit or stand and now they want to do it all night. Sound familiar? You can't stop a baby from exploring her new skills. For younger babies, the Swaddle Sack is great. You can use it up until your baby starts to roll. It keeps their little arms and legs inside. At first I wasn't very fond of using the Swaddle Sack. I felt like I was restraining my baby. After a few uses, I realized it was really helping her. By using a good swaddle, you are keeping your baby snug, and preventing her from even getting the idea of kicking or swinging her arms. At first I was swaddling Brianna in a regular receiving blanket. It didn't take long for her to slip out of there. As soon as an arm or leg broke loose, she fully woke up to further experiment. With the SleepSack , that never even crossed her mind because her arms and legs never came out of it. She slept so soundly in it. As you can tell, I really love the Sleep Sack.
When my baby Brianna learned how to sit and crawl, that's all she wanted to do! I would put her in the crib awake, and up she went. When your baby starts practicing her new skills, simply remind her it's time to sleep and place her back into her usual sleep position. You will most likely have to do that over and over, because chances are she's going to keep getting up. After a few tries she should get the point and tire out. Keep in mind that she could be testing you, to see if you allow her to play. Keep conversation to a minimum, so that you don't over-stimulate her. Only repeat it's sleepy time if she really resists, whines, or fusses. If you did your bedtime routine, and did everything else right, your baby will eventually fall asleep. Because guess what time it is?… sleepy time, meaning she is already drowsy and tired. Your baby will soon tire out and give up and fall asleep. If your baby thinks this is a game, walking out of the room may work better. Not all babies respond well to being laid down over and over.
I also encourage lots of playtime on the mat during the day. This helps your baby practice her new skills, so she's not doing it so much at night. Unfortunately there's not much you can do when your baby is going through this part of development. Just wait it out, until your baby learns and masters the skill. She will soon go back to her regular sleep schedule. Learn more about Sleep Regressions.
For some babies teething can feel like an itch, and for others it can be very painful. But either way, it's annoying and can keep a baby up all night. 6 months is the average time a baby cuts her first tooth, but it can be way earlier or later. Bottom line, you will have to find some way to ease the pain. Talk to to your doctor about some options. You can also check out my article Chamomile for Babies. I have some really neat tips.
Is there any light coming in the room? Perhaps it's a full moon, or your neighbor just bought a new garage light. Lights can really bother a sleeping baby, because they disrupt the sleep-wake cycle. Illumination suppresses Melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. If you suspect light to be waking your baby, I recommend room darkening or black out shades. Before we put Brianna in her own room, she slept 2 hours later in our bedroom which had the room darkening shades. I learned that she's one of those babies that wakes as soon as there's any tiny bit of light coming through. Blackout shades are great, they keep the bright sunlight out, and most of them block out 95-99% of light.
Some babies are just more sensitive than others. Studies show that even a small amount of light can prevent us from going to sleep and staying asleep. You may have to get rid of the cute nightlight you registered for, or cover up the light on the smoke detector. I actually had to cover the green light coming from the baby monitor camera. I just stuck a piece of black tape on the light. I caught Brianna staring at it the first few nights we installed it, it was preventing her from falling asleep. It was such a tiny pin size light, but it still bothered her. Some babies won't even give you any clues that a light is bothering them. Instead they will just have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
You can buy room darkening shades in Home Depot or Lowe's. You might have to custom order the black out shades, which don't permit any light. You can also take a look at these blackout shades. I have done some research and these seem to have the best reviews. They are also less expensive than custom shades.
It should be no surprise that a baby that is sick, is now waking in the middle of the night. Whether it's a cold, stomach bug, or just a fever, your baby will have a hard time sleeping due to the discomfort. Stuffy noses cause mouth breathing, and mouth breathing causes dry mouth, which in turn makes your baby wake more frequently. Fevers are also very uncomfortable, even for us adults, so think about what it does to our babies who can't communicate their needs very well. During this time, try your best to soothe your baby, but you may just have to deal with a few rough nights.
So there you have it, the most common reasons a baby wakes up at night. If your baby is still waking, for reasons other than the ones mentioned above, you may want to try taking a free sleep assessment, to see what's going on with your child's sleep. You answer a few questions, and get emailed back a detailed report with suggestions on what to do. Check it out here.
I am also available for consultations. Sometimes figuring out why your baby is waking up so often and finding a solution to stop the wakings, requires a concrete plan and an appropriate response to the wakings. I can create a step by step sleep plan for your baby and help you with the entire process, so that your baby can start sleeping through the night. If you need help getting your baby to sleep, please take a look at my Consultation Packages, or see what others are saying about my services on the Testimonials Page.
Nurse. Mom. Baby Sleep Consultant. Self-Proclaimed Sleep Guru.
In 2011, when my daughter Brianna was born, I was over joyed with the idea of being a new mom. She was perfect in every way. Things quickly took a turn when she wasn't sleeping at all at night. She was literally up all night wanting to be held, rocked, or nursed back to sleep. This went on for almost a year, and I hadn't slept more than a 2 hour stretch since she was born. I thought I was going insane! I was constantly anxious about bedtime, and dreaded the night time hours. I became exhausted, frustrated, and was at my wits end. I knew I had to do something. Read more...