Why is My Baby Suddenly Waking up at Night Again? (Part 1)
Nothing makes you feel like a detective faster than trying to figure out why your baby is suddenly not sleeping through the night after weeks or months of sleeping peacefully. I blissfully thought that once my son was sleeping through the night the first time, I had successfully completed the sleep training step forever or at least until he was old enough for a toddler bed. Guess what? A few months later I found out that sleep training, like so many aspects of child training, is cyclical in nature.
We’ve been through this cycle maybe six or seven times now over the last year and a half. Each time I have to start at the same point: Why is my baby suddenly waking up at night again? Here are five easy questions I ask myself now and some detective strategies I use to discover the answer as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to use your mommy instincts when sorting through the possibilities; they really do help!
- Is My Baby Hungry or Thirsty?
Detective Action – This one is easy. Just pick up your little one when they cry and offer food and water in the middle of the night. When this is his primary reason for waking up, my son drinks eagerly, eats crackers quickly, and is then ready to go right back to sleep.
Possible Solutions – This is one of the easiest possibilities to eliminate, and if it turns out to be the problem, it’s one of the easiest to solve! After they are a few months old, babies are can sleep all night without eating, but they must go to bed satisfied for this to work. Offering more food and water closer to bedtime can make all the difference. Growth spurts, moving dinner time earlier, and eliminating an evening snack or feeding can all result in a baby who is suddenly getting hungry at night. I ran into this problem when my son became a pickier eater, so dinner suddenly became his least favorite meal of the day. By offering him a snack of familiar foods right before bed, we were all back to sleeping. For older babies that are eating solids offering water right before bed is important especially if there was a bed time snack or evening play was especially active.
- Is My Baby Too Warm or Too Cold?
Detective Action – This is another easy one. When your baby cries do they feel cold or sweaty when you pick them up? If my son is cold, he goes back to sleep almost instantly when I pick him up because he cuddles up against me. Another easy way to eliminate this one is to add or remove a layer of clothing the next night. If that’s the end of the waking up, you’ve found your solution!
Possible Solutions – Season changes are the most common cause of this sleeping difficulty. Check the baby’s room for airflow patterns during the night. My home has some rooms that get extra warm when the heater is on during the winter and some that stay colder. Adjust airflow as needed to try and keep the room a constant temperature. Imagine what you would want if you were sleeping without the option of adding or removing blankets during the night.
- Is My Baby Uncomfortable or Sick?
Detective Action – Often as a mom you have an instinct for knowing if your baby hurts or is sick. Don’t be afraid to use it. Babies who are uncomfortable often sound miserable when they cry and moms can tell. Look for the obvious. Does baby have a dirty diaper, a fever, a cough, a runny nose, symptoms of teething or gas, or any other sign of physical discomfort?
Possible Solutions – There is little to add here. The solution will depend on the cause. Babies with colds are particularly miserable when they try to sleep flat in their cribs. Sometimes lifting one side of the crib a few inches helps them to breathe easier through their nose as does suctioning out the nose, using a vaporizer etc. Other times, there may just be a few rough nights where baby needs comfort and care during the night.
- Did We Change Something Significant in the Routine?
Detective Action – Ask yourself if anything big (from your baby’s perspective) changed recently. Once there was a a new set of night clothes my son didn’t like sleeping in. When my son weaned he also started waking up again at night for a few nights because it was a big change for him. Other moms have found that changing the kind of sheets, blankets, background noise, lighting, nap schedule etc. can disturb the sleep routine. Also is there a possibility your baby started getting caffeine from somewhere ie: dessert, soda, Grandma, your breast milk?
Possible Solutions – On this one you simply get to decide if the disruption in sleep is worth the change in routine. If the change is important, then introduce it as gradually as possible. Move nap times in fifteen-minute increments rather than all at once etc. On the subject of nap times, remember if a baby sleeps too much during the day, night times tend to be a struggle. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put together a list of the total number of hours of sleep recommended for infants and children. Babies are individuals, but it helps me to have a reference point.
- Does My Baby Just Not Want to Sleep?
Detective Action – Once all the other options have been eliminated, this is the one to consider. Babies sometimes decide to try again and find out if mom is truly serious about the need for them to sleep at night. When my son is testing sleep time, he immediately tries to play with me when I come to see why he’s crying. It’s cute but not what you want to do in the middle of the night.
Possible Solutions – Possible solutions for this situation will be the subject of part two of this post. There are multiple ways to go about convincing a young one that sleeping in not an optional part of life. The summary version is to be both firm and gentle until they learn again that night time is for sleeping. Babies are really smart; it usually doesn’t take very long.
This list has reduced the number of sleep mysteries at my house. I can now do a 3:00 am run-through in ten minutes or less. Hopefully it helps you as well because a good night of sleep works wonders for us all!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/26/2018) Tamaki Sono (Flickr)