Midnight parties, 3 AM raves… Why is my baby waking at night?

As a new parent, you’ll have heard the inevitable barrage of comments about sleep deprivation, up-all-night insomniac parties, “baby brain” from over tiredness and “have you taken out shares in caffeinated products yet?” It’s true, newborns do tend to wake at night, and it’s up to us as parents to recognise when that’s our little one waking because he needs something, or when it’s because there’s an unresolved unhelpful sleep association that’s causing the issue.

So firstly, we need to work out why he’s waking up. Babies and children are sensitive, so a change in routine, more light in their room, or a different diet can all cause disruptions to your baby’s sleep routine and cause him to wake at night. We are not saying that you can’t have a life – just a regular set of actions that help baby recognise when bedtime is coming.

Need to Feed: Chances are, it’s because he’s hungry. Most newborns wake because of hunger and a need to feed, and you can expect this to last until he’s around 5 months old, when he should begin to sleep for longer and need to feed less at night. To find out more about weaning babies at night and help in ditching the dummy, you might find this blog useful. [LINK: https://sleepnanny.co.uk/blog/dummy-run/]

Growth Spurt: If your child has recently hit a developmental milestone (such as learning to crawl or learning to stand) he’s going to want to practice that every chance he gets, so you might find that he is up at night trying to pull himself to standing, but might need daddy’s assistance to get back down again! Bear in mind also, that a baby’s development doesn’t necessarily involve things we can see, and so cognitive developmental milestones can also keep him awake at night- I’m sure you struggle to sleep when you’ve got a lot on your mind too!

Sleep Associations: If your little one needs a bottle or breastfeed before bed, or perhaps needs endless rocking or bouncing, this is what is commonly known as a negative sleep association or “sleep crutch”. Sleep associations usually interfere with baby being able to go to sleep by herself and they’re certainly going to tire mum and dad out quickly! The trick with sleep associations is to tackle the ones that involve you first, such as rocking or bouncing, as you are the sleep crutch. This can be tricky as he may fight sleep for longer and longer, as he realises that as soon he falls asleep his sleep prop (you) will be gone. Try using something she can hold like an appropriate cuddly toy as a positive sleep association as he doesn’t need you for this and it can stay with him all night whilst you enjoy some well-earned ‘me-time’!

Teething: Never an easy time, you may find that your baby wakes whilst he is teething, you may find he doesn’t. It is often worse at night because of the increased pressure in the gums that isn’t being relived by biting down on things as it might be in the day. The trick here is to be sensitive to their discomfort, but not allow yourself to become a sleep prop. For example, staying in the room and soothing him whilst your baby settles can be helpful, but allowing baby to fall asleep on you is not.

Babies are not grownups: Babies are not capable of rationalising that “it’s not time to get up because it’s 4AM.” They might sleep for 7 hours one night, and then 3 the next. You can drive yourself potty trying to work out what has changed or what you’ve done differently, but the key is to remember that it is your child who is different every day, as he is growing, and learning, and developing. If you can remain as consistent as possible, you stand a better chance of creating a sleep schedule that sticks, but just as we have good and bad days, so will your little one.

Sometimes babies wake, and it’s not because they “need” something. They’re just awake, that’s all. It might be frustrating to have fed them, changed them, soothed them and find that they still won’t settle, but sometimes they just wake up- it’s as simple and as difficult as that. Try to ensure you eliminate the number of sleep props that involve you being up for hours and hours sitting in baby’s room with them.

If you’re struggling with sleep routines or ditching the dummy, remember I’m only a phone call away.
Sleep tight.

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