Geez, it’s been a while. Life got in the way of my writing, but I’m here to talk to you about a pressing issue all moms face in the first year of a baby’s life. If you were never around babies before becoming a mom, you’re just now discovering that the saying “sleep like a baby” isn’t what anyone should ever go for.
Sleep like a log is a much better way to sleep because logs will just lay there.
Babies, on the other hand, don’t. In fact, it is common for babies to wake up multiple times a night. It’s not normal for them to sleep through the night, especially early on. That time will stretch longer and longer as they get bigger, but for the first year of your baby’s life, plan on being woken up quite often by your baby.
Why Do Babies Wake Up at Night?
There are several reasons your little one will wake up at night, but before I get into those, let’s talk about its physiology.
Stanford Children’s Health says newborns sleep between 8 and 9 hours daily. At night, they will sleep about another 8 hours though they will likely not sleep for more than 1 to 2 hours in a stretch.
Depending on your baby, they likely won’t sleep for the 6 to 8 hour stretch that is considered through the night until 3 months or later. Generally, when they start weighing about 12 pounds, you’ll start getting a bit more sleep.
But do know that babies have different sleep cycles than grownups. They spend less time in REM, which is that dream-time sleep. Their cycles are shorter too.
Now that you know this, we can understand why your baby wakes up at night. Remember, it’s totally normal. My daughters did it though I assumed it was because they were hungry. It turns out; that it has a lot to do with the whole sleep cycle and their brain waves.
Because babies don’t know how to get back to sleep often cry, which results in your attention. For all the reasons your little one is waking up at night and how to handle it, keep reading!
Some babies are just born this way
My mom is a light sleeper. She always has been. She’s an early riser too. I remember waking up for high school bleary-eyed and grouchy until I had coffee. On the other hand, Mom was chipper without fail, even before coffee. She’d get up at 5 am because that’s how she’s programmed. I’m the complete opposite. If you left me to sleep and didn’t wake me up, I’d probably sleep until 9 or 10 am.
Babies are the same way. Some just sleep better than others right from the start. But if your baby is like my mom, a light sleeper, don’t worry too much. You can help them develop good sleep habits. It’s all about being consistent.
Be forewarned, though, that old habits tend to die hard. I would always nurse my girls back to sleep. This worked like a charm until they got bigger, and I had to break them off the habit so they could learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. In the beginning, if your baby shows signs of hunger late at night, don’t withhold the boobies!
They just want you
From your baby’s perspective, she’s wondering where you’ve gone. In reality, you could be mere feet away, much like my girls were when they were newborns. The crib stayed in our room until they were bigger.
As my eldest got bigger, she was less clingy. My youngest is a clinger that I’ve talked about at great lengths. She’s becoming less of one, but she’s totally a Mama’s Girl.
When they’re in their infancy, though, forgive this because while growing inside of you, you were technically holding them 24/7. They grew to know your voice, your laugh, and your scent. You are one of your baby’s greatest comforts in the world. The mere sight of you or your smell can make them feel secure again.
One way to keep your baby from getting too clingy at night and transition to sleeping for longer stretches is to take the fitted sheet from the crib and snuggle with it. Ensure you get your scent all over it, then put it back on the crib. It will definitely help!
Make your husband get up and help too! I found a fascinating study conducted in 2010 in Tel Aviv, where the dads that were more involved with helping care for the baby at night and during the day, too, resulted in fewer nighttime awakenings by the baby.
What can you glean from this? Simple…make sure you and your spouse are taking turns!
They’re going through a developmental shift
My wonderful friend Chrystal once said that once you start acing what your baby needs, that’s when they go through another developmental shift, and you have to go back to square one. It’s a perfect way to describe it too.
Usually, you’ll find this fun starting around 4 months of age. During this time, most babies sleep for longer stretches and then wake up every few hours due to those changes in the sleep cycle.
Once upon a time, your little one cried because she rolled over. Now she’s doing it like a pro and finding ways to explore and engage with the world. Your baby will see much more activity this time; count on it!
What can you do about that?
There are a few things you can try, though. If you stimulate her more during the day and keep her busy, it should tucker her out more at night.
Here come the teeth
Probably one of the most frustrating times in the first year of your baby’s life is the teething stage. It really does get better as more teeth come in, but in the beginning, expect her to be incredibly upset.
Nursing can help soothe her, as can holding her. Giving her something safe to chomp on, like a clean, cold washcloth or a wooden toy, is also an excellent way to get her to chill. Sometimes though, nothing seems to work. You can try the proper old-fashioned distraction technique.
Actually, distraction is ideal in most interactions with babies and small children. If you can get them to laugh or focus on something else, it takes their mind off the teething.
Sooner or later, your little one will come down with something. Generally speaking, this seems to happen around 6 months or so. The likely culprit is because they’re always putting their hands in their mouths (or anything else they can find, which is why it’s so important to keep dangerous things out of reach).
You’ll know something isn’t right, either. The sound and pitch of her cry will differ from the other cries you’ve grown used to making for hunger, wanting attention, having a dirty diaper, and everything else.
When my eldest was just a baby, I remember her crying strangely. She wouldn’t stop nursing, either. I called my breastfeeding coach, and she could hear her crying. She said we should take her to the doctor because she sounded like she was in pain. It turned out to be a stomach infection.
If your baby is coughing or congested, you can help by elevating the mattress underneath the head, so it angles downward. This will help keep fluids from pooling and allow them to flow more easily.
When your baby is sick, it’s a very stressful time that gives you even more sleep deprivation. In most cases, all should be well though if your baby is less than 3 months old and has a fever, call the pediatrician immediately. There are other things to look for, too, and this list by the Mayo Clinic can help you determine if the symptoms and age of your baby are severe enough that they require immediate medical attention.
If it’s nothing major, you’ll just need to hang in there and be the rock she needs. Lots of TLC and breastfeeding will surely help.
How to Handle an Older Baby Waking at Night?
With newborns, you’ll have to suck it up and wait until the sleep cycles and developmental stages start working in your favor. You can set a pleasant sleep environment for your tiny baby, but she’s not going to fully understand your subtle cues for several more weeks, at least.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try; however, it’s not going to make your baby go right to sleep magically. Still, swaddling brings security in the early months. Add rocking and white noise to that, and it’s a bit of a holy trinity. And, of course, breastfeeding can help though you’ll want to stretch that out a bit to keep her from depending on your boobies to get her back to sleep.
Older babies are a bit of a different story, though. The tricks that eventually work on her when she’s just a few months old, like swaddling, rocking, white noise, and breastfeeding, are mere child’s play when she’s 9 months and up.
As teething and milestones become more frequent, you may go from having a good sleeper to a wild child. What can you do to minimize all those late-night wakeups at this stage of the game?
- Have a solid bedtime routine in place
Remember that bedtime routine you started creating when she was just a wee thing? If you haven’t perfected it by now, it’s time to start. Ideally, bath time should be about 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. After the bath, follow with a soothing massage on the bottoms of her little feet. This Aveeno Baby bath kit can help!
You can use pure essential oils with babies, but they should never be applied directly!
After the soothing bath, once all snuggly in her pajamas, have her pick the bedtime story. She should get sleepy if you read to her while she’s in bed. You can then sneak away. This takes practice and patience, though. I did this with my eldest, and it took several weeks for her not to cry when she found I’d left the room.
- Make sure she’s eating enough
From 9 months to a year, she’s likely eating more solids and having breastmilk too. It’s important to ensure you feed her to the point of fullness. In fact, just before bedtime, perhaps before the story, top her off, so she’s plenty full and sleeps more peacefully.
- Run out her energy during daytime hours
During the day, keep your little one as busy as possible. Play learning activities, take her on a walk in the stroller, or do anything you can think of to wear her out. At night, keep things dull and dim. By that, I mean to turn down bright lights and make sounds more muted throughout your home. She’ll start associating these things with sleep time.
- Make sure she naps
One last thing…as babies get bigger, designated nap time is always essential. In the early stages, they’ll nap in the morning and the afternoon, but as they get bigger, one of those naps will drop off. You’ll be wise to plan errands and outings around that. Not letting her nap makes her wake up more or even more challenging to put to sleep.
You’d think the opposite would be true, but nope!
Now that you know why your baby wakes up at night and what to do, you can work around it to get a little more sleep. Maybe someday soon, you’ll work your way up to sleeping-like-a-log status!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.