Parenthood is rough, and it’s all the more stressful when your baby frequently wakes up crying in the middle of the night. Don’t worry—I’m here to help.
How can you help a baby who wakes up screaming in the night? There are plenty of reasons a baby might have trouble sleeping through the night. The baby might be teething, or he or she could have an infection. If your baby is a “trained night crier,” getting through the night is just a matter of habit conditioning.
There’s no reason you and your baby can’t get a good night’s sleep. I’ve compiled some tips and tricks that should help you both sleep through the night uninterrupted.
Keep in mind that, if your baby is fewer than two months old, he or she is probably waking twice each night to eat. This is perfectly normal. Similarly, babies between the ages of two and four months will still wake to feed at least once per night. Babies older than four months can generally sleep for up to seven hours without food. If your baby exceeds this age limit and still struggles to sleep through the night, I can’t exactly diagnose whatever is keeping him or her awake, but I’d like to explore a few possibilities.
Many babies have trouble sleeping when they’re teething. We can’t really blame them: Teething is painful. It’s the process by which children’s teeth break through the gums for the very first time. The smaller front teeth shouldn’t cause your baby much trouble, but molars can’t penetrate through the gums quite so easily; thus, if your baby’s molars are just growing in, the discomfort is probably difficult to ignore—even in the middle of the night.
If your baby is drooling excessively, chewing on unusual objects, or acting uncharacteristically irritable or cranky, or if he or she is slightly feverish (monitor the baby’s rectal temperature for temperatures of approximately 99 degrees Fahrenheit), he or she might be teething. Thankfully, there are more than a few ways to soothe your baby’s gums, one of which is simply rubbing them.
You can take a clean finger or moistened gauze pad to the gums near the back of your baby’s mouth and massage them gently. This movement should relieve the pressure of those emerging teeth and, subsequently, some of the irritation. Do this before you put your baby to bed at night, and he or she should have a far more restful sleep.
Cold washcloths, spoons, or teething rings can also help ease some soreness, and any one of these is a great option for moms on the go. But be careful: Never let your baby chew on anything frozen. Infants’ mouths are incredibly sensitive, and extreme temperatures will only cause your baby more pain.
If your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night, you might want to try some over-the-counter remedies. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Children’s Motrin are all viable solutions for extreme teething tenderness.
At six months of age, babies usually enter an unfortunate (albeit necessary) “touching” phase. Six-month-old babies are newly capable of touching anything and everything—and they’re more than willing to do so. Suddenly exposed to a number of previously unfamiliar objects and their correlating bacteria, these curious kids generally contract an abnormal number of infections.
During this stage, it’s not unlikely for a baby to catch a few colds. Any sort of respiratory illness can keep a baby up at all hours of the night, as can any sickness that entails a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Thankfully, though not immediately solvable, these problems aren’t too difficult to address.
Sick babies’ needs are simple: sheer love and care. When your baby suffers from any sort of physical ailment, he or she will require a little extra attention. Therefore, you might not be able to rock your coughing baby to sleep right away; however, you can relax knowing that the chaos will pass in a few short weeks or even days.
This issue might be a little trickier than the others to resolve.
If your baby is a “trained night crier,” that means you may have unintentionally conditioned him or her to develop some unrealistic sleeping expectations. These misconceptions won’t be impossible to turn around, but they will call for a bit of effort.
According to the Colorado Children’s Hospital, a trained night crier is a baby who possesses the following characteristics:
(Read more from the Colorado Children’s Hospital here.)
Some innocent and even loving behaviors, such as rocking your baby to sleep every night or playing with him or her whenever he or she wakes up, can foster negative habits and inhibit sleep. I know these routines are difficult to let go of, but they could quite possibly be the very things standing between you and a full seven hours of sleep, so they’re probably worth confronting.
Holding or rocking your baby to sleep each night forces him or her to rely on you for sleep. Most babies wake up multiple times each night after having dreams or changing positions, but they don’t have much trouble falling back to sleep, as they don’t really become fully cognizant until morning.
If your baby is often rocked to sleep, however, he or she will have trouble dozing off again when you’re not around. Even lying down with your baby enforces the same dependency. “Babies who are not usually placed in their cribs while they are still awake expect their mothers to help them go back to sleep when they wake up at night,” says the Colorado Children’s hospital.
If your baby expects playtime or any other sort of contact with a parent when awake, he or she will be reluctant to go to sleep. Again, compensating your baby when he or she wakes up in the night will encourage restless sleep.
It’s never easy to hear your baby cry, but the best remedy for a trained night crier is reduced nighttime attention. If you know your baby is a trained night crier, don’t rush to his or her bedside every time you hear whines through the baby monitor. Eventually, your baby will learn to fall back to sleep without any help.
This one’s hard to accept, but it’s true. Babies cry. Whether their stomachs are upset, they’re hungry, or they’re still tired, babies who wake up screaming in the night may not be screaming at anything in particular.
Babies, especially newborns, know very few expressions of emotion. If your baby wakes up from a deep sleep and still feels tired but doesn’t instantly fall back to sleep, he or she might cry out of mere frustration. If he or she is hungry but doesn’t know that feeding time is right around the corner, he or she might cry in impatience.
Expect your baby to cry. He or she will grow out of these constant fits sooner or later. If your baby appears to be crying excessively or without any clear provocation, consider any of the aforementioned possibilities. If none of them seem to apply, you might want to visit a pediatrician, just to be safe. More likely than not, your baby is just being—well, a baby. Don’t stress! Whatever is agitating your baby, there’s probably a simple solution.
What should I do if my baby cries in his or her sleep but doesn’t wake up? Babies cry in their sleep sometimes, but this doesn’t always mean they’re ready to wake up. Soothing a crying baby that is still asleep fosters similar habits to those maintained by trained night criers. Parents will do best just to watch their babies, ensure that they ultimately calm down, and go back to bed.
What should I do if my baby often wakes up crying from naps? Similarly to babies who waking up crying in the night, babies who cry after they take a nap might be teething, ill, or expectant of some sort of compensation (playtime, food, etc.). Otherwise, they might just be tired. You can handle this situation just as you would a baby who screams at nighttime.