How to sort out sleep problems

At 2am as 9 month old Amy cries out for the fifth time that night, her mum staggers down the passage, her mind dim with sleep and feels around in Amy’s cot for her dummy, wishing that just once, she could sleep for longer than 3 hours at a stretch. She is baffled by her little one’s nighttime antics and wonders where to start.

The answer is simply to start with the basics. Amy at 9 months old is likely to be waking from one of the five reasons below. To being the process of sorting out sleep problems, start here:

Teething – Almost every mother has at one time or another blamed her baby’s poor sleep on discomfort from teething. But the reality is that teething and sleep are not so intertwined. The eruption of a tooth only disrupts sleep for a night or two. The idea that teething affects sleep before six months of age is highly unlikely because teeth erupt in most babies between 6 months and a year. Try to decide if your baby is teething during daylight hours (not in the blur of a night waking). To know if your baby’s teeth are disrupting his sleep, watch for these signs:

  • He has a lot of mucous and drooling
  • His poos smell acidic and vinegary and may cause a mild nappy rash
  • He is gnawing on non food objects (not related to self soothing or tired signals)
  • You can FEEL and SEE a tooth under the gums

If you find these symptoms, you should use teething powders when your baby wakes and if he is sore and miserable give him an appropriate dose of Paracetamol.

Hunger – Another common question is whether your baby is hungry. A hungry baby can and will wake at night. Not all babies sleep through the night at 6 weeks, never to have a nighttime feed again, in fact most do wake for nutritional reasons long past the six week mark. The classic nutritional needs arise at:

  • 0-6 weeks – your baby will need a feed almost as often at night as during the day initially and by 6 weeks should be stretching a little longer each night.
  • 6-17 weeks – your baby may start to regress and wake more often due to growth and nutrition requirements. He is not being naughty – he is simply needing a little extra food – you should not introduce solids at this age – rather increase the day feed frequency a little, offer an evening cluster feed and expect a slightly shorter stretch of sleep.
  • 17 weeks – 6 months – if your baby was sleeping well until this stage and he starts to wake more often, he may be needing some extra sustenance in the form of solid food. Introduce solids when you feel he is ready.
  • After 6 months and into the toddler years – night waking may become an issue if your baby is not getting all the protein, essential fatty acids and iron he needs. Address these areas if he wakes a lot at night.

Separation – Separation anxiety and just needing to see mummy or have her close is typical around 8 to 10 months of age. If your little one cries when you leave the room during the day and wakes needing a little pat at night, this may well be the cause of the night waking. Give him loads of love, be understanding and make sure he has a ‘doodoo’ blanky or security object to comfort him in the night. He will learn to reach for the blanky instead of calling for you.

Illness – Make no mistake – a sick baby sleeps badly! From coughs and colds to gastro and ears, any sickness will probably affect your baby’s sleep. Use your gut feel and see a doctor if you are worried.

Habits – Finally the dreaded habits! These usually arise because you have resorted to certain measures to get your baby to sleep, such as feeding to sleep; rocking to sleep or pushing to sleep. Habits only become entrenched after 4 months of age and from this age, you need to encourage your baby to fall asleep with less assistance.

So we have briefly looked at five causes of night waking that can be sorted out. Try to identify if any of these are the reason and go from there.

By Meg Faure