Tips and Tricks to Prevent Night Waking
Question: My 9 week old all of a sudden won’t sleep at night (he used to do 3 to 5hr stretches) and has been doing 20-minute naps the past 2 nights. I can’t figure out what is going on and how to correct it. Even putting him in a swing can’t coax him into a deep sleep. I’ve tried to help his day/night reversal and have been playing with him more in the morning but that just seems to make things worse leaving me with an overtired baby at night. Nothing is worse leaving me with an overtired baby at night.
Sears Family Experience with Night Waking
Having survived many sleep challenges with our own eight babies, I understand how you feel. One of the clue words in your question is the “sudden” change in sleeping habits, which often means something has recently occurred to change his sleep patterns. Consider this checklist:
- If breastfeeding, is there anything new in your diet that could cause a tummy upset in baby?
- Does your baby wake up with a painful cry? Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a common cause of night waking at this age. From your description, it does not sound like your baby is waking up in pain.
- Are there any new allergic triggers in his sleeping environment, such as sleepwear (for example, going from cotton to polyester), a change in detergent, or pets in the bedroom?
- Has there been a change in his daytime caregivers or caregiving practices?
- Have you recently returned to work outside the home? Many babies tend to sleep more while mother is at work and then wake up to reconnect with her during the night – just the opposite of what you need. Yet, this does not sound like the cause of your baby’s night waking.
Basically, take inventory of any change that may have occurred in his overall caregiving environment.
Around nine to twelve weeks babies often begin making more saliva in preparation for teething. When they make more than they can swallow, that mouthful of saliva sometimes wakes them up until they learn how to swallow the excess.
One of the most successful sleeping tools is to experiment with different mother-baby sleeping arrangements. If baby was previously sleeping alone in a crib, maybe he’s starting to miss you and needs to sleep closer to you. Try an Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper (see our website), a bassinette that fits safely and securely right next to your bed, which puts you both in close distance of each other for easy comforting and feeding, yet gives both mother and baby separate sleeping surfaces. Or, perhaps, baby is going through an “I need more nighttime touch with mommy” stage and needs to sleep next to you. (See our website AskDrSears.com/safe co-sleeping). In our experience, many babies between nine and twelve weeks go through a normal stage of nighttime separation anxiety and need a closer sleeping arrangement. (For a list of parent-tested sleep-inducing tools, see our resources: AskDrSears.com and The Baby Sleep Book.)
A very important point I want to share with you is one of our top parenting tips: what baby needs most is a happy, rested mother, and here’s where daddy and friends can help. Be sure to take naps during the day, either napping with baby or while someone else takes baby for an outside walk. You will find some time-tested and effective “daddy-nursing” tools on our website, such as the neck nestle and warm fuzzy, that allows daddy to put baby back to sleep so that you can get some much-needed rest.
Finally, beware of the “let baby cry it out” advice. When it comes to how to respond to a baby’s cries, mother knows best. Respond from your heart and eventually your mother’s intuition will help you figure out why baby is waking up and what you can do to help baby and yourself fall back to sleep.
If none of the above tools to help your baby sleep longer are working, I suggest you take your baby to your pediatrician for a thorough examination to rule out a physical cause for his sudden nightwaking.
Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”