Baby night wakings are common. And those wee-hour cries can leave parents bleary-eyed as they try to decipher what their baby is trying to tell them. From spit-up to growth spurts, there are numerous reasons why your baby may not be sleeping at night. Let’s explore what could be going on and practical tips to guide your little one back to dreamland so you can both get some rest.

1. Your baby has a cold

The issue: A cold, fever, or earache can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep.

What you can do: 

  • Check for indicators of illness and consult your doctor if needed. For minor discomforts, try a gentle tummy massage, a warm compress for gas, or a cool mist humidifier for congestion. Your baby may also need some extra cuddles and soothing.

2. Gas

The issue: Trapped air in your baby’s tummy can be uncomfortable. The discomfort can increase at night as your baby’s lack of movement makes it harder for them to expel gas naturally through burping or flatulence.

What you can do:

  • Burping: Frequent burping during and after feedings can help release trapped air. Try different burping positions, like tummy down on your lap or over your shoulder.
  • Gentle massage: Applying gentle pressure in a circular motion on your baby’s back and tummy can aid in moving gas down through the digestive system. Warm compresses may also provide comfort.
  • Bicycle legs: Help stimulate gas expulsion by gently moving your baby’s legs in a bicycle motion.

3. Constipation

The issue: Difficulty passing stool can lead to straining, discomfort, and sleep disruptions. Not sure if your baby is constipated? In addition to crying and fussiness, look for the following:

  • Your baby arches their back or squeezes their buttocks while trying to pass stool.
  • Their tummy feels swollen and tender when touched.
  • There’s hard, small, and pellet-like stool or liquid stool in the diaper (indicating possible leaking around larger, stuck stool).
  • Your baby has unusually large and wide stools, passed with difficulty.

What you can do:

  • Tummy time and gentle massage. Let your little one wiggle on their belly for playtime sessions. This can stimulate their digestive system and ease constipation. Additionally, try gentle tummy massages in a clockwise direction around their belly button.
  • Warm bath. A warm bath may relax your baby and ease straining discomfort.
  • Dietary adjustments. Talk to your doctor about possibly making some dietary adjustments. For example, if you’re using formula, ask your pediatrician if switching to a formula designed to promote more comfortable stools could help.
  • Consult your doctor. If your baby’s constipation persists for more than three days, they have hard stools with significant straining, or they show other concerning issues (like blood in stool, fever, or lethargy), consult your doctor for a proper identification and personalized guidance.

4. Spit-up:

The issue: Spitting up, also called reflux, is common in babies and is typically harmless. However, frequent or large amounts of spit-up can be disruptive to sleep.

What you can do:

  • Burp frequently. Hold your baby upright and pat their back gently during and after feedings to release trapped air.
  • Feed smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of large, infrequent feeds, try offering smaller amounts more often to avoid overloading your little one’s sensitive tummy.
  • Keep upright after feeding. Hold your baby upright for 20-30 minutes after feedings to allow their digestive system to settle.
  • Monitor and consult. If spitting up is excessive or accompanied by other concerns, such as not gaining weight, food refusal, crying, or respiratory issues, consult your doctor. They can investigate further to rule out any underlying medical conditions or a potential food sensitivity or allergy. 

5. Teething:

The issue: Those tiny teeth pushing through sensitive gums can be quite painful.

What you can do: 

  • Provide teething aids. Offer safe teethers to chew on, rub their gums with clean fingers, or try a chilled mesh teether. Consider pain relief medication recommended by your doctor.

6. Hunger

The issue: Growth spurts or developmental leaps can increase your baby’s need for extra nighttime nourishment. Growth spurts can happen at any time but often occur around two to three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months.

What you can do: 

  • Give an extra feeding. Offer a short, quiet feed without distractions. 
  • Switch sides. If breastfeeding, try switching sides to ensure they get enough hindmilk. 
  • Monitor and adjust. Track feedings and wake-up times to see if a routine adjustment is needed. Consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about feeding.

7. Uncomfortable environmental or clothing  

The issue: A too-cold or too-hot environment or scratchy clothing can make your baby restless and fussy.

What you can do: 

  • Dress in layers: Babies lose heat much faster than adults, so a drafty room or insufficiently layered clothing can leave them chilly and shivering. Dress them in breathable layers for warmth, adjust the thermostat, and consider a cozy swaddle or sleep sack.
  • Keep the room at the right temperature. A sweltering room can make it difficult for anyone to drift off. Ensure your baby’s room is well-ventilated and at a comfortable temperature (around 68-72°F is ideal for most babies). Avoid over-bundling, and dress your little one in light, breathable sleepwear.
  • Opt for soft clothing. Rough fabrics or tags can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin, leading to fussiness and disrupted sleep. Opt for soft, natural materials like cotton and ensure all seams are smooth and tag-free.

8. Lack of bedtime routine

The issue: Lack of predictable cues for sleep can make it difficult for babies to settle down.

What you can do: 

  • Develop a consistent bedtime routine. A consistent bedtime routine signals to your little one that it’s sleep time and promotes relaxation. Include calming activities like a warm bath, quiet songs, and story time.
  • Create a peaceful sleeping environment. Help lull your little one into sweet dreams by turning off electronics and dimming the lights. Blackout curtains or shades can block out distracting sunlight.
  • Softly soothe: A gentle rocking or lullaby can relax your baby, help them feel secure, and prepare them for sleep. 
  • Swaddle: Swaddles or sleep sacks can mimic the womb’s snugness and offer comfort. Use breathable fabrics and follow safe swaddling guidelines. Remember that swaddling is no longer considered safe once your baby starts rolling over, around three to four months.

Remember, every baby is unique, and the reason behind their sleep troubles can vary. Create a calm environment, establish consistent routines, and respond to your baby’s cues. If you have concerns or if sleep issues persist, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. Together, you can navigate the nighttime challenges and find strategies that lead to more peaceful nights for everyone.