Teething in babies is both under-estimated and over-estimated as a cause of poor sleep:
Under-estimated because teething causes more than just sore gums and rosy cheeks. Generally feeling poorly, sometimes feverish and almost always a reduced appetite, add to the sleep difficulties
Over-estimated because some dismiss all sleep problems as "oh it's only teething". But that's not right either. Teething isn't the fix-all cause to solve all sleep problems as it's usually not the only trigger of poor sleep quality.
That said, if left untreated, teething can definitely contribute to not having your baby sleep through the night.
And for many babies it causes not being able to fall asleep, having trouble staying asleep or sleep unless held.
3. Teething causes loss of appetite (which leads to hunger at night)
Because of the discomfort in their mouth, many babies lose their appetite too.
To be precise, they're still hungry as usual, but because feeding is painful - the contact with the (bottle) nipple or the food on the sore gums - they just eat less which makes them seem to have reduced appetite.
So your baby will be hungry yet not feel great about eating, and can't take large meals.
Most babies then play catch up at night waking for more feeds than you'd gotten used to.
And all of this answers the question why your teething baby won't sleep well: directly and indirectly, it's just physically difficult for your baby to get a good night's sleep.
The discomfort often plays up more than during the day. Because in the daytime, there are more distractions and parental comfort and soothing nearby.
How teething affects your baby's sleep
Thanks to teething:
a baby who has been sleeping through the night for a while can suddenly start waking up frequently again. This can typically be night waking every hour, crying or screaming.
This painful waking can have a pattern of occurring for a few consecutive nights, alternating with a few nights of better sleep until the painful tooth cuts
a baby who easily self-soothed to sleep in the cot, or co-sleeping, at night or for naps, can suddenly take hours to wind down and finally fall asleep. And possibly your teething baby won't sleep unless held
a finally found sleep schedulecan get all mixed up again. Don't despair, not all your previous efforts are lost, and you can keep your nights decent with these 3 must-do tips:
How to help your teething baby sleep
1. Recognize the early teething signs
Rosy cheeks or bright red cheeks are typical with teething, and so are dribbling and chewing.
Do this with extra care for your baby's needs right now:
your baby may need an extra feed - day or night - especially when feeds are smaller because of reduced appetite
if you breastfeed, extra (small) feeds are great to help soothe the pain. This is also ideal for teething pains at night
your baby may need extra cuddling and comforting to help with settling so don't hold back 💛 At the same time try to strike a healthy balance: remain determined and, when you've looked after your baby's pain and discomfort as much as you could, don't be afraid to stick to the feed and sleep schedule and bedtime routine you had before
The regularity and sleep hygiene support your baby's natural sleep patterns, and effectively help your baby sleep more. This will help overcome a large part of the discomfort and trouble sleeping
Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.
Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.
Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.
She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.
Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.