My five month old baby and his ever increasing wake ups

by Amanda

Question: Three weeks ago we moved my son into his cot in the nursery as he was too big for his moses basket. At first he settled very well and got used to his new surroundings. We started him on a bedtime routine fairly early and this has been pretty successful, eventually he was sleeping through the night and had managed this for slightly over a month.

Two weeks ago, he started suffering with teething, it was obvious the pain that he was in from his distress and crying. As time went on he started to wake up during the night, at first only a few times and a dummy would send him back to sleep. This has been gradually increasing and he can now wake up as 8/9 times in a night. Each time not seeming to want feeding, but again a dummy seems to satisfy. As the number of wake ups has increased so the time between them has decreased. He seemed to be starting waking up around 2am. A few days ago he woke at 10:30pm (we put him to bed around 7:30pm) and last night it was at 9:30 and 10:30pm. Following our health visitor's advice I gave him a feed at 10:30pm, he had about 3oz and then the waking started. I lost count after 10 times, the only plus was that there was more time between waking so it seemed like we all got some sleep.

He was always a good feeder, drinking it down as fast as possible, but this changed when he started teething. I experimented with feeding more regularly than he wanted it to try and ensure he was getting enough and he has gained a usual amount of weight. I am now back to feeding on demand unless it gets to 5 hours and then I feed him anyway. His bowel movements have also changed and he is now a regular one a day boy compared to every other day or longer.

I have tried helping him to self soothe the last few nights after reading another response on the website, and though this sends him back to sleep this doesn’t break the pattern, neither does picking him up.

I wonder if this is down to me letting him sleep on me when he was in pain during teething during the day, or is it just teething? The other thing that concerns me is that he has forgotten how to fall asleep. Any help would be gratefully received.

Heidi’s Answer: Dear Amanda, Yes teething can be a very disturbing phase to go through and mess up sleep in the way you now experience. The main thing to do is to not let go of all the good habits you had installed, like the routine, the regular bedtime and regular feeding, sleeping in his cot …

And, no surprise, try to reduce the teething discomfort. Has you health visitor suggested anything to help with the teething? You may find some further on this teething remedies overview.

Your letting him sleep on you during the day when he was in pain is not wrong at all, a baby in pain can be nowhere better than in his mom’s or dad’s arms. Please do mind that when doing that, you are not too tired yourself because then you might fall asleep yourself and then there is the SIDS risk coming in.

But of course, when at all possible, you will want him to nap in his cot at regular naptimes. Then maybe soothe him in between by holding him.

The other important thing to do is to work on the self soothing and that is exactly what you have been doing.

Even if it hasn’t broken the pattern yet, that is THE way to help him sleep by himself and learn how to fall asleep alone again. The fact that he has slept through for over a month, and that you manage to help him back to sleep with the self soothing techniques are both very good signs that he can go back to sleeping well.

So I advise you to keep doing the self soothing at each awakening, moving veeery gently from putting down sleepy towards very drowsy towards less and less drowsy … It may take time but is the most rewarding and efficient in the end.

In all:

- Keep the day and night sleep schedule as regular as possible. He probably has two or three naps now, mid-morning and mid-afternoon (or one early and one late afternoon)? Stick to those and work with the self soothing there too. If he’s in too much pain or discomfort though, do not hesitate to help him but without changing the schedule.

- Make your days active and bright but all night awakenings should be as dull and dim as possible. It’s not a bad idea to feed at 10.30pm if you feel he’s a bit hungry. Then do the self soothing after the feeding, and at all other awakenings.

- Make sure that the evenings (say from at least 2 hours before his 7.30pm bedtime) are very restful with few triggers. That means no television, no silly games, not too much people around, no loud music …

- When he does wake up, you might also want to wait a minute or two. He may just shuffle or fuss a bit and find sleep again. By not rushing in from the first minute, you give him the time to settle by himself (some babies need 5 or 10 minutes for this, but don’t wait too long, if he really cries/screams he will not be able to settle.

This all should be enough to have him sleep better again in a few wakes. However, if you feel up to it, you can try and speed it up and help break the pattern by going to him each time before he wakes. It may be a bit hard on you for a couple of nights but can be quite efficient. It does require you to know (or log for a while) the times at which he wakes up, and to wake up yourself a bit before that.

That is: if he has a typical awakening at 9.30pm, go to him about 10 minutes before. Place your hand on his head or stroke his belly, anything that you know comforts him and may keep him sleeping instead of truly waking up. Or place his dummy in his mouth while asleep … Then on to the next foreseen awakening … Little by little you may manage to get him used to sleeping longer stretches again, of course hand in hand with the self soothing you do when he does wake up and the teething that should become less painful.

Finally, has he started solids recently? You don’t mention it but his changed bowel movements may be an indication. If he did start solids, that could also disturb his sleep a bit while he gets used to them or possibly does not react well to different foods. You could easily test that by holding off with the solids for a little while to see if that changes anything.

All the best,

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