Many parents want to know – why does my baby or toddler wake up so frequently at night?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. There are many possible reasons why your baby will wake up at night. It can be a bit of a puzzle but hopefully after today’s post you’ll have a better idea why your baby your baby wakes up at night. Today we’re going to take a closer look at some of the reasons your little one may be waking up frequently at nighttime. Let’s jump in!
Your baby waking out of hunger in the middle of the night is appropriate to a certain age. At some point, babies begin sleeping through the night and do not need to eat. Most babies aged 3-6 months will need 1-2 feedings in the middle of the night. Before the age of three months, they may need to eat every 2-4 hours. After age 6 months, most babies can sleep through the night.
My best tip is to “tank up” during the day. This means to maximize feeding during the daytime so your little one is full before bed. This also helps to make sure they receive the majority of their daily intake in the daytime hours.
Breastfed infants are more likely to need nighttime feedings at an older age compared to formula-fed infants. Breast milk gets processed more quickly. One general guideline for formula is that your baby should take about 2.5 ounces per pound of body weight in a 24 hour period. This should give you a general idea of how much formula your baby needs in a day.
We often don’t think of infants having or learning habits at such a young age, but they do. One of the biggest habits I see causing frequent nighttime waking is the parent responds immediately to any fuss or cry of the infant. This reinforces your infant’s habit as they know mom or dad will come right away if they cry or fuss. Mom and dad’s attention is the biggest thing your baby is after. This is a biologically critical process. Babies need to alert their caregiver when they need attention or care.
However, when we always respond right away it doesn’t give baby space to self-soothe and for parents to see what the baby’s actual need is. Babies often wake between sleep cycles – this is normal and expected.
If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, give him space to see if he’ll fall back asleep on his own. I generally recommend giving him 5-10 minutes before you check on him (as long as he’s safe of course). If he hasn’t fallen asleep and is still crying, by all means feed him if it’s time, change his diaper, or do whatever to attend to his needs.
If your baby is currently nursed to sleep, she likely will want to be nursed back to sleep every time she wakes up. Babies often wake up between sleep cycles so this means she might be waking up every 90 minutes all night long. This is an example of a negative sleep association. This means that she has associated falling asleep with nursing. A negative sleep association is something that requires parental involvement for the baby or toddler to get back to sleep. Another example is you laying down with your toddler every night when he falls asleep. He will be confused if he wakes up in the middle of the night and you’re no longer there. He will then make it known that he is awake and will need you to lay down with him before he can fall asleep again.
Sleep associations can be positive or negative. A negative sleep association is typically something that requires parental involvement for your little one to fall asleep. On the other hand, a positive sleep association is something that helps your little one self-soothe or is a bedtime cue. Some examples of positive sleep associations include white noise, holding a lovey, or babbling to themselves. For more information about sleep associations, check out this post.
Nightmares are common and developmentally normal starting in preschool age children. Nightmares often result in your child expressing fear at bedtime or waking you up in the middle of the night afraid. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help your child get through this phase. Check out this post for several tips and more information.
Infants, toddlers, and children of all ages get sick with some regularity. This often is a cold, an ear infection or a stomach bug. Illness of any kind and duration is often very disruptive to sleep. Sometimes flares of underlying chronic medical issues like eczema, constipation, and asthma can disrupt sleep as well. While you’re in the middle of illness, I recommend doing your best to maintain your schedule. However, your little one is likely to need you in the middle of night and that’s okay. Know this is temporary and most sleep disruptions go away when the illness does.
Now that you know the reasons why your baby wakes up at night, I hope you have a better understanding of how you might begin helping him or her develop healthy sleep habits. Helping your little one learn independent sleep is the best way to address nighttime wake ups caused by habits, unnecessary nighttime feedings, and sleep associations. Independent sleep is a skill that infants and toddlers can learn with your help. Learning to self-soothe and connect sleep cycles will allow your little one to sleep through the night. If you need help teaching your child independent sleep, I would love to help you – check out my services here.
On the other hand, if your little one is waking up with nightmares, I highly recommend you check out this post for tips on how to handle it. If your little one is sick, know that usually these sleep disruptions are temporary. Please comment below or send me a message if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!