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Why Does Your Baby Wake Up Often?

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There have been a few times during parenting, when you were frustrated because your baby woke-up at least 5 times at night. Now that the issue is known, let us get started on the reasons why your baby wakes-up often during the night.

10244978 - portrait of a cute newborn baby lying on the sofa in his bedroom

What Wakes Babies Up?

There are countless reasons that your baby might be waking up at night, but if it becomes a habit, you are probably looking for a common cause. We can usually narrow it down based on your baby’s age.

Newborns

If your baby is waking up every 2-4 hours, it is normal – they need to do that just to eat, and there is not much you can do about it. If your newborn is waking up every 30 minutes, though, and you are sleepless, and zombie-like because of it, we have a problem. With infants, I usually look for the big three-

1. Hunger

Newborns are driven to eat almost as much as they are driven to sleep. The urge to fill their bellies is near-constant, and it grows faster than you would think is possible. It might be that your newborn is just not getting enough to eat at feedings. 

2. Digestive Discomfort

Gas, bubbles in the tummy, and other forms of digestive discomfort are the next place to look. Especially if you witness your baby grimacing or twisting in the crib, it suggests a bellyache. It is not surprising that your baby can wake up from this. 

3. Lack of routine

It is also possible that your newborn’s routine is all screwed up. This happens sometimes; they confuse night for day, and do not realize they are supposed to be sleeping, instead of playing at 2 a.m. Establishing a bedtime routine is critical for teaching your baby, when it is time to sleep for the long stretch.

Older Babies

Babies older than 6 months usually have the ability to sleep through the night. When they do not, there is usually a reason for it – some stimulus that has them waking up in the wee hours of the morning.

1. Wake-up Habits

If your baby is waking up once in the middle of the night, and needs a bottle to get back to sleep, this is common. The downside is that, even when your baby is capable of sleeping all night, his or her little body thinks it needs to wake up to eat. That is reinforced when you give a bottle at that middle-of-the-night wake-up. Eventually, you will have to bite the bullet, and wean the both of you from it. 

2. Teething

Babies usually cut their first teeth between 3 and 6 months, and they come in (with agonizing slowness) over the next year and a half. This ends up being a major reason that older babies keep waking up, because teeth grow at night. 

3. Wet Diapers

If your baby is drinking 6-8 ounces of warm milk at bedtime, all that liquid has to go somewhere. Ordinary diapers are not enough to hold it all, leaving you with a wet and unhappy baby. Fortunately there are heavy-duty diapers, designed to meet the demands of these overnights.

Other Reasons Babies Wake Up

These are the common things to watch for, based on my conversations with other parents, and experience teaching my own little ones to sleep through the night. There are other, less common causes, which merit listing here, in case you have exhausted other explanations.

Temperature

Being too hot or too cold can wake babies up; this seems more problematic in the heat of summer, or the frigid cold of winter. Of course you should make sure your baby’s crib is not in the direct line of a heating, or cooling duct, or element.

Random Noises

Barking dogs, garbage trucks, and inconsiderate neighbors are often causes of unexpected baby wake-ups. We have also found toys and watches that seem to go off in the middle of the night. The best you can do is offer some white noise from a crib soother, or sound machine, and hope it covers the cacaphony.

Nightmares

There are times when one of my little ones woke up, not just crying but scared and/or upset. It was obvious he had had a bad dream, because a few minutes of comforting and reassurance had him back asleep again.