Just when you think you’ve nailed this sleep business and your baby has been going to bed happily and sleeping through the night for weeks…BAM! Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s waking up every few hours and crying for long periods of time.
Before you start to panic and tell yourself you are destined to an eternity of sleepless nights with a cranky baby, let me just reassure you that this is perfectly normal and happens to many babies who have previously been sleeping well. There is usually a good reason, and it’s often only a phase that will pass soon enough.
Here are the top reasons this might be happening.
Testing the Waters
1. Your child could be simply testing the waters or testing your patience. As adults, we usually understand that once we learn a rule (don’t drive on the wrong side of the road, don’t cut in the front of the line at the bank, don’t drink a double espresso before bed), it’s always going to be the rule.
But children don’t think that way, and for them this new bedtime knowledge is not yet crystallized. In their minds, just because something was the rule today, this does not necessarily mean it will be the rule tomorrow or three weeks from now.
Most children will repeatedly test you around everything, as you probably know, but they will especially test your expectations around sleep. That’s why it’s so important to stick to the plan. Don’t start bringing baby into bed with you at night when he cries, or rocking him back to sleep every two hours…not after all that hard work you did. Just stay the course and soon he will figure out that bedtime and sleep routines are here to stay.
2. If your baby was sleeping soundly every night and is suddenly waking and crying, it’s possible she might have an ear infection. With some children it isn’t as easy to detect, and they may not be pulling on their ears or fighting a fever (usually a telltale sign). If you suspect your baby might be waking from pain, take her to the doctor and have her ears checked out. Once she is treated she will most likely start sleeping soundly again.
3. If your baby is protesting at night and it seems out of the blue, it’s also possible it could be related to a developmental milestone. If your child has recently learned a new skill (crawling, walking etc.) this could be what’s causing the momentary ripple in bedtime routine. Remember to stick to the plan and it should blow over in a couple of weeks.
Remember: Whatever the reason for your baby’s night-waking or tantrums at bedtime, don’t panic and rush in there to help. You have to remain consistent with your response and expectations or you will quickly undo all the progress you’ve made. The more you stick with the plan, the more your baby’s healthy sleep habits will just become part of his daily routine, which will set him up for a lifetime of sleeping well.