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Written by: Caroline Meyer

Night waking can be extremely stressful and even heart-breaking for a parent. When baby wakes up in the night, we usually try and get up quickly to deal with the crying baby. We give a bottle, change a nappy and anything else we can think of to get baby back to sleep quickly. For more than 50% of parents, this is a common complaint in the first year. Lack of sleep due to a baby that won’t sleep for at least 6 hours uninterrupted can be very stressful. For some parents this can mean they are up every 1.5 to 2 hours.  Research shows that 50% of babies under 3 months slept less than 5 hours straight while 50% of 5-month olds slept for up to 8 hours a night. For 15% of parents, babies were still not sleeping 5 hours uninterrupted by the age of a year, with some not sleeping 6 hours by the age of 2 ½ years old. 

What causes night waking? 

Common causes include hunger, a wet nappy, illness, rash, overexcitement or something else that is causing irritation. It may also be due to bad habits having been formed so that baby isn’t cued to sleep time. You may also have an irregular sleep routine. If baby goes to bed too early, they may not be ready for sleep or if it is too late, they may be overtired, which can also cause sleep problems. Creating a regular routine and alleviating the above issues could go a long way to reducing the amount of sleep lost due to a frequently waking baby. 

Remedies for night waking 

  • Routine: Get into a good routine and start preparing baby for bed at least half an hour before sleep time. A gently baby massage or a nice warm bath will help baby relax and be ready for sleep. You can also read a story in a soft soothing voice or play some light white noise or relaxing sounds at a low level. 
  • Address Hunger: Make sure that baby had been fed well during the day and completes the evening feed before putting him down for bedtime. You can also try waking baby up gently and giving an extra feed before you go to sleep if he wakes constantly to feed during the night. This may reduce at least one wake up once you are asleep. 
  • Don’t Be Exciting: Bedtime should not be treated as playtime. No rowdy playing, keep your voice low and soothing, avoid having conversations or lots of baby talk. Make sure the nappy changed happened in the half hour leading up to sleep so you limit the activity during this period. Keep the lights dimmed (preferably only a night light / red light or no light if you can work in the minimal light in the room). 
  • Settle Down Before Sleep:  Try and get baby lying down and relaxed before they fall asleep. This will help them learn to sleep without being rocked or held, improving independent sleep in future.  
  • Be Prepared: If baby wakes up during the night, have the feed prepared if this is the usual issue. Have the nappy and changing materials ready. Feed, burp, change and soothe baby back to sleep without talking or unnecessary movement. After month two, you can probably skip the nappy change unless this is a major problem for your baby. 
  • Don’t Make Eye Contact: This may cause undue stimulation and baby may see it as play. Keep it uneventful and all business to help baby go back to sleep again easily. 
  • Gentle Touch On The Chest: Withdrawing immediately may stress baby and lead to tears and waking fully. Once baby is lying down and is settled, you can rest your hand gently on baby’s chest until he is sleeping soundly. This can take from 5 to 20 minutes at the start, so you may need to be patient. 
  • Make Bedtime Routine Start Early Enough: An overtired baby is much harder to get to sleep and they also sleep less. Don’t keep baby awake to “wear them out”. Start the routine early and get baby to bed by 7:30pm and even earlier if that works for your little one. 
  • Larger Nappies: Some parents swear by using a nappy one size larger than normal for bedtime. The larger nappy absorbs more and might reduce night waking due to an overly wet nappy overnight. 
  • Learn From Your Baby: Babies are not all the same and you will have to trust your instincts and let your baby guide you. Learn what works to soothe your little one and if their bedtime habits suddenly change for the worse, you need to figure out the cause. Do what feels comfortable for you as a parent, even if it means picking baby up and shushing them back to sleep. 

If you have tried everything and nothing seems to be working, you might want to consult with your doctor to check for any health issues that may be causing the night waking. For some babies that battle to self-soothe, you may want to work with a blankie or teddy after the age of 12 months to help them with night waking. 

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