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Nighttime Teething Nightmare- Why Teething Makes Your Baby Cry More At Night and What May Help

by Jessica Martin-Weber

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Ever noticed that when your baby is teething their crankiness and discomfort seems to get worse at night? Or even how sometimes they seem TOTALLY fine during the day and then suddenly at night they can’t seem to settle and are fussy and cranky and you’re not even sure why only later to notice they have puffy red gums or even a brand new tooth?

It’s not your imagination, this really does happen and there’s a reasonable explanation too. Which means there’s also something you can do about it.

What’s the deal? Why are teething symptoms worse at night?


Teething babies are often at the age of exploration of the world around them. They are ready to move! Even if they aren’t very mobile, they’re rapidly taking in information, interacting socially, and physically developing new skills daily. A little bit of teething isn’t going to slow them down, they’ve got people to see, places to go, adventures to take, play to make! Even if they do have moments during the day, there’s a lot going on around them to distract them at least a little bit from what’s going on in their mouth and head.

Once regular night time and day time sleep patterns are worked out in the brain, right around 4 months, babies have the same general physiological cycles related to sleep in their bodies as adults do. During the day the build something that’s called sleep pressure in the brain which makes them ready to sleep at night (give or take… and that doesn’t mean they won’t fight sleep, just that their brain is ready for it biologically), their bodies naturally release melatonin as daylight fades and artificial light lowers, and their cortisol levels naturally drop to make it easier for them to sleep at night. Just like adults, as they get tired and ready for sleep, they can become more emotional and little challenges will suddenly seem bigger.

What does this have to do with worsening teething symptoms? Lower cortisol levels means that stressors like pain aren’t being managed as much by the brain and become more noticeable. Not only are there less distractions to take their attention off the discomfort, there is even less of the chemical cocktail the body produces that helps with coping with such discomfort.

Meaning more ouch.

That’s not all, either.

The body does most of the growing it needs to do during sleep. Sometimes our children literally do wake up bigger in the morning, their bodies having been busy during the night before. While asleep, the body can efficiently direct energy to growth and healing. Exactly why doctors have been telling us to sleep when sick, rest is essential for growth and repair. This includes teeth! It is very possible your baby’s teething symptoms get worse at night because their teeth really are moving more at night. A process that involves shifting bone and slowly cutting through gum tissue causing headaches, mouth pain, and general discomfort. No wonder there are tears!

With nothing to distract them, lower levels of chemicals that reduce pain, and more movement of the teeth at night all combine to create a perfect storm of middle of the night fussiness or downright screaming.

What can help?

While you can’t change the natural sleep patterns in the body, you can help make your baby more comfortable through teething. Nothing is a guarantee but every little bit of hope help and any of these steps may at least help reduce discomfort so there’s a bit more rest for everyone.

 

 

Respond quickly. Don’t wait for your baby’s fussing to escalate to full-fledged wailing in distress. Being responsive to their early communication that they need help will help them emotionally regulate and manage the stress of their discomfort as calmly as they possibly can.

Rule out other concerns. Just to be sure that your baby’s distress is about teething pain, check out your baby to rule out any other concerns. This will allow you to relax as much as possible that their discomfort is unfortunate but not alarming. With your anxiety lower, your baby will pick up on your calm and feel safe and secure that you are there with them even though they’re uncomfortable.

Nurse more! Breastfeeding releases chemicals in the baby’s brain that actually lower pain levels. Nurse is already co-regulating for emotional distress, the oxytocin released in calming and connecting but studies show that a baby being latched and sucking, receiving their milk from their parent, can reduce pain and even keep it from starting. Nursing more could be the ticked to getting through those nighttime teething pains.

Skin-to-skin. Easily accomplished with nursing but possible to do otherwise too, skin-to-skin as pain relief and soothing measures for pain is an incredibly effective non-pharmacological means to help your baby feel better.

Protect naps. Sleep begets sleep and lack of sleep can show up as hyperactivity at night. Protecting sleep during the day means that nap times are even more important. You may decide that more or longer nap times are worth the possible nighttime sleep shortening if teething is going on for a while and your little one just can’t seem to get enough sleep at night.

Earlier bedtime. If sleep has already been disrupted, having an earlier bedtime may help get more quality sleep in before the pain and discomfort kicks into high gear during the night. It isn’t uncommon for babies and toddlers to have difficulty sleeping after 11pm or midnight meaning you’ll easily see 1am, 2am, and 3am when they are teething if they’re really uncomfortable. Getting to bed earlier (you too!) may mean there’s more sleep happening that is better quality before the disruptions get started.

Rocking, swinging, swaying. There’s a reason most of us automatically start swaying or rocking when we hear a baby crying even if we’re not holding the baby ourselves: rocking soothes the brain! Studies show that rocking or swinging lowers stress levels, reduces pain and discomfort, and soothes emotional dysregulation. As simple as it may seem, rocking your baby at night really does help them feel better and you too!

Pain relief mediation. Liquid infant Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen may reduce your baby’s pain enough for them to get the sleep they need… and maybe you too! Be sure to use according to directions and try not to use more than 3 nights in a row and check with your child’s healthcare provider before administering.

Teething gel. There are safe, soothing teething gel options you can put directly on your baby’s gums to help reduce inflammation and pain. Be sure it doesn’t have benzocaine or other numbing agents in them as that can create a risk of choking and impair their swallowing.

Teething tablets. With a safe blend of herbs, teething tablets dissolve easily for baby and 

Have realistic expectations. Cutting teeth IS painful. It’s a lot of work and it is understandable that your baby complains about it. They want help making the pain goaway for good reason. Having realistic expectations about teething will help you stay calm even when you’re exhausted and feeling helpless and your baby will be able to draw from your calm for their own calm.

Remember this is temporary. Teething does stop at some point. Your baby isn’t going to be cutting new teeth forever. There may be long stretches of teething (my baby once cute 12 teeth one right after the other, teething for a few months straight) which makes it really difficult to remember that this is temporary but keeping that in mind can help get through those long nights.


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Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of wereallhumanhere.com, freelance writer, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 7 daughters with her husband of 23 years.

Rest Well- Sleep Support From Sleep Consultant Rebecca Michi

The Leakies with Rebecca Michi

We asked sleep consultant Rebecca Michi to come help us all get some more sleep and we asked the Leakies to rate how they were sleeping on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best and to tell us about it. Here are a few of the responses followed by Rebecca’s support.

Rebecca Michi sleep consultant

Brittany: I would say a 4. my 13 mo wakes up every 1-2 hours and wants to nurse like a newborn. We co-sleep and started to transition to his crib. but I’m still not getting sleep he sits up and cries cause he can’t find the boob. He has never slept more then 3 hours. We have been on a bedtime routine for months now started bedtime at 7:30p and nothing seems to work. Read books about sleep did everything and still a short sleeper.

Rebecca: How long do you think he could go between feeds during the night right now? 3 hours? He could probably do without a feed at all during the night, but as he is used to feeding lots his tummy will be hungry if you drop to no feeds or have a long time between those feeds during the night. Get a little nightlight that you need to turn on before you feed at those 3 hour intervals during the night. This is the cue for a feed not just because he woke up. In between those feeds times do whatever you can do to help him back to sleep, rocking, walking, patting, singing, dancing, shushing, anything! If your partner can help in between those feeds it would be very helpful. Maybe you could both take short shifts. If you are trying to get him to sleep as it wasn’t a feed time when he woke and he doesn’t fall asleep, but you get to a feed time, turn that light on and feed him. Don’t worry if he falls asleep feeding. As he gets used to not being fed at every wake up and so often he should begin to increase those periods of sleep. You can continue to work on this until you are comfortable with the amount he’s feeding (or not!).

 

Lauren: I get less then 5 hours of sleep at night. In short 2 hour chunks. My son is 14 months, and barely goes 2h between comfort nursing. I would cosleep, but then he crawls all over me, and pinches and nurses all night long. I can’t take it any more. He hardly eats solids, and barely eats during waking hours. I love the snuggles, but have seriously contemplated bottle feeding my next child just so he/she isn’t so attached at the hip to me. I have never been away from my son for more than 4 hours in his life. It is very tiring, and does affect my relationship with my husband and older daughter (4).

Rebecca: If he’s getting the majority of his calories during the night he will wake often to nurse. Try as best you can get a few more nursing sessions into him during the day. Often people have success feeding before or after their child has napped, the room is dark, their child is relaxed and there are very few distractions around. You can also try offering solid foods little and often throughout the day. You can always add breastmilk to his solid foods.

During the night set your feed times, how long can he go between feeds? 3 hours? Only feed at those times. Have a little nightlight as your cue for feeding (turn it on before you feed) and help him back to sleep any way possible when it’s not a feed time. Don’t worry if he wakes after 2 hours, help as much as you need to, if he hasn’t fallen asleep at 3 hours since the last feed, turn the nightlight on and feed him. Continue through the night. He will have fed less during the night so make sure you are offering more nursing and solid foods the following day. Stick with the 3 hour feedings for 3 nights and then stretch out a little further (3 ½ or 4 hours?). Having your partner help with this would be a huge benefit as it will become more of a challenge before it gets better.

Sleep training 12 weeks 4 month sleep regression

Tearra: My 5 month old was such a good sleeper only waking every 4 hours at night. Untill he reached about 3 months old. For the last 2 months he has been waking every 1 to 2 hours at night wants to be nursed back to bed every time. Will not take a bottle. He sleeps in his own room. He’s my 3rd baby, and I can’t Cosleep. It’s not comfortable to me. I’m so tired. I don’t know what to do. My other little now 2 and 5 never did this and our still great sleepers.

Rebecca: There is a very big shift that happens with sleep at around 12 weeks of age (52 weeks from conception, so it does depend if they were born early of late), children shift from having infant sleep cycles to having adult sleep cycles (they are shorter than ours). From then on they have REM dream sleep and a deep sleep (they didn’t before). They also begin to produce melatonin (a sleep inducing hormone) when they get into a dark dim environment. Going through this shift can make very big changes to the way a child sleeps and as parents we get to help them through that. It’s not unusual that this began around 12 weeks of age.

First off I would take a look at the day routine, whenever I work with a family we always work on the routines first, it can have a huge impact on night sleep. Have a maximum of 2 hours awake and then a nap, have a 10 minute nap routine (really consistent and within your awake time), all throughout the day. Being awake for longer can result in short naps and then overtiredness when going to bed at night, when we are overtired we struggle to fall asleep and remain asleep.

As you are not bed sharing it doesn’t look like you will be over helping (where you are helping too soon), I presume he is wide awake before you are going and helping (this is a good thing to do, we want to make sure he is awake and actually needing help when you go in). Have you tried not feeding? Sending your partner in to help? If feeding is the only way you can get your child to sleep (at the beginning of the night and as back to sleep during the night) you may want to consider some gentle sleep training. My technique, The Michi Method is a very hands on gentle technique. This will gradually and gently teach your child to fall asleep more independently and back asleep more independently, when it isn’t a feed time. He may still need a feed during the night until he is around 12 months old, just not every 2 hours and not as they only way to get back to sleep.

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We’re so excited to be giving away 4 of Rebecca’s books Sleep And Your Child’s Temperament to 4 lucky Leakies! Use the widget below to enter.

Comment here if you have a question you would like Rebecca to answer next time.

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small Rebecca Michi121 Rebecca is a Children’s Sleep Consultant who has been working with families for over 20 years. She is a gentle sleep consultant who doesn’t believe in leaving your child to cry-it-out when teaching them to fall asleep more independently. She is passionate about helping children and their parents build healthy habits so they can finally get some sleep. By transforming drama into dreamland, her mission is to help your children—and you—get a good night’s sleep.

Sugarbaby’s New Year’s Pro-Breastfeeding Tips and Resolutions for the New Year for the Breastfed Baby

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Sugarbaby
Sugarbaby eats dirt

Sugarbaby eating dirt when she was still a little nursling.

It’s a new year, my 3rd new year to celebrate so I am old hat at ringing in the new year and making resolutions. My mommy says any time is a good time to decide to make changes but lots of people think there is something about the new year that makes it the perfect time to resolve to do things differently. So, to help you get this new year started out right, I’m sharing with you my best resolution tips for breastfed babies.

1) Start sleeping through the night. Your parents, specially mommy, will have more energy to do fun things like build block towers for you to knock over, create Pinterest worth play dates, and make you handmade outfits. Maybe even wash her hair every day.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Just kidding, you don’t want to do that! Specially not if you’re still breastfeeding lots. It’s SUPER DUPER important you wake up lots and lots to have mama milks at night and sleep nurse too, check it out here. Did you know that mommies’ bodies make more milk at night? By breastfeeding all the time at night, you help mama make more milkies for you and that’s even better than block towers. Pinterest play dates are over rated anyway and let’s be honest, you’d rather be naked than wear a cute outfit that you’re just going to get snot on anyway.

2) Teeth mostly at night. Those chompers HURT coming in but once you have them and you can eat things like carrots, you’re going to be glad you have them. But getting them is no fun. The best way through that though is to make sure you have undivided parental attention which means, night time. There’s nothing else going on, they’re just trying to sleep and you know how boring that is, which means they have nothing better to do than just hold you while you loudly inform them of your suffering. And that also means it’s good mama milks time which can help you feel a little better. Sometimes. Sometimes everything hurts no matter what but at least you have mommy right there all night long.

3) Build up your immune system. What’s the immune system? I don’t really know but I know my mommy sometimes loves my immune system and sometimes hates it. I’ve learned somethings though, like getting exposed to stuff helps your immune system and though my mommy doesn’t like it when I put stuff in my mouth I find on the ground, she says hopefully it’s just building a strong immune system. So I like to help. By licking shopping cart handles, chewing on tables when we’re out to eat, and finding out what the poles we find on our walks taste like. My mommy doesn’t like it but I’m just helping my immune system. You don’t want a weak one, start tasting the seats the next time you go to the doctor’s office!

4) Be patient while mommy showers, best if you nap during it. Mommy’s get stinky. You don’t want a stinky mommy, this year, help her get clean. Her hair will be so pretty and when you give her snuggles she’ll smell so nice.

Tricked ya!

I understand playing in the water, I love baths and going swimming but I don’t understand mommy’s fascination with dumping water on her head and using soap. Yuck. Worse, she washes away her yummy mama smell! I hate that. So as soon as she gets out of the shower, when I’m done freaking out because I see with my own eyes that she didn’t totally disappear and wash away forever, I have to have mama milks. RIGHT AWAY. Before she is finished drying off, before she gets dressed, and before I forget. You must do this every time, having some bobbies will help her smell much better after a shower. If you can, help her get some mama milk all over by dribbling it on her tummy, spitting up on her clean outfit, or crying as she’s getting dressed so she leaks on her clothes. That will fix it right up, if you do it right, she won’t even smell like she ever even took a shower within an hour.

5) Smile. A smile is like magic. When you smile, people smile back. When you’re really little, smiling is just fun. When you get a little bigger, smiling is a tool. Like when you wake up in the middle of the night crying, when you see a parental unit, smile and even if they aren’t too happy about being woken up (serious question here, why do grown ups actually seem to like sleep? Isn’t that silly?) they can’t help but smile back. When you start being able to climb and you climb something you’re not supposed to (I know, I know, why did they put it there if they didn’t want you to climb it?) charm them as they attempt to redirect you (don’t lose your focus though!) and they’ll start thinking maybe it’s ok for you to climb because you smiled. Then you’ll really know how to use a smile when you do the fun things you’re not supposed to, like rub all the diaper salve all over mommy’s bedspread, or pour shampoo all over the bathroom floor and have all your toys go skating in it, or climb up the counter and use the fluffy flour stuff to make it snow in the kitchen… Fix it all with a smile. When they find you (I find the best time to do this is when they go potty and actually close the door so you can’t keep them company, why don’t grown ups want company when they go poopie?), give them a BIG smile and invite them to join you in the most fun ever! It helps a lot and maybe they’ll let you keep having fun (probably not).

Smile! Sugarbaby thought this was ok because it seemed like a game of "jump out of daddy's arms to get to mommy."

Smile! Sugarbaby thought this was ok because it seemed like a game of “jump out of daddy’s arms to get to mommy.”

6) Think about liking other grown ups. Mommy is your favorite, obviously, she has the mama milks. But you could consider sometimes hanging out with another grown up for a little bit. It could be fun. You could discover something new. You might even like it.

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Gotcha again!

You don’t want to do that! She might SHOWER! And it’s important you always keep an eye on the mama milks, silly.

That’s it babies, hope your new year is off to a great start. Share your wisdom here for other Leaky babies, we all have to stick together! Happy New Year!

Happy Breastfeeding,

~ Sugarbaby