The Middle-of-the-Night Cry Every Mama Needs to Know.
You’ve finally put your head down on your pillow and no sooner than you start to drift off to sleep, your baby starts to cry. Sigh….
Whether your baby has been in bed for one hour or four hours, your first thought is “Why is my baby crying?”.
Whether it happens before or after midnight, or many times throughout the night, you do the same thing. You start going through your mental list of questions:
Or, knowing that babies LOVE their mama, maybe she just wants to be held by you. The thought of this tugs at your heart!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we knew what those cries meant? Unfortunately, your baby’s one form of communication keeps you confused. You think:
Your list of VERY valid questions could continue!
But there are two definite truths:
After all, you’re a mom because you want to love on your baby. You live for the nurturing moments where nothing else matters but rocking, nursing or simply holding him or her. I’ve said it before and will say it again Always love on your baby! LOVE. ON. YOUR. BABY.
But, the reality is it’s impossible to love on your baby all night long. Not only are you beyond exhausted, your baby isn’t getting quality sleep if she’s crying out for you multiple times a night.
To make matters more complicated, have we even determined why she’s crying yet?
So, what on earth is a parent to do?! Should you feel guilty for silently praying they’ll go back to sleep on their own if you wait a few minutes and let them cry it out? The answer to that is NO and every parent has been there!
You know your baby better than anyone and with time, you’ll definitely know when something is wrong based on your child’s cry just as you learn your child’s cry within a day of being born. It’s your mama instinct.
So, in the meantime, let’s figure out the middle-of-the-night cry every mama needs to know!
Here are a few tips for out the “why the cry?” riddle:
IS BABY UNDER SIX MONTHS OLD?
Babies typically need at least one nighttime feed until around six months. With small tummies, no solid foods, and milk that digests quickly, we can expect them to be hungry during the night.
TIP: Some babies can sleep all night, but in general, we should expect one waking for feeding during the night.
IS BABY EATING ENOUGH DURING THE DAY?
Once a baby can sleep through the night, it is imperative that we make sure their calories during the day are increased.
Around six months is a great time to begin offering solid foods. Again, do not force foods. Your baby may show no interest and that’s 100% okay! Six months is not a line in the sand of a time to cut night feeds, so don’t feel as though you’re doing something wrong if a night feed is needed beyond six months. Make SURE you talk to your pediatrician to confirm that your baby’s health and weight are appropriate for considering removing night feeds.
TIP: Throw in an extra feed or add an ounce or two to each bottle throughout the day. Be careful to not force milk but know that a baby will compensate for night nutrition during the day and need extra calories.
HOW MUCH IS YOUR BABY EATING?
I’m sure you know this scenario. Less than an hour of being put down, your baby starts crying. You offer food, but she takes a small amount and quickly drifts back off to sleep.
This is a good sign that a baby is feeding for comfort instead of hunger. The calming effect of that small amount of eating was enough to help them relax and get to sleep. A baby who wakes of true hunger will take a reasonable amount of milk, even if not quite as large of an amount as during the day.
IS BABY SLEEPING AT LEAST THREE HOURS AFTER EATING?
A baby who does have a full feed before bed or during the night should be able to sleep 3-4 hours after eating. An average sleep cycle lasts around 45 minutes to an hour (for a six month-old), if you notice your baby waking after that length of time, it’s most likely that food is not the reason. Instead, your baby has most likely become dependent on the soothing and sucking actions of the feed to go to sleep.
TIP: To help rule out hunger even more, try moving the last feeding before bed to the beginning of your bedtime routine. Then, offer an extra top-off feed before bed. This often results in baby taking in extra calories before going to sleep.
DO THEY GO BACK TO SLEEP WITHOUT A FEED?
It’s hard to go to sleep if you’re hungry, even as an adult. Our brains know our bodies need nutrition and will stay alert until that need is met. Only when overly exhausted, will our bodies recognize sleep as a greater need.
With that said, a baby who is truly hungry will not go back to sleep very easily until having that need met. A baby who falls asleep after five or ten minutes, even if crying, most likely wasn’t hungry, but instead looking for help falling back to sleep.
HOW DOES BABY FALL ASLEEP?
Perhaps the most important question, and one that you can easily answer is whether your baby falls asleep on her own? In other words, is your baby rocked, nursed, bounced, held, etc. to fall asleep? OR, can you place your baby in the crib while awake, walk away and have her fall asleep without assistance? If the answer to that last question is a solid “YES,” then your baby most likely needs your help, probably in the form of food.
Why your baby is crying and whether they are hungry isn’t a very easy question to answer. Babies are complicated little creatures. We absolutely have to ensure they are fed and have proper rest. Once your baby has independent sleep skills, determining what a cry means is certainly much easier.
Breaking the habit of feeding to sleep isn’t always easy, but it certainly allows you to feel much more confident that the middle of the night requests are out of genuine need and not just for another minute with mama.
I help parents like you who are 100% committed to the health of their baby and want to meet the needs of both sleep and nutrition in the most gentle, nurturing manner possible.
If you have questions about how to help your child have the quality sleep he or she deserves without sacrificing their nutritional health (or your mental health), let’s talk.
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I am passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep well. If you are reading this because you are a tired, worn down parent, I can relate. I was EXACTLY where you are! Nothing I was trying worked and I had nothing left to give. Then I tried the Sleep Sense Program. Now, our nights are different. My little daughter sleeps all night, or in her words, until “Mr. Sun comes up." Read more about my journey. As your Montgomery Baby Sleep Expert, I can help you have the same success that I experienced.
If you are wondering if you can take another night of little to no sleep, reach out! Contact me and I can help! In fact, I would LOVE to help. I am committed to helping families sleep, not only to educating, but relentlessly supporting you and encouraging you every step of the way. You are NOT alone!
Still on the fence? It costs nothing to share your current situation with me. I’ll gladly give my time and let you know what options we have. On a budget? We can find a solution that will work. BUT, if you decide that you’re not quite ready, I will support your decision wholeheartedly and still cheer you on!
Sleep training with me is about YOUR family. Only you know your family inside and out. No two families are alike, so each step I take with a family is unique. Daycare, workouts, Church, colic, reflux, Autism, and other siblings’ schedules are just a FEW of the things that can shape your plan.
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My Favorite White Noise Machines
The recommended safety level for any sound machine is 50 dB. As a rule of thumb, if you walk out of the room and close the door, you should barely hear the machine. There is a fantastic all called Decibel X that can help you determine an appropriate level. Simply place your phone in the crib and adjust the noise or sound machine accordingly.
The Marpac Dohm is a white noise machine that generates the noise with a motor. There is only one sound choice, which is a soothing sound of rushing air, or “shhhhhh” sound. The two motor speeds along with the ability to rotate openings in two spots allow you to adjust the tone and volume. The Dohm is the simplest, most easily adjusted white noise machine on the market. If you are hoping to block out a very loud, barking dog right outside the window, it simply won’t, unless it is above a safe volume. It does a fantastic job of safely masking distracting noises and providing a comforting environment.
The MyBaby SoundSpa is an excellent choice for a budget sound machine. The sounds are definitely different from the Dohm, but most babies don’t care. The MyBaby has a white noise option along with summer night, ocean, heartbeat, brook, and cradle; however, I will always encourage using the traditional white noise. These sounds are prerecorded. There is an option of a 15, 30, or 60 minute timer, but I recommend using the machine during naps and all night. At $25, it is a great value and small enough for travel.
The LectroFan is slightly smaller that the Dohm. It boasts 10 white noise sounds and 10 fan sounds. Unlike The controls are very easy to operate, and the volume can be adjusted far higher than any nursery would ever want. Again, 50 dB is our limit. The LectroFan has an optional sleep timer, but for our purposes, that’s not necessary. This is another fantastic choice and has a range of noises in case you prefer sound options.
If you feel like you’ve tried it all and are still at a loss, let’s set up a free 15-minute consultation. No question is too big or small and there may be a simple solution!
The holidays are officially here! If you've successfully gotten your baby on a schedule, you may be worried that they may regress with travel and a little upset to the routine. You desperately want to maintain sleep over the holidays.
You have good reason to be concerned!
Whether by car or plane, the travel and excitement paired with extra stimulation are the perfect combination to throw the hard work out with the turkey bones and wrapping paper.
The good news?
A little strategic planning will help you maintain your well-orchestrated routine whether at Memaw's or Aunt Sue's.
The two main obstacles in your little one's solid slumber are travel and family and friends.
Let's address travel first.
First, do yourself a favor and don't sleep train right before traveling. Now, if you've already started, don't worry! A trip shouldn't completely derail your progress if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy. Just be ready to rock and roll when you get home.
Driving to the turkey dinner destination?
Do everything you can to schedule your drive around your baby's first nap. While the car seat isn't ideal, it's a great substitute for no nap. The bonus? A little peace on the drive for that podcast you've been wanting to catch up on OR the absolute peace of silence.
Have a long drive?
Try to find something to stop and do mid-trip. It's great for everyone to move and get a little fresh air. It may take a little longer, but you may snag a second nap in the car which means you'll arrive a much happier, less stressed human.
Flying? Bless. Your. Heart!
My best piece of advice is to accept that planes and babies don't always get along. Some immediately fall asleep and some scream the entire time. However you little feels about the experience, own it. The dagger eyes from the row behind you may need some help in the compassion department, but that's not your job.
For toddlers and older children, I give you my permission to break out all the snacks. I LOVE Melissa and Doug "On the Go" coloring books, too. Of course, when all else fails, take out the phone.
Ok, back to sleep.
EVERYONE is excited.
EVERYONE wants to hold the baby.
EVERYONE wants to play with those cheeks and take a scrapbook's worth of pictures.
It is an absolute BLESSING to share life with family. The only problem with all the fun is that your baby will easily become overstimulated and potentially miss a nap. If you are off your schedule and arrive with an already tired baby, this is magnified.
So, mama, you must advocate for your child. It's FINE to take control and let everyone know that your baby needs a break, a nap, or that it's time for bed. You may have to explain that your baby becomes overstimulated and that it's hard to go to sleep in that condition. Your well-meaning matrons will understand.
Trust me when I say that every nap is important. One missed nap results in a rise in cortisol, which results in a domino effect of overtiredness and more missed sleep. Start strong on day one. You don't want the trip to be full of crankiness and crying that could have been prevented. Neither does your grandmother.
So, everyone is now on board and supporting your schedule.
How do you deal with the actual night part?
You and baby may be in the same room. No big deal! Except that it may be.
Your baby will know you are there! I know from experience that what will probably happen is that you will have an extra bed buddy. Those snuggles are wonderful until your baby falls in love with it and expects it when you get home.
Divide the room.
Do anything you can to place a barrier between you and your baby. Can you hang up a blanket, stack some boxes, have a portable clothes rack? It doesn't matter how beautiful it is. Room in the closet? Even better! It's dark and quiet, baby can't see you, and you can play on your phone without the light being an issue.
I know firsthand that grandparents HATE to hear your baby cry. Do everything you can to keep the peace and maintain healthy sleep for your baby. If you don't rock at home, don't rock. If you don't use a pacifier, don't start now.
Now, the not rocking part is probably as easy as having a kid hold open chocolate and not eat it. For many families, that's a losing battle. While the professional side of me says to stand firm, the mom side of me says to be so THANKFUL that you have a loving family. If YOU want to let someone rock your baby to sleep, DO IT. Just don’t let it become a habit and stick it in high gear when you get home.
I find that the biggest reason that parents give in is that they are simply embarrassed or intimidated. You may be a new parent. If so, it's common to feel quite small among the eyes of experience that are watching every move of your baby AND YOU.
Remember that your baby, family, and the health and well-being of both are important. While you may have someone tell you under their breath that your methods are a bit ridiculous, be confident that your cause is noble!
You are fighting for sleep! You are defending your baby who is too small to fight for him or herself. Superheros are often misunderstood and this could not be truer in motherhood.
You've got this, mama!
Hug your family hard. Good luck!
Sweet Home Sleep Solutions
If you are reading this in the wee hours of the morning and feeling like you are on your last leg, I know how you feel! We love our children, but so desperately need rest, too. I can truly say that I know what it’s like to have tried everything possible and still be up at night... Learn more about how I can help.