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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Two questions often dominate any conversation with toddler parents concerning sleep:
When do we transfer to a big-kid bed? This question is then immediately followed by:
How do we move them to a big-kid bed?
If I had to guess, you're probably wondering because A) your kid sleeps excellently, and you don't want to ruin it or B) your kid doesn't sleep well, and you may be hoping that a new bed will do the trick.
If you most relate to choice "B," then my answer to "When?" is NOT NOW.
Fortunately, there is just no reason to rush to get your toddler out of their crib (unless you are expecting, of course). I know what you're thinking… What on earth will people think if I have a three-year-old in the crib? As a parent who's received that look, I know! Trust me though.
Don't be afraid that longer your child is in a crib, they more attached they will be. It's not any harder to transition at a later age. I think it's just the opposite, much easier. I would prefer to make a big transition with a child who can communicate at least SLIGHTLY effectively. If possible, wait until they can comprehend what is about to happen and why and then use their language to repeat it. In my experience, children can begin to do this around three years old.
Also, if you're about to start sleep training, take it slowly and keep the crib for now. Significant changes are hard for little people, so start from a place of comfort and familiarity. Once your child learns to sleep well, those skills will transfer to the new bed or space. Also, since we are talking about toddlers, it is safe to mention that these major changes are easier when they aren't cranky. If your toddler is sleep deprived now, changing everything about their sleep environment at once will only make things worse. Tired toddlers aren't exactly fun. A now cranky toddler who doesn't want to sleep in the new princess or superhero bed will only result in misery for all involved.
So, what if they ARE sleeping well or you need the crib for a sibling?
Step number one is preparation. Talk to your toddler. Okay, TRY to talk to your toddler. Surprises aren't fun unless ice cream or toys are involved, so keep them in the loop. And, why not include some ice cream? Have a treat and talk about what's going on. Keep the chat short and straightforward though. Too many details or too much chatter will only bring stress.
When it's time to make the trip to pick out a bed, hardware, or bedding, take your toddler. It can be a special outing. Maybe they like specific sheets or pillows. We all know toddlers want to be independent creatures, so anything that MIGHT please you both is worth letting them choose. It definitely helps if they are exciting to sleep with Fancy Nancy or the Paw Patrol.
Having your little around for the big assembly may sound like fun, but I might consider an equally entertaining alternative to distract them. When arranging the room to accommodate the bed, keep the changes as minimal as possible.
Speaking of change, try to keep things the same for night time routine. Yes, your kiddo will be excited (or maybe not) about the new bed. But, consistency with their routine is paramount. No new food, no extra treats, no extra chat about the bed. While statements about being a "big girl" or "big boy" are tempting, resist the urge. Toddlers want to grow up one minute and be a baby the next. They aren't quite sure what they are, but we already knew that.
So now that your toddler's in bed and the light's off, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.
So, what's a parent to do? In either of the latter situations, offer a warning, let them know the consequence, then follow through if, and when it's needed.
By now, you've probably already found your "go to" successful consequence. Keep that in place! If you haven't found something that works, I find that closing the door, taking a lovie away, or removing a nightlight for a few moments tend to do the trick.
Each time you hear another call or see their sweet face, increase the time of the consequence. Lovie can stay out a little longer and longer.
Now, mama, if you're holding on to the crib because it's the final "baby" item you still use, I can relate. I'm currently in denial that my babies are aging at all. I can assure you that when the time comes for us, I'll be sipping wine in another room and let my husband disassemble our crib. But if you are afraid of the change, don't be.
Talk to your toddler, explaining things on their terms in a light and simple way. Set the expectations for the nights and enforce the rules. If you didn't have ice cream before, go now. Everyone deserves it, especially you, mama!
Now, we both know that the chances are that your toddler is going to test the waters. Toddlers are crafty and inquisitive. So, what's my biggest piece of advice? Stay firm. Now is not the time to allow bending of the rules. I cannot stress the important of consistency enough. My second biggest piece of advice? CELEBRATE! Let your kiddo know that when they stay in bed all night that you'll celebrate the next day. I'm not a major fan of bribery (not that I haven't done it!), but I love to celebrate. Put a candle in the muffin or sprinkles in the pancakes. Head to Dunkin. It doesn't matter what it is but make it special. Then celebrate after a few more days. Have some fireworks left over? Use them! We want our children to make good choices, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to celebrate and be proud.
Now, if your toddler isn't sleeping well in the crib, or if the big-kid transition isn't going so well, I can help! Schedule a FREE 15-minute call, and we'll have you celebrating in no time.
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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.