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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Extending Your Baby’s Nap
It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about babies not sleeping at night. In fact, when around a mom with a new baby, it’s generally one of the FIRST things people mention. Unfortunately, people equate sleep with how “good” a baby is, but that’s a story for another day.
Now, if you were semi-mentally prepared for nights with little sleep, you weren’t surprised by being up several times a night. BUT, fast forward to the sun coming up and BAM!
Sun’s up, baby is up. ALL. DAY. LONG.
If we are being honest, there is probably some guilt associated with hoping that your baby will go to sleep. Maybe you just wish he or she would stay asleep longer than 30 minutes. I mean, you tried for an hour just to get her to sleep, right? Can’t you just have time to eat AND take a shower?
It just doesn’t make sense. Or does it? Why do some babies nap for only 30 or 45 minutes at a time? Why does my baby take such short naps?
Babies sleep in cycles just like adults. We start off in a light state and gradually ease into a deeper state where even the loudest noises don’t seem to bother us. This deep state is SO important and where all the maintenance of our body occurs. Enough deep sleep helps us be energetic (super important with kids!) and truly feel rested.
After the deep sleep, our bodies move back into the lighter state, then to the deeper state, and so on. So, why can’t babies just sleep like we do then? Well, that cycle for a baby is as little as 30 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking…Not all babies wake after 30 minutes. And you’re right! Babies who sleep longer than 30-45 minutes at a time can string the sleep cycles together. So, what’s the trick? What’s the cure for your baby’s short naps?
Well, how did your baby fall asleep initially? Did you rock them, bounce, drive around? If so, that’s what they now require getting back to sleep and connect to another sleep cycle.
Am I telling you not to rock your baby? ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact, I’m a major advocate for that. Love on those sweet cheeks until your heart (and theirs) is content. But, if we want our babies to connect sleep cycles on their own, they must learn to go to sleep on their own initially.
So, how do we do that? Place your baby in the bed just before they go to sleep. I know what you’re thinking. You know he or she will cry. Truth is, you aren’t too comfortable with change, either, or trying something major for the first time. BUT, they can do it. Give it two to three days and you will be AMAZED.
The major factor that affects success is being sure that your baby has been awake for an appropriate amount of time for her age. If you are unsure what that is with a small baby, check out my Sleep Guide for 3-6 Months or Sleep Chart by Age.
Just think. In a few days, your baby could enjoy a long nap and reap the extraordinary benefits of deep sleep. They’ll wake refreshed and be healthier in the long run. The bonus? They’ll start sleeping better at night and so will you!
Here are some other points for extending nap time:
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!
Tired of doubting awake times, nap times, or bedtimes?
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.