How to ditch unnecessary night wakings

a cute baby boy yawning while sitting on the couch

There are so many reasons why babies wake through the night, and these persistent night wakings can cause everyone in the house to be so tired. When you are deep in the haze of waking with your baby, you might start to wonder, “are all these wakings are totally necessary?” Depending on the age and weight of your child, the answer might be no.

Types of night wakings

There are generally three reasons why little ones wake in the night; hunger, habit and scheduling.

Hunger: Most common in younger babies, but also applicable to older ones with feeding schedules that don’t meet their nutritional needs, hunger wakings are your child looking for additional calories in the night.

Habit: This is when your child has always woken at a certain time and no longer needs a feeding, but continues to wake for one. These wakings are typically characterized by small snack-type feeds and then easily back to sleep

Scheduling: This final class of waking is the most complicated, and it’s usually obvious because you find your baby playing in their crib at strange times of the night. A scheduling issue could be too much or too little day sleep, a nap that’s too late in the day, naps that are too long and so on.

How to tell if wakings are unnecessary

You are probably asking yourself, “but Caity, how can I be sure?” and you’re not wrong to wonder. To determine whether or not your baby is waking for a feeding or not, there are a couple of factors you can examine. 

  1. Age – if your baby is under 4 months, there’s a good chance they still need at least one feeding in the night! For many babies it can be closer to two or three. Check in with your pediatrician if you are not sure.
  2. Milk intake – if you know your baby is getting enough milk during the day, then that would indicate they don’t need to eat at night. You can get an idea of how much milk your baby needs from their pediatriacian, and also from milk calculators like this one.
  3. Weight gain – if your baby is the right age, you’re sure they’re meeting their nutritional requirements, then the final determining factor is whether or not they are gaining weight appropriately.

Once you have checked in on the above three factors, then you can be sure that your child does not need feedings during their night wakings, and you know that the wakings are unnecessary.

So how then, can you wean unnecessary night wakings?

The answer to this is easier than you think. First check in on scheduling (you can read more on scheduling here), and ensure that your baby is getting the right amount of day sleep. Too much day sleep and your baby may wake in the night for an extended period of time, conversely too little day sleep can also cause your baby to wake in the night to play. Typically, if your baby is getting too little day sleep we will often see them awake early in the morning too.

Once you are sure your day schedule is right and your baby is getting enough milk, what you are left with is the habitual night wakings. These are the ones we know are that your baby doesn’t need. Your little one may continue to wake out of habit when they were waking before, or they may be waking because they don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep. If your baby is over four months, now is a great time to sleep train! We want to ensure that your little one has independent sleeping skills so that when they wake they are able to put themselves back to sleep.

Don't run in, pause for a minute

The best advice I can give you when it comes to night wakings is to pause. It can be almost reflex to leap out of bed and run toyour little one, and often times your baby may be still awake or transferring between cycles. Give them time (10-15 minutes) before you go in! You’ll likely find yourself surprised.

If after 10-15 your little one is still fussing, you can try replacing the pacifier, putting a gently weighted hand on their chest with a light jiggle, or rolling them onto their side and tapping their bum (before returning them to flat on their back once asleep). Often with habitual night wakings, this will be enough to lull them back to sleep. Do your best to set a boundary of not taking your little one out of bed. Overtime, with strong boundaries and patience these night wakings should drop off.

The other option, and the one I would recommend here, is to use your sleep training technique for these wakings. Using timers, or returning to your chair, to teach your little one to fall back asleep.

Need a hand? I’d love to help! Book a free discovery call and let’s chat about how to ditch the unnecessary night wakings for you and your little one.

Tags :
Sleep Tools |Sleep Training
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