How to get my sleeping baby to stop crying?
December 11, 2008 10:06 AM   Subscribe

3 month old baby crying inconsolably in her sleep? Help me stop the crying without waking her up!

Our baby has just (in the last few weeks) started to have some big changes in her sleep patterns. As background, from about 6 weeks to about 11 weeks, she was a great sleeper. She would be asleep by about 7pm, would wake around 1-2am for a feed, again at around 5am and again at 7am. Sometimes she would even fall back asleep and not wake until 9am. Then around 11 weeks, her first sleep period (which had gradually increased up to about 7 hours) started getting shorter and shorter, and she would subsequently wake every 2 hours until the morning. This is still going on, but now, at around 11pm, instead of merely waking, and making those "waking up" noises (she has never -until now- been a big crier) she is crying and screaming. The kicker is, she appears to still be asleep. But there is absolutely no consoling her. Ignoring it doesn't work, she escalates the crying (and we feel she is too young to let her cry without us there for more than a few minutes), but rocking her, shushing, burping her in case we missed some gas, all that stuff does nothing. The only thing that does console her is nursing. She never seems to completely wake up during this whole time. It doesn't seem like she should be hungry - it's usually only a few hours since her bedtime feed and she eats a lot then. And the one time she did wake up fully, she calmed down eventually, but I am hesitant about actually trying to wake her if there's another way to calm her that isn't nursing her.
Why am I resistant to nursing her then? Well, she was on the path to sleeping through the night, and if she is going to nurse during the night, I'd be trying to get it to around 1-3am.
So, has anyone experienced this? Anything worked? Just wait it out and it will resolve itself? She doesn't seem to be going through early teething. I've read the other askmes tagged with baby+sleep, but those were more about getting the baby to sleep initially, which she does fine. And again, she doesn't really seem to be fully awake when she's crying.
posted by gaspode to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The advice I always give when someone asks a question about nighttime crying is, get her checked out for an ear infection. My triplets get them all.the.time, and the only symptom they ever show is crying in their sleep. Being horizontal is what makes it hurt, so once I get them up, they feel better. And nursing probably helps relieve the pressure. Or something.

So, my advice is, call the pediatrician.
posted by pyjammy at 10:10 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, gaspode, I feel for you. A lot. Its so hard when they can't tell you what they need.

1) if you don't read Ask Moxie, you should read her post on sleep regressions and development. It will make many things clearer going forward.

2) My son did this exact thing after we started him on daily oral antibiotics as an infant. As with yours, he never seemed quite awake and nursing was the only thing that would calm him (sucking wouldn't do it -- he had to eat). For my son (and, again, we were adding antibiotics to the mix here) it turned out to be reflux -- basically painful heartburn -- and adding some (very expensive!) oral Pepcid to the mix while he was on the antibiotics calmed everything down nicely.

It could also be night terrors, but she seems a little young.

I'd be currious to know if you can get her to take a pacifier (even if she doesn't normally use one). That at least would tell you if it was the sucking that was soothing her or the actual eating.
posted by anastasiav at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2008

Gaspode she just recently started in daycare so she will be exposed to lots of lovely new bugs to build up her immune system. Does she have a temp? (I like the ear thing for this as sucking will give some relief intially)
posted by Wilder at 10:24 AM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, good questions anastasiav. She has *never* taken a pacifier (and oh how we have tried). When she "wakes" she'll suck on a finger for a while but as soon as you pull it out she'll start crying again. Her bassinet is already tilted because she has mild GERD but we and the pediatrician have agreed to hold of on meds because she's gaining weight OK.

Didn't consider an ear infection or something like that. Good call, pyjammy - we were going to call the dr. anyway but always like more anecdotes!

(though, when she does wake subsequently in the evening, she doesn't tend to cry. this morning at 3am she was cooing and happy, just damn well *awake*)
posted by gaspode at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: no temp, wilder. And this started before she started daycare, although I should have mentioned that too.
posted by gaspode at 10:28 AM on December 11, 2008

She's three months old. You're fortunate you have a baby that young that will sleep a seven hour stretch. That's not terribly common for this age. She may be waking up screaming because she is actually hungry. Breast milk is easily digested. She could be going through a growth spurt and she probably needs more food. If she is rooting, making the waking up noises, or seems agitated, and seems like she needs to nurse, pick her up and nurse her before she becomes panicky and inconsolable. Sleep is precious and valuable, but try not to allow you to stress you. Let go of creating the perfect scenario or schedule because it's unlikely to happen with a baby this young. Nurse on demand and accept that your very young baby is still learning to sleep and still learning to console herself and is probably hungry. Nursing during the night is a fact of life for a baby this age and beyond.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 10:41 AM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

This might be too obvious, but does she have a wet diaper? One of the twins I nannied for would cry in his sleep if he wet his diaper in the night, and as soon as I whipped off the old diaper, he'd conk out again. We ended up getting ultra-ultra absorbent diapers until he grew out of it at four months.

What does her crying sound like? Is it the "something hurts, make it stop" cry, with big pauses in between yelps? She might have gas or an ear infection. Is it nasally and tired, or the typical hungry cry with sucking and frustrated grunts?
posted by zoomorphic at 10:44 AM on December 11, 2008

Sounds like colic. Have you tried pushing her back and forth in a stroller? The only thing that worked for my daughter at that age was driving around in the car - oh how lovely it was to drive around aimlessly from 2 am - 4 am every couple nights for several months - but since you're in NYC that obviously won't work. If it is colic, AFAIK there is no cure but time and the only thing that seems to alleviate the symptoms is constant motion. Since she's not entirely waking up you could try sleeping with her and then just rolling over and nursing the very second she starts to fuss - that might do the trick. Oh and FYI neither one of my children would ever touch a paci either. Sigh.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2008

She may honestly just be going through a growth spurt and simply need to nurse more. Additionally, everything is just getting a little more coordinated - her digestive system, her reflexes, etc. Basically, your little one is evolving from a Meatloaf in a Dipe to a real live Interactive Person who is going to be awake and alert a whole lot more than she has been. has a bunch of really interesting articles on growth spurts and cluster feedings. I found that Kellymom to be a great resource when I was nursing my younger daughter (I wasn't aware of it the first time around with my eldest).

Have you tried putting her in a swing or vibrating bouncer seat to sleep after nursing her? Honestly, that was the only thing that got us through the night several times. We'd nurse, change, swaddle, put on the little hat and go right in the swing. The baby would be out in a flash. She's too little to get entirely dependent upon it, and as long as you routinely turn her head to opposite sides, getting a flat spot due to soft fontanels shouldn't be an issue. Another benefit of the swing/bouncer is that it would help with any GERD issues.

Good luck.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: No, no wet diaper, I think any time we've checked. (we don't check every time, because she's swaddled).
She's never rooting, and isn't making her "I'm hungry" noises.
Fairchild, we don't really have a schedule (beyond aiming for her to not be awake longer than 2 hours at a time). I'm well aware that nursing during the night is a fact of life, and we have been on demand the whole time. It's that her demand has changed so dramatically, in the absence of any obvious clues, that I'm asking the question.

I suspect that if she doesn't have an ear infection this may well fall in the *shrug, she's a baby* realm of things, and we'll just nurse her because it's the only way to calm her down. The parent in me doesn't like that she's upset, is all.
posted by gaspode at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2008

gaspode, I sincerely apologize if I sounded accusatory. I think that sometimes the realization that they're hungry comes on very abruptly and they skip the rooting and fussing and go straight to the screaming. The uncomfortableness of hunger hits them like a ton of bricks in their sleep and they start to wail.

Babies will use the breast as a pacifier. It's not the most convenient thing in the world but it's not the worst thing either at this age.
posted by Fairchild at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2008

It's okay to nurse a baby because she's upset--that's part of what it's for. Sucking to soothe is a very strong instinct.

Keep in mind that infants develop so quickly that "normal" doesn't exist for more than a few weeks at a time, and that a baby who sleeps for hours at a stretch is very likely to switch it up at a moment's notice. My initial thought was also "growth spurt". But definitely explore whether an ear infection could be in play as well.
posted by padraigin at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2008

While agreeing with the "hungry baby, growth spurt" crowd, I'd also suggest trying different pacifiers (if you think that might help). It might take a couple different ones before you find one she likes - it did for us - but they helped very much trying to get - and keep - our daughter asleep.

(she just turned one, and after a couple weeks, the pacifiers are a thing of the past)
posted by pkphy39 at 11:46 AM on December 11, 2008

I vote growth spurt. Try nursing when this happens and see what the result is.
posted by FergieBelle at 3:19 PM on December 11, 2008

Congrats gaspode for the addition to you family. :)

I had a big nightcrier when she was three months old. Only nursing would help, and I was the tres lazy momsy that had her right next to me in my bed so this wasn't even hard for me to sort out even while I was half-asleep, I dug that. My vote is for growth spurt, they tend to try and make you - dear mom - make more milk at three months for this spurt, and they'll do it again at six months. Have you been weighing her? It can reveal when these spurts are due.

My daughter didn't take pacifiers at this age, I tried but after five minutes she spat it out and wouldn't "fall for it" again, clearly a hungry gal. Mine also had a really bad sinuscold at this age, which took us a while to see the symptoms of (she must have had a sinus headache for a day or two before she had a runny nose), so being ill is not impossible but that was another crying level on my model. Somewhere around eleven, in fact. ;)
posted by dabitch at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2008

ah, thanks dancinglamb I had no idea that it was called cluster feedings, my gal was very fussy for a while there hogging me for around 3-1/2 hours in the evenings fussing and nursing for months.
posted by dabitch at 3:38 PM on December 11, 2008

Our little guy would cry when he got dried up nasally- you might try some non-medicated saline nasal drops and see if that helps.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2008

Many good suggestions above. I would definitely check in with the pediatrician--especially since you do know your baby has GERD. Maybe it has worsened; the pediatrician might have a different recommendation about medicating given the new behavior the baby is exhibiting. You can get her checked for ear infections, any other non-obvious cause of pain, and see what the pediatrician thinks in general about whether this is a cause for concern.

I might have misinterpreted what you said, but it sounds like you haven't actually tried nursing her during these periods, yet? I know you said she isn't making her normal "hungry" cues, and that you're trying to set her on the path to sleeping through the night, but she is indeed very young for that. If the pediatrician visit doesn't turn up anything (or maybe even if it does) I would try nursing and see if it helps. Maybe it will just console her even if she's not really hungry. You have months to get back "on track" to a more solid sleep schedule.
posted by Herkimer at 6:27 PM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: Fairchild - no worries.
Herkimer - yeah, I do nurse her when she's upset, but I wanted to ensure that I wasn't forcing the breast on her when she wasn't hungry and masking an actual other problem. We'll talk it out with the pediatrician, but you all have gotten some stuff straight in my head. Thanks!
posted by gaspode at 7:02 PM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: Popping in with an update for posterity.

In retrospect it seems like it was probably a growth spurt. She had her 4 mo checkup last week and jumped height curves from 50-75th percentile to off the chart! We tried giving her an extra couple of oz of expressed milk in a bottle before her evening feed and that got her sleeping better. I feel bad that she was hungry!

She's now back to 6 or 7 hours before her first wake up (with one memorable, wonderful evening of 10 hours) and no inconsolable crying. All is well. This week.
posted by gaspode at 9:49 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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