How to get my baby to sleep all night?
September 3, 2009 12:32 AM   Subscribe

My five-month-old son has suddenly started crying in the middle of the night every hour or two, just as he did as a newborn. What gives?

The boy is breastfed and has had no medical problems at all. For the first two or so months after he was born, he did the usual crying every two or three hours to be fed, and that pattern was day and night. At about the three month mark, though, he started sleeping longer and longer, and by five months was sleeping a full seven or 8 hours and waking up only once, or twice when his diaper was wet.

In the past week that seems to have suddenly changed. We always give him a bath around 8-8:30, and he's ususally asleep around 9-9:30. Now he'll sleep for a couple of hours and wake up and scream. And I mean scream. His eyes are open and looking around and he frankly looks terrified. My wife or I will cuddle and rock him for a while, and he'll go to sleep only to wake up an hour or two later with the same terrified screams. A few times we've taken him to the living room, turned on the lights because we think he might simply be attaining his first fear of the dark (the bedroom he's in is dark, but not completely; there are outside streetlights that keep the room in some ambient light, especially when your eyes adjust to the dark).

We've heard anecdotally that that's what this is, a new fear of the dark, maybe seeing monsters or whatever it is little babies can see/imagine. A friend told us that this went on with her kid for months. We've didn't expect sleepless nights to be completely over, but we also didn't imagine the little guy would revert back to his newborn crying. Any experience with this by you mefi parents?

I've read this thread and it's very helpful, but I was wondering if there's any more advice out there. Also, my son is at 5 months, much younger than the other babies discussed, who all seem to be around 8 months to 1 year old. Why would he start this so soon?
posted by zardoz to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is he teething?
posted by randomstriker at 12:47 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

He's a bit oung for the normal age range for night terrors, but your description is pretty spot on.

Early teething would be another obvious one to look for.
posted by rodgerd at 1:03 AM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Separation anxiety?

Does the baby fall asleep in his cot or while he's being held or breastfed? If you move him or put him down while he's asleep, he might be scared to wake up in a different place or position than where he was when he fell asleep. And simply Not Having Mommy/Daddy Around is frightening for babies still struggling with the concept of object permanence.

One thing that helped us was to "imprint" a particular cuddly toy - hold it close to the baby at all times while breastfeeding and cuddling, make sure it smelled of Mommy. After a while, their simple presence soothed our babies. (My 5-year-old is still very attached to her tattered Bunny.)

Btw, we never turned on the lights during even the most the restless nights, wanting to avoid creating the connection dark=abandoned & all alone, light=phew, I'm ok.
posted by sively at 1:13 AM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yep, welcome to the wonderful world of night terrors. It will pass.
posted by davejay at 1:41 AM on September 3, 2009

No good advice, but I just wanted to add, by way of solidarity, that our 5-month-old has started doing the same thing-- well, minus the terrified screaming (hers is more like pissed-off howling, but similarly spaced and similarly regular). We are going to try Ferberizing in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed for us both!
posted by Bardolph at 2:10 AM on September 3, 2009

5 months is bang on for separation anxiety.

Give him some quiet calm cuddles without turning the light on. Leave as soon as he's calm.

This stage will pass. Soon he'll get attached to a cuddly toy or a blanket. You can help him along with this. My little boy loves the muslin squares that my wife always had handy when he was feeding.

This is a natural stage of his development, so resign yourselves to some broken nights and resist the temptation to do anything cruel like "Ferberization" - basically teaching him that his crying is futile.
posted by col at 2:49 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, he is teething. But that's been happening for the past two months, and this is happening only very recently. I suppose the pain could be getting worse, but this crying really only happens at night.

And yes, he goes to sleep either in his swing or while cuddling after a feeding. It's almost always with my wife, I guess I just don't have the touch.
posted by zardoz at 2:53 AM on September 3, 2009

At five months, he is getting close to the age of introducing solids, and they sometimes start waking up in the night again because they are starting to be hungry and that last breastfeed isn't quite doing the trick till the breakfast-time feed. Is he having a feed in the night now when he wakes up?

When our girls have started a pattern of re-waking in the night, or not wanting to go to sleep, it has pretty much always come down to them having a growth spurt and needing something extra in their tummies than what we would have expected in their routine. (Unless they are ill of course)
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:26 AM on September 3, 2009

Growth spurt? He may be hungry. Try increasing feedings during the day, and ask your ped if he might need a bit of solid food now. Some babies do right about that time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:29 AM on September 3, 2009

Solids are not magically more caloric than milk. Good explanation on that one
posted by kmennie at 5:43 AM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

n-thing 'it's normal'.

Ours only started sleeping through the night at about 7 months; she's 15 months now and I still hear her wake and whimper around midnight, she often wakes up in the morning sounding pretty upset too.

I'm sure you're on top of the obvious; bit of extra food at bedtime, extra blanket (or one less) on the bed, teething, too tight clothes, etc. Beyond the obvious discomforts I've often thought what a strange place to be; waking to finding yourself all alone in a hard, weird world. I'm not suprised they cry; I've always tried to reassure her that everything is alright and that Mummy and Daddy are there for her.

Sorry to say, but always; just when we thought she was settling into a manageable routine, she'd revert back to wearing us out!
posted by BadMiker at 5:44 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe try keeping him up a little later and feeding before bed, say 10:00 or 10:30. Sounds like he might be hungry. Also, it always seemed that when my babies moved into a new developmental phase, their sleep was disturbed for awhile. Is he starting to creep, crawl, or sit up?
posted by tamitang at 6:42 AM on September 3, 2009

Google "sleep regression" - there are plenty of anecdotal stories about a 4-5 month old going back from a through the night sleep pattern to a wake up every few hour pattern. I know that ours is right now.
posted by true at 7:07 AM on September 3, 2009

I don't have any answers for you, but wanted to say that I find Ask Moxie to have tons of helpful, common sense, no-guilt advice about things. She has lots of posts about sleep, sleep regression, and, I'm willing to bet, night terrors. Check her out.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:27 AM on September 3, 2009

It might indeed be the developmental causes described above, but when our daughter does this, it has sometimes been due to an ear infection. The pain of the infection seems to disrupt sleep and cause crying, clingy-ness, etc. at night even when there are few signs of discomfort during the daytime hours.

Besides taking her to the ped. for a confirmation, we sometimes know it's this if there's an accompanying fever, and/or if giving her a dose of Childrens' Motrin causes her mood to drastically improve.
posted by alb at 7:38 AM on September 3, 2009

I want to start out by saying I'm an attachment, breast is best parent who believes in waiting as long as possible to introduce solids. (Here in Canada, they say 6 months.) But you might want to look at introducing solids after a discussion with your baby's doctor, if you rule out night terrors, separation anxiety ear infections and the other things. My babies started dropping weight and waking in crying fits at around 5 months and the doctor, who also believes in breastfeeding exclusively as long as possible, determined that they were ready for solids. I introduced rice cereal and the babes started sleeping again (until the separation anxiety hit at 8 months!). Maybe your babe is waking up hungry, looks around and has separation anxiety, and then cries. Or perhaps it's nothing to do with being hungry. That's the thing with keep trying things till the problem is solved or something new comes up!
posted by acoutu at 2:11 PM on September 3, 2009

I know this is an old thread, but I think I have a little advice. My son is 6 months old, and he recently went through pretty much exactly what you've described. His doctor recommended Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. There are two recommendations in the book that have helped enormously:

1. Making sure he takes 3 good naps a day. I put him down for a nap about 30-45 minutes after he wakes up in the morning, again sometime between noon and 2 pm, and then around 3-4 pm. He's a very active boy, so the naps help keep him from getting overstimulated and tired, which can cause him to really fight sleeping.

2. Earlier bedtime. I went from putting him down around 8 to making sure he's in bed by 6:30 or 7. The earlier he goes to bed, the better he sleeps. Again, this has to do with keeping him from getting so tired that he can't sleep well.

Aside from these points, I think I have learned not to attribute his sleeping difficulties to factors like being hungry (giving him formula or solids at night didn't help) or teething (he just got his first tooth, and it's not affecting his sleep). Keeping a consistent schedule with naps and bedtime is really the best advice I can offer. If you're concerned about a more serious problem, talk to your baby's doctor about it. But, it's possible that he just needs better quality sleep.

I should add that I'm a stay at home mom, so it's been easy for me to have a good deal of control over his schedule. If you and your partner both work, you could try talking to your child's daycare provider about naps. As far as the late bedtime goes, you can try putting him to bed 20 minutes earlier than usual and see if it helps. If it does, try going another 20 minutes earlier the following night. Often babies have trouble sleeping because they're overstimulated.

And just a note about going to sleep in the swing, I've recently become very firm about my son sleeping in his crib, and while he still sleeps in the swing during daytime naps, he sleeps much longer at night while he's in his crib.
posted by lexicakes at 9:13 PM on September 20, 2009

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