What could be bothering my baby at night?
November 30, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I have a 7 month old baby who is an absolute delight during the day. At night, we're having a horrible time with sleep. He wakes up every two hours at least, sometimes every half hour. He seems genuinely uncomfortable/upset. Generally he doesn't need to nurse when he wakes up - just putting him back on his side (his preferred sleeping position), putting the pacifier back in, and giving him a few pats is effective - until he wakes up again. Please give me some ideas of what we can try changing to help this kid stay asleep.

Baby goes to sleep very easily and always has - when he's tired, he just... goes to sleep. Especially if he has a pacifier, no fuss or trouble at all. Except for the waking up thing. Argh.

Things we have tried that seem to make no difference:
White noise
Not co-sleeping (baby in pack and play; we don't own a crib)
Co-sleeping just with dad
Sleeping on a parent's chest while the parent is in a recliner
Sleeping on the futon - this puts his head higher than his butt, just in case of reflux.
Big meal of avocado/sweet potato/etc before bed
No meal (just breastmilk)
Larger/more absorbent diaper for night
Dressing him in only cotton, no synthetics
Dressing him in an extra layer
Hydrocortizone on eczema spots (husband is very eczema-prone, not a surprise that baby has it also)
Tylenol / Ibuprofen (no teeth yet)
Dairy elimination from Mom's diet (tried this a few months ago even though there were no symptoms of a dairy sensitivity from baby)
Saline rinse / nose suction if he's a little stuffy

Worth noting that this is our second kid. The first one was genuinely horrific as a baby - every time HE woke up, it took 45min+ to get him back to sleep, plus he screamed all day long and had to be worn constantly.

Baby #2 is generally quite healthy, meeting all of his milestones, and right at 50th percentile for height/weight. He's very active: army crawling everywhere, sitting unassisted, and starting to pull up on stuff. His naps are generally taken in the car while we're taking big brother somewhere. Pic of the troublemaker.
posted by WowLookStars to Human Relations (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Reflux? Was your first kid evaluated for it?
posted by fshgrl at 4:39 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's the bedtime routine? Are you putting him to bed awake?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:46 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

What position is he in when he wakes up? Could he be physically uncomfortable in that position and unable to get back to his preferred side position? Is this a new problem or has it been going on for a while?
posted by insectosaurus at 5:03 PM on November 30, 2016

Honestly, it sounds like your kid might benefit from some garden-variety sleep training. I'd at least read the Ferber book and see if it's a fit. We all (babies and adults) go between deep sleep and near-wakefulness during the night. Babies can learn by about 6 months how to put themselves back to sleep (the "self-soothing" everyone talks about), which it sounds like yours has trouble doing. If nothing else, the book is a fascinating read.
posted by whitewall at 5:05 PM on November 30, 2016 [15 favorites]

He's sad that he lost the pacifier?
posted by Sassyfras at 5:14 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would try gas relief drops. This seemed to help my son whenever we had exhausted other more obvious possibilities.
posted by JenMarie at 5:14 PM on November 30, 2016

My kid was like this and what helped was
- finish teething all the teeth
- daycare / very regular daytime routine
- less daytime sleep

Also to consider is what I call the chickenshit sleep training: put him to bed as usual but when he wakes up let him cry for 2-3 mins before you go in to comfort him. Stretch it out to 5 mins if he's only whimper crying and not wailing. I found this was enough to just remind him that he knew how to sleep on his own. As someone mentioned above, putting him to bed sleepy and letting him talk himself to sleep helped too, but this was after the daytime routine was very consistent and well established.

PS that's one handsome dude!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:22 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Has he lost the pacifier? We had a hell of a time during the phase where my girl wasn't coordinated enough to put the pacifier back in her own mouth after it had fallen out during her deep sleep.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:23 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

As the parent of a fellow 7 month old kid, I don't have the most experience in the world, but the half-an-hour and two-hour cycles sound an awful lot like what Kid Machine was doing, down to the easy-falling-asleep-in-all-kinds-of-locations-if-he-had-a-pacifier and side-sleeping being the preferred situation. The problem was that he hadn't learned to put himself back to sleep once he got to the part of the cycle where he wasn't so deeply asleep. And he had to learn the skill before we started getting consistent sleep.

In fact, there was a horrid horrid horrid stretch where he would wake up every two hours on the dot if it were a good night, and every half hour if it were a bad one.


What fixed things for us was a combo of:

- Religious fucking adherence to the same bedtime routine every single night, to the point where Baby Machine now complains if we miss a step or are late starting the songtime. Let me know if you want ours. We use a shortened version (no solids, no bath, Dad doing it and not me, but everything else) for naptime.

- Minimizing napping or sleeping in any place that was not The Chosen Place For Sleeping

- Making sure we put Baby Machine down at night juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust as he was about to collapse into sleep, but not quite there. As he got more proficient at it, we could put him down faster and faster.

- Doing a full-ass feed of 8 ounces with the lights out and Baby Machine drowsy about two hours or so after bedtime, when he is starting to come up out his sleep cycle.

- Using a crib wedge, so he didn't have to sleep flat on his back, which he loathes.

- Tinkering until we figured out how to keep his space at a cozy temperature all night long, neither too hot nor too cold.

- Continuing to use a sleep suit that provides some swaddling, which was OK'd by our pediatrician since his hands aren't strapped to his sides, and Baby Machine has slept in one since he was 6 weeks old.

Oh god, re-reading this list, we sound demented. But it worked for us.

When he wakes up yelling at night, does he have his pacifier still?
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:24 PM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Gah, infant sleep can be so horrible. I have a child who didn't sleep through the night til...18 months? And I know others have it worse.

Cozier pack and play sheets? My son loved those super soft crib sheets - we had one that was almost like that "minky" material you see everywhere and a set of flannels, too. I don't know if they make pack and play sheets in other materials, but perhaps someone does.

Have you tried a pacifier that's attached to a little stuffed animal? E.g., the Wubbanub? Easier for baby to hold/find.

Maybe a bigger teether instead of a pacifier - like the Sophie giraffe?

Good luck. The struggle is real.
posted by pecanpies at 5:25 PM on November 30, 2016

Also, Baby Machine figured out that he could! flip! himself! onto! his! side! to sleep.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:29 PM on November 30, 2016

Ohmygosh, you are all awesome. Some clarifications:

Reflux - first kid was evaluated (suspected not) but medicated anyway because of all the screaming. It helped a little. This guy has no signs of reflux except for the waking. Breath is sweet when he wakes, not smelling of vomit.

Bedtime routine doesn't exist - around 7:30 he starts looking tired so I put him in night diaper and pjs. Nurse, lay him down next to me on the couch. boom, out. He's very moveable when he is asleep, so we just carry him to the bedroom when we go to bed. Typing that out - we should really have a bedtime routine. :/ Absolutely now on the list of Things To Do.

He is always on his belly by the time we walk down the hall to him. That's his standard position all day long, though... It's a pain to change his diaper 'cause he flips over so fast.

Sleep training sounds good to me. We had a bad experience with #1 who would never ever self soothe and would scream for hours if needed. We might go for that chickenshit sleep training someone else mentioned. :D I put the Ferber book on hold at the library.

The pacifier does fall out when he's deeply asleep. He can put it back in, and we have glow in the dark ones that are easy to find. He's usually got it back in and is somehow crying while holding it in his mouth with his toungue(?!)
posted by WowLookStars at 5:31 PM on November 30, 2016

always on his belly/standard position all day long makes me second the gas relief drops suggestion.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2016

Sleep training can be rough.

Also it might be the existential fear of the act of falling asleep, something they will get used to.

This too shall pass.
posted by nickggully at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2016

Yes! Read the Ferber book! I bet you're really going to find it useful. I will give you a sneak preview of one of the main concepts. Ferber explains that although we all, adults and babies alike, have sleep cycles throughout the night and "wake up" several times in between those cycles, what helps adults to put themselves right back to sleep essentially without even realizing that they were awake at all is 'sleep associations'. So your subconscious kind of registers "oh yeah, I'm in my bed, here's my pillow and blanket, it's nighttime... back to sleep."

He points out that for babies, sleep associations can be difficult because people often put them to sleep in such a way that when they wake up, the situation is different. When your guy goes to sleep he's just finished nursing and he's on the couch with you. Then he wakes up and there is no nearby boob, no mommy, no couch. Ferber points out that this would be the equivalent of an adult waking up and suddenly realizing that they were in the kitchen instead of in their bedroom. Now instead of going "oh yeah, everything's just the way it was, back to sleep" the response is "hey, wait, this is different, hmm, what's going on here? OK I'm awake now!" This is why there is an emphasis on putting babies down into their cribs drowsy but awake, so that they put themselves to sleep and when they wake up, everything's just as it was and they get practice at realizing "oh yes, here I am going back to sleep again by myself just like I did before."

[It's been a few years but hopefully someone will correct me if I haven't done this strategy justice].

I used Ferber method with both my children and it worked awesomely for my first child who woke up every 30 mins/2 hrs prior to the training (and is very stubborn). My second child is a more sensitive soul and he struggled with sleep training, but based on the limited information you've provided, your guy sounds much more easygoing and I think the odds are good you'd get him magically sleeping all the way through the night shortly after starting ("shortly" is relative. Every night of sleep training feels like a lifetime). Just remember that your supply can be affected if you're suddenly not feeding at night, so you might want to compensate for this somehow if you're an exact producer breastmilk wise and need to work to maintain.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:51 PM on November 30, 2016 [13 favorites]

I too loooove Ferber. That sleep association stuff made so much sense to me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:27 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I knew someone whose baby was like that and the only thing that worked was putting him to sleep in his car seat. I'm guessing it was reflux, in that situation.

I am also a Ferberer, despite being a cosleeping extended nursing etc etc etc sort of person. It was rough on me the first night, but it was worth it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:33 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

no advice, just have to say WHAT A CUTIE!!!!!
posted by kate4914 at 6:36 PM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yup - Ferber with a nighttime routine. Our son figured it out in two nights ( 1-2 checks the first night, sleep after 52 seconds the second night). But the routine and his own space (not falling asleep with you on the couch) is key!
posted by Pax at 6:44 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's one adorable baby!
I agree he's waking up confused and wondering where's the couch. The sleep book we like is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth. He would recommend an earlier bedtime like 6:30 or 7, baby put into crib drowsy and learning to fall asleep. I'm glad to chat about sleep training on memail or if you need to vent about that (super cute!) baby sleep.
posted by areaperson at 7:01 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sleep training and religious scheduling and routines for both naps and night sleep saved our sanity and we also wound up as a result with a now-4-year-old who looks forward to bedtime and falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. Yeah, people used to laugh at me over my nap schedule spreadsheet but no one is laughing now because that shit worked.

Everyone has covered Ferber and Weissbluth already (the waking up every 2 hours is text book not being able to self-soothe in between sleep cycles). My top tip for sleep training is, if you don't already have one, get a video baby monitor. Before sleep training I thought such things were frivolous. Not so! The video monitor allows you to check on baby without actually cuing baby to your presence, touching baby or otherwise injecting yourself into baby's self-soothing lessons. When baby cries, you can see she is just real real angry and not in true distress (or that there legitimately is a problem that you need to intervene with). It's peace of mind for you and let's you check for safety without having to re-set the clock on Ferberizing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:06 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

My kiddos did this when they were sick with a cold. Clearing their nose with suction seemed to help somewhat so they could feed and breathe better. Also at this age when they start to become mobile they burn a lot more energy and the constant waking up to feed may be to increase milk production. It goes in phases and what we did to decrease the sleep deprivation was to alternate whose turn it was to feed the baby and use ear plugs so both parents could get a decent stretch, and just go to bed earlier if possible.
posted by Joe Chip at 7:11 PM on November 30, 2016

My immediate thought was that he's right at the age where he's developing object permanence, as soon as you said he's falling asleep on the couch and being moved to bed later. This link helped SO MUCH when my kiddo was going through that stage and I was particularly slow to figure it out, particularly this snippet:
Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine going to bed in your bedroom. A few hours later you wake up on your front lawn. Would you simply roll over and go back to sleep in the grass? Or would you stand up and start screaming? Would you demand loudly to be let back into the house so that you could sleep in your bed? Do you think you would be freaked out by the mysterious force that somehow carried you out to the lawn?

Your baby is reacting to the surprise of finding out that the circumstances they observed when falling to sleep is no longer the circumstance they are finding when they wake up. There are lots of different surprises that can result in a baby who wakes up all night long.
- Putting baby down 100% asleep
- Pacifier use – fell asleep in mouth, wake up not in mouth
- Mobiles or other timed devices – on when fell asleep, off when wake up
- Music used at bedtime but not played all night long
- Mommy/Daddy stay in room till baby falls asleep but then sneak out
I highly recommend the site linked above, it really broke down the nuts and bolts of WHY babies are the way they are and WHY they wake up crying at night, and provided clear, straightforward instruction for how to fix it in a way the books didn't.
posted by anderjen at 7:34 PM on November 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh I feel for you! We went through this up until our kiddo was 9 months old. I hate to admit it but what worked for us was switching from breast milk to Nutramigen - turns out he had a milk protein allergy (which he has since outgrown) and my efforts to eliminate dairy from my diet just hadn't been thorough enough or something. After a few weeks on Nutramigen and then two nights of the very gentlest sleep training, never letting him fuss more than 10 minutes on his own, he transformed into a very good sleeper. I'm still kind of mystified. I hesitated to even bring it up but you said he seems genuinely uncomfortable and that's definitely how our kid was too.

Whatever happens, hang in there. This kind of lack of sleep takes a huge toll on other aspects of your life too. Please do your best to take care of yourselves and reach out for any support that friends or family can give. At my lowest point, my mother took my son for a sleepover for two consecutive nights, and it felt like a miracle. Do you have anyone that can help you?
posted by beandip at 7:56 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you all so much for these answers so far! My husband has read the thread now too, and he's feeling as silly as I did about the whole lack of routine thing. How did we mess that up? Kid #1 has an ironclad routine!* So as of tonight, we have a routine! And a lovey! And a plan! Also, even though my husband was strongly opposed to the idea of sleep training, he pointed out that putting the kid down awake is going to naturally lead to sleep training.

The gas drops are also an interesting idea. I plan on picking those up tomorrow.

* He claims that sleep deprivation has drained our problem solving abilities. Probably true.
posted by WowLookStars at 9:41 PM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just a thought, but maybe try a crib instead of P&P? They start getting heavier and maybe the P&P isn't supportive enough for his comfort?
posted by gakiko at 2:08 AM on December 1, 2016

Came in to say exactly what gakiko said. My second born absolutely refused to sleep in a P&P. Traveling was...difficult. But she slept amazingly well in her crib or in bed with us when we traveled, if it was feasible. Just not the P&P. Ever.
posted by cooker girl at 4:24 AM on December 1, 2016

There is not a font big or blinky enough for the following:

He slept for 7 hours. Nursed. I put him back and he went BACK TO SLEEP.

I love you all. So so much. Turns out the thing bothering my baby at night was ME! oops.

We did have to do a bit of sleep training stuff, since he was awake. Our prebedtime routine was diaper, pjs, boob, book, bed. Had to wake him up a little for the book, but tomorrow we're going to try reading the book while nursing to give him something to watch. My husband had to go in an comfort him about 10 times, and we're weenies so it was about every 2 min, but it did work in the end. (gotta get that book...)

Husband accidentally stayed up until 2 am thinking that the baby was going to wake up any second now... never happened.

I love you all.
posted by WowLookStars at 5:44 AM on December 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

Routine wise, the biggest thing that helped us was doing it early, before signs of sleepiness. We were uber religious about a 6:30 bedtime at that age. Once we got her into the routine, she became sleepy when we brought her up and would sleep a full 12 hours and rarely woke up.
posted by dripdripdrop at 6:35 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My son exhibited a similar behavior: unexplained crying that wouldn't stop until he was fully awakened. I don't remember how old he was, but older than 7 months. In the end, I decided that it was a mild case of night terrors, i.e. more like bad dreams than anything else.

We had two kids. In each case, the child was three before we went to bed expecting to sleep through the night without having to visit one of the children.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:51 AM on December 1, 2016

Husband accidentally stayed up until 2 am thinking that the baby was going to wake up any second now... never happened.

It's totally normal for the parents to need to be sleep trained after the baby gets it down! The same thing happened to me. I didn't start to get good sleep again until a couple weeks after my baby started sleeping better because I was just so used to being up and down all night.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:55 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wanted to add that sometimes kids revert, don't be disappointed if he wakes up at night sometimes, especially after a change in routine like being sick or travel. When my kids finishes being sick I find it takes a couple of re-training nights for him to get back into it although every time is easier! Have a good sleep tonight!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:03 PM on December 2, 2016

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