Understand the causes of why your baby won't sleep
Something no one probably ever told you before you became a new parent is you'd have to learn the new skill of mind-reading. What do I mean by this? Well, since your baby can't tell you what they want or need, you end up spending a lot of time trying to figure that out.
Parents want their babies to be comfortable and happy. Being unable to figure out their needs can leave you with a helpless feeling. I think every parent wishes they had some mind-reading capabilities when it came to their baby's sleep, for example. If only their baby could tell them what they needed to sleep better, it all might just be a little bit easier for everyone. We want to help you with that.
No, we can't read your baby's mind, but we can at least give you some likely reasons for why your baby is having some trouble sleeping.
Here are our top 5 reasons why your baby won't sleep.
1) Your baby is hungry.
When in doubt, feed your baby. As adults, I think it's hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that our little one can't even sometimes go two hours without eating. Especially when we read books by the "experts" that say we should be feeding our baby every 3 hours. Then we think, well, it hasn't been long enough...my baby couldn't possibly be hungry.
Yes, she can!
For breastfeeding moms, this can be especially hard. It can be hard to know how much your baby is getting at each feeding. If it happens that they are getting less than you think they are, then they will be hungry a lot sooner than you would assume.
Frequent night wakings in the early months are completely normal. (Even if your friend's baby is "sleeping through the night." But is she REALLY?? Maybe. Maybe not.) Every baby is different and every baby's hunger levels are different, too.
If your baby won't sleep well, being absolutely sure they have a full tummy is the first thing you'll want to do.
2) Your baby is going through a sleep regression.
Sleep regressions are when your baby appears to have a setback in their sleeping capability. Maybe they've been sleeping a straight six hours for several weeks and all of a sudden they are reverting back to their old sleeping ways. They may suddenly start waking every couple of hours again! At this point you wish you could tap into your nonexistent mind-reading capabilities and answer the question, "What is going on?!"
Sleep regressions are actually completely normal and not really "regressions" at all. Your baby is growing and maturing which can affect their sleep patterns.
Sleep regression stages can happen anytime but are often seen around 4, 8 and 18 months. Here's why they happen close to those ages:
4 months: Your baby's sleep patterns are becoming more adult-like. It may not seem that way to you when you would do anything for an uninterrupted night of sleep, but it's actually a good thing. You can read all about the 4-month sleep regression and how to get through it here.
8 months: By now your baby is starting to hit some major developmental milestones. Sitting up, crawling, standing, and maybe even trying to walk are all happening during your baby's waking hours. As far as brain development, your baby is learning a lot of language at this age as well as processing the world around them. Your baby may want to practice and show off all of their skills when they should actually be sleeping.
18 months: Teething, separation anxiety, and practicing their independence can all come into play here. Your baby knows a lot by now, and they also really want to be with you. By this age, your baby has full capability to sleep through the night every night...but if they could choose, they'd want to be with you 24/7.
3) Your baby is physically uncomfortable.
This one will definitely tug on your mama and daddy heartstrings. Especially when you don't realize at first that your baby is sick or hurting. Later, when you do know, you wish you could've taken better care of the situation at its onset. But don't feel guilty about this! You aren't a mindreader, after all, and it can often be hard to distinguish what your baby's cries mean. As time goes on, it gets easier.
Teething, ear infections, acid reflux and a host of other illnesses can make it very difficult for your baby to sleep. Making an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to pinpoint what is wrong with your baby can often ease up the situation pretty quickly and get your baby back to feeling comfortable and happy.
4) Your baby is missing their sleep prop.
In our article, "5 Myths and a Truth About Baby Sleep." we talk about how not all sleep props are bad. And they're not! Sometimes, for example, your baby really needs a pacifier to sleep better. When no one's been getting any sleep and this is what you find works, then as a parent it is totally okay to make that decision!
The thing about sleep props though, is that if your baby doesn't have it one night, they will be sure to let you know how they feel about it! This is often done through crying and a refusal to fall asleep until they get it. If your baby loses their paci in the middle of the night, you might find yourself up at 1 a.m. crawling under your baby's crib to find it.
And at some point, you will probably have to drop those props. It's inevitable. I can say firsthand that taking your baby's pacifier or other sleep prop away (such as feeding them until they fall asleep) won't be a fun experience, but your baby will transition through it a lot faster than you'd realize.
5) Your baby needs a better sleep routine.
Just like adults, babies thrive off of routine. They do much better when they know what to expect. Throwing surprises at your baby is just a recipe for disaster.
We go in-depth about how to create a sleep routine that works well for your baby in this article. In a nutshell, including the following for every nap and before bed each night, will help your baby understand that it's time to rest and stay asleep:
- Infant massage
- Get your baby a clean diaper
- Swaddle your baby (if not rolling over yet) or put them in a weighted sleep sack.
- Turn off the lights and turn on calming music or nature sounds
- Nurse or feed (if it's nighttime)
- Rock, snuggle, and sing to your baby
- Lay baby down on her back – awake, but drowsy