When a baby wakes frequently it can leave parents questioning whether something is wrong.
For new parents, the world of baby’s sleep can be baffling. Sleep patterns can change frequently but the good news is that most changes are normal. Let’s look at some of the reasons why an infant might not be sleeping.
Some common interruptions to sleep patterns could be:
1. Infant is hungry
If your baby is hungry you need to feed them. It’s important to understand that babies will naturally feed and sleep around the 24-hour clock. Waking through the night is normal and biologically adaptive. There is no set time that babies stop feeding. During growth spurts the baby might feed more frequently overnight.
2. Infant doesn’t know the difference between day and night
A baby’s circadian rhythm doesn’t develop until around 4- 6 months of age. An infant circadian rhythm is driven by the hormone melatonin, so they don’t know the difference between day and night and that’s a good thing because they need to be waking for feeds.
3. Infant has a sleep association
If an infant is waking frequently it is possible that they have something that they are relying on the parent for to go to sleep. This could be feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep or being driven in the car. When they naturally wake between their deep and light sleep cycles they look for that association. We often talk to parents about trying to assist their baby with independent sleep associations or associations that don’t rely on a parent or carer and that includes things like white noise imbedded with heart beats and darkening the sleep environment.
4. Infant is experiencing separation anxiety
At around seven to eight months a baby starts to know when a parent leaves the room. This is called ‘Object Permanence’. To explain…object permanence is used to describe a child’s ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard. Playing a game of “peek-a-boo” with a very young baby, demonstrates how this works. When an object is hidden from sight, infants under a certain age often become unsettled or even upset that the item has vanished. This is thought to be because the infant is too young to understand that the object continues to exist even though it cannot be seen.
5. Infant has reached a developmental milestone
When they reach a new milestone like rolling, crawling or walking a parent might see a change in the infant’s sleep. It’s a temporary shift and usually nothing to worry about. If it persists however, always best to recommend seeking health professional advice.
6. Infant is unwell or in pain
If a parent has reason to suspect that their baby is waking due to pain or illness it is important to get them checked by a GP. Illnesses such as ear infections and reflux can disrupt a baby’s sleep. A parent’s gut instinct is normally correct and there is usually something wrong and their baby should be checked.
Let’s not forget that infant’s crying is a means of communication and it’s the only way that they can communicate with their parents and carers. Infants cry so that parents and adults shall respond to them. And this is what parents need to do.
This advice was provided by Cindy Davenport.
Cindy is the Founding Director of Safe Sleep Space and also oversees the consultant team. She is a registered midwife, IBCLC and maternal and child health nurse. She is member of the Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ) and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and has worked in the early parenting field since 1998. Cindy is passionate about the health and wellbeing of families and offers a sensible, response-based approach to help babies and children with sleep problems.