Troubleshooting Night Waking

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

I have an 11-month-old son who sleeps most of the night in his crib in his room and then comes to sleep with us at around five o’clock in the morning. This has worked well for us. Lately though, I am finding that he is extremely restless in the early morning.

Last night it started at around three o’clock in the morning. I went to him four times between three o’clock and four o’clock. I eventually brought him into our bed at four o’clock. From four o’clock to seven o’clock he only slept for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. He tossed, turned, crawled, flopped, and cried out. I could tell he wanted to sleep, but he could not.

I have not introduced any new foods, and he has no issues with sensitivity. He has spit up on these restless mornings. However, because he is so restless, I breastfeed him a lot. I figure it is just too much milk causing the spit ups. Is this a common thing at this age, or should I be looking for a cause? He used to sleep through the night, but lately he has been having frequent (sometimes very frequent) night wakings. Any insight would be helpful.

Here is what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Luschka: My very first thought here is teething. You do not say whether he has teeth yet or not, but that sounds like what my little girl did just before I would find more teeth in her mouth. If he is teething, it could be that in the early hours of the morning is when it hurts most. The tossing, turning, probably rubbing his face against the bed, and crying out are definite signs of teething. In fact my little one “crawled” (it’s more like rubbing her face into the mattress, really) right off the bed at four months when she started teething! If he is spitting up it is quite possibly because of overfeeding, as he is probably nursing to relieve the pain.

You could try giving him chamomile drops or tablets. German chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) acts as a mild anesthetic in children. A raw amber necklace may also help with teething.

If it is not teething, it could just as easily be growing pains. Either way, something big is happening in his development, and this is causing him the nightly disruption.

Otherwise, realize that this is a phase, and this will pass.  Just try to get rest when he does. Hang in there, Mama. It gets easier when they can communicate their pains!

Amanda: I have had many similar experiences with my younger daughter, and I understand that this can, at times, be rather frustrating to say the least. One of the first things that came to my mind while reading this is that perhaps your son is very close to walking or another developmental milestone. Some research suggests that babies often have periods of disrupted sleep right before reaching such milestones. Your son might be on the cusp of something big, and that could be causing what you see as restlessness and not being able to sleep even when he seems to want to.

Also, have you eaten anything different recently? I know you said you have not changed anything in his diet, but perhaps something in your diet has changed that is now bothering his digestive system. It may even be something you would never suspect or something you might not have noticed. You may want to consider double-checking the nutrition labels on the packaging and see if there is something that you were not aware of. I am also wondering if there is anything going on in your lives right now that is extra stressful or emotionally draining that he might be reacting to. Our children are often much more sensitive than we realize when it comes to the issues in their and our lives, especially when they do not have the words to express their feelings.

Sometimes, things change with our little ones and we never know the cause; just as we adults might go through periods of restlessness, anxiety, or inability to sleep and suddenly the issue resolves itself. Whatever the reason, I hope that everyone in your house gets the rest you all need soon.

Joni Rae: I am sorry you are having such a difficult time! I have noticed that my babies start going through changes in their feeding and sleeping schedules around eleven or twelve months of age. It could be that he just does not need to nurse as often at night, or he is going to bed too early. His nap schedule might need to be adjusted during the day. He could be restless at night because he is tired, but not tired enough to fall back asleep.

You might want to try letting him set the schedule. Maybe letting him fall asleep on his own for naps, and/or putting him to bed when he gets sleepy instead of at a regular time (assuming you have one). I have four little ones, and over the years, with each baby, I have learned that their schedules change quite a bit. With my last two I realized if I just let them play and go about their day, they would find their naptime on their own. Usually this meant curling up on the couch with a favorite toy or nursing until they fell asleep.

As for the spitting up, I wonder if your baby is having more of an overfeeding issue than food sensitivity. He might be nursing more often because he is trying to soothe himself to sleep, but ends up eating more than he needs to. My last baby had this problem. I was co-sleeping, and he would fuss and be quite restless at night. I would feed him so he could fall back asleep. We would repeat this over and over throughout the night, until he finally started spitting up because his tummy was so full.

Then, I decided to try letting him sleep on his own. One night, somewhere around his first birthday, I had my husband set up the pack and play in his room. I dressed him for bed, nursed him until he was sleepy, and then crept up the stairs and tiptoed into the room. I laid him down, tucked him in with his favorite blanket, and told him it was time to sleep. The first few nights when he woke I would nurse him and put him back in his bed. He would fuss for a few minutes and then settle down to sleep. After a week he was sleeping straight through until seven in the morning!

2 Responses to Troubleshooting Night Waking

  1. Robyn

    I have an 11 month old and we are going through the same exact scenerio. Our little guy co-slept until 7 months when we transitioned him into his crib. He quickly settled into a routine of waking once around 3am to nurse then right back to his crib. The past 5 weeks or so he has been waking around midnight then 2am, 4am, and 6am. I bring him to bed to nurse then carry him back to his crib until the 6am waking where I co-sleep until the alarm goes off at 7am. Needless to say this has set me up for some serious sleep deprivation and in my foggy state it took me a while to realize that this waking pattern is EXACTLY the same as it was when he was 2 months old and briefly struggling with reflux. I phoned my pediatritan who confirmed that reflux is known to reoccur around 11 months and he suggested I resume the reflux medication and other reflux management techniques. That night after one dose and an earlier feeding my little guy slept 9pm-6am straight. I don’t know how you feel about reflux meds but you may try some reflux management techniques and see if that helps. Good luck!

  2. Alicia  

    With my daughter, behavior like that in the night would mean that she wanted her diaper changed. With my first, I never really had to change her diaper overnight (unless she pooped, but she didn’t really at night). I assumed it would be the same with my second. But there were times when she would be restless like that at night, and even nursing couldn’t get her back into a good sleep. She just kept tossing and turning. Eventually, I decided to try changing her diaper, and then she went back to sleep within a minute!

    In the middle of the night, nursing is my first go-to attempt. But now, if that doesn’t settle her, I remember to try changing her diaper, and it helps a lot!

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