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Newborn Crying Crying at bedtime or during sleep

Crying at bedtime or during sleep

The first twelve weeks of a baby's life is challenging for any new parent. When a baby won't stop crying at night, it can be especially tough. At Tresillian, we want to remind you that it's normal to feel overwhelmed at times, and it does change as your child passes through different developmental stages.

It's also okay to seek support when you need it. Call the Tresillian Parent Help Line on 1300 272 736 to talk to one of our nurses about what might help in your situation. You can also self refer to our Day Services or Residential Services

Crying at bedtime or during sleep

Calling and crying is the way your baby gets your attention because they don't have any other way to ask for your help. They only do it when they need to.

When your baby wakes up, they don't know how to get back to sleep without your help. 

Your baby needs you to think about this from their point of view because they can’t tell you their side. They don’t understand when they cry in their sleep that it's a problem for both of you.

Waking up after a sleep cycle is normal for some babies. Some babies may self-settle back to sleep, but many babies will call out. This may be because:

  • Some babies have less mature sleep–wake patterns than other babies their age. It’s going to take these babies a little longer to self-settle and sustain longer periods of sleep.
  • You may be responding a bit too quickly to your baby when they wake, and then trying to settle them with active settling strategies before they are needed.

Scenario: baby crying in the middle of the night

You may or may not have a bedtime routine with your baby. A common routine would be a bath, pyjamas, stories, rocking, singing and feeding her to sleep. Your baby may then sleep for 2 to 3 hours.

When your baby wakes up from one of her normal sleep cycles, it’s dark. She’s on her own and she misses all those nice bedtime routines you do. She really likes you being with her when she wakes up at night because you provide her with all the comforting bedtime routines – feeding, rocking or singing her back to sleep.

This is the problem. Your baby hasn’t had to develop her own ways of self-settling, so once she wakes up she has to call out for your help to get back to sleep. When you come to her, she’s very glad to see you, but probably just as tired and grumpy as you. She’s having broken sleep as well.

The difficulty for you is that she doesn’t know how tired you are or that she’s woken you up three times already. She doesn’t have the capacity to consider your point of view yet. She just needs help to go back to sleep, so instinctively she calls for you. You don’t know how else to get her to go back to sleep either, so you go through the usual routine as well.

Both of you have developed a night-time routine, it’s just that it’s not helpful to do this routine again in the middle of the night.

How to sooth your crying baby

There are lots of ways to settle a crying baby. In fact, there are an overwhelming number of methods available in books and on the internet. There are crying baby apps, white noise apps, baby sleep sounds apps, massage oils, music, swings, baby slings, changing baby formula and prescription medicines.

But what methods work? Well, the effectiveness of these methods has been hard to measure or prove because most babies start their normal developmental crying at around 2 to 3 weeks. By 3 to 4 months their crying resolves anyway.

That can mean that each of these methods to stop your baby crying seems to work because you bought equipment or used a method at the peak of her crying at 6 weeks and after a week or so it worked.

 At the same time, your baby’s crying is going to start decreasing and resolve at 3 to 4 months by itself. That’s why no one has proved that the methods do or don’t work.

Any of these methods are perfectly fine if they work for you and you have checked that the equipment is safe for your baby’s developmental stage.

‘Well that’s no good to me!’ you say. And you’re right. The most effective method to soothe a crying baby is to carry them. Most studies have found increased carrying reduces crying.

If your baby cries excessively you’re probably already carrying her most of the day, so let’s look at some other ideas to try at bedtime and overnight.

Soothing actions for your crying baby

If your baby is crying at bedtime, choose a range of three or four gentle and affectionate strategies that are easy to follow and have a slow, soothing pace. These examples might suit you and your baby:
  • 1

    Carry her in a sling next to your chest, making sure you’re as relaxed as you can be, and her head is not covered to allow for airflow. She will be able to hear your heartbeat, so you won’t need a heartbeat app.

  • 2

    Speak to her in a calm, soothing voice.

  • 3

    Sing to her in a soft, low voice.

  • 4

    Cuddle her.

  • 5

    Put her on her back or tummy and use a gentle pat, rub or touch to soothe her.

  • 6

    Take her for a walk in her pram. If covering the pram, make sure not to use a heavy blanket, as this can increase the temperature by up to 10 degrees. Either use no covering, or a ventilated thin muslin wrap or cover, with room for airflow.

  • 7

    When she’s very upset and crying, place her in a firm wrap or just gently hold her arms and hands.

  • 8

    If you use white noise, baby-safe massage oil, etc., then incorporate that into your soothing routine.

Whatever strategy you decide to use, don’t keep changing it for new and different ones recommended to you by friends, family or the internet. Stick with the soothing and calming strategies you feel comfortable with and make them part of your routine. Your baby needs familiarity with your soothing strategy so she can relax and not be overstimulated with too much variety and change. Remaining calm, consistent and predictable is really important to her.

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