Developmental milestones can often affect baby’s ability to sleep, although this will be no surprise to many parents I am sure. Milestones include learning to roll, crawling and of course teething.
Teething can be uncomfortable and often babies have sore gums but teeth may not appear straight away. In the April 2000 issue of Pediatrics, it was found that statistically an increase in babies’ wakefulness and irritability occurred during the 4 days before the tooth emerged, the day it appeared and for the 3 following days.
What are the signs of teething?
Teething can get the blame for all sorts of behaviour, especially disrupted sleep. A good rule of thumb is to consider if your baby appears bothered by teeth in the day, if they are, then they will probably be bothered by their teeth at night. If not, you may want to consider another reason for their night wakings. Babies will often chew on their fingers and toys and may dribble more, which may cause a rash around the mouth. Sometimes one cheek is flushed, and they may be more fretful than usual. Some babies have a loss of appetite and the increase in saliva can cause more unusual and looser stools.
What can we do to support babies who are teething with their sleep?
As parents we may come up with various strategies to try and solve any sleep problems that may occur during the teething period. This will often mean becoming inconsistent with nap times and bedtimes and going back to using ‘sleep props’ we have stopped using such as rocking, feeding to sleep or getting to sleep in the car. Our advice would be not to go for the ‘quick fix’ as you are likely to find they may continue long after the teething has stopped.
Of course this does not mean you do not comfort your child or help them to settle if they are upset but you will need to avoid reintroducing any ‘sleep props’. If your baby is upset in the night, go straight to them, offer comfort (and medicine if that is appropriate) but then allow them to drift back off to sleep by themselves.
Keep nap time and bedtime consistent. Help your baby to get back into a comfortable position in the cot if they have rolled over or moved for instance. Realistically, helping a little one with really good sleep skills to sleep once is unlikely to undo all of your good work but, if it happens for more than a night or two it is likely to become another ‘sleep prop’.
During awake times
Try to distract your little one by comforting them or playing with them or gently rub their gums with a clean finger. A cold, wet muslin or a teething toy can really help sore gums
If they are over six months, you could try encouraging them to eat by baby led weaning and introduce finger foods for them to chew on such as toast or fruit.
Avoid sugary foods and drinks, look at the labelling on the packaging of food that has been prepared for babies as sometimes they can have a high sugar content. Introduce water in a free flow beaker from six months and from twelve months give your baby milk in a beaker instead of a bottle if they are using one.
If they cannot be consoled see a pharmacist or your Health Visitor for Advice.
When teeth have come through
Don’t forget to clean your babies’ teeth twice a day with a suitable toothbrush and toothpaste for babies. From age 1, it is a good idea to register your baby with a dentist and take them for regular check ups too.
Remember some little ones are much more bothered by teeth than others but just ensure you are giving comfort without helping them to sleep and their sleep will be back to normal in no time! If, however, your little one did not have great sleep skills to begin with just get in touch and we can help!