How to Handle your Baby Crying at Night

A baby crying at night with an alarm clock and teddy by his side

Having a baby is a life-altering event. But if you thought that bringing up a baby was going to be a piece of cake, it’s time to think again. Besides feeding schedules, nap requirements, and vaccination schedules, one thing you will have to deal with is crying. Crying is the way babies communicate their needs and initially, it can be tricky to interpret what they are trying to tell you. There are different ways to deal with the situation and you will have to figure out what works best for your household.

Why do Babies Cry at Night?

A baby crying in bed

A newborn baby crying at night frequently is to be expected. But the episodes should become less frequent as baby gets older. Here are some common reasons why babies cry at night:

1. Being Hungry

Babies have tiny stomachs and need to feed quite frequently during the first few months. Most babies will have to be fed every two to three hours. Watch for signs of hunger such as baby putting its hands into their mouth, fussing, and smacking their lips. Starting the feed before your baby begins crying will help you have a peaceful night.

2. Discomfort or Pain

Babies are prone to gas and may need to be burped to give them relief. They swallow air when breastfeeding or sucking from a bottle and burping soon after a feed provides them relief. Putting baby stomach down and gently massaging his back can also prove soothing.

3. Diaper Change

Some babies can tolerate a wet or dirty diaper for a short time while others need to be changed immediately. Putting on a fresh diaper will help baby go back to sleep again quickly.

4. Need Assurance

Being alone in the dark can be scary even for adults and more so for babies. Your baby might need to be reassured that you are close by.

5. Feeling Cold

When babies feel cold they are likely to cry. Swaddling them warmly in light layers can soothe them and get them to fall asleep again. Be careful not to make baby too hot as this poses risk of SIDS.

6. Teething Troubles

When you think you have a baby crying at night for no reason, check to see if teething could be the culprit. Teething pains can raise their head as early as four months and can cause babies to drool excessively and chew on everything they put their hands on. Massaging the gums gently or offering baby teethers, especially the ones that have been refrigerated can reduce the irritation.

7. Excess Stimulation

Taking your baby to a social event or out on a shopping trip can sometimes prove to be too much excitement. The sensory overload can prove too much and if you just got home before sleep time or baby fell asleep on the way home, then it is likely to be the reason baby is crying. Putting baby in a familiar setting and then easing him into bedtime routine can help deal with this.

8. Illness

Being sick can make even adults want to cry! If baby is crying more than usual or sounds different then it might be due to some illness. See if baby has any other symptoms like a fever, cough, vomiting, or loss of appetite to name a few. Consult your doctor if this appears to be the reason.

How long does the Crying Last?

Early intervention can nip the problem in the bud and ensure you and your baby have restful nights. By resorting to appropriate methods of dealing with the crying, you can bring changes in your baby’s behaviour in as little as two weeks. But this task gets more difficult the older your baby is. A child aged one year or older is likely to fight going to bed even when they are sleepy and exhausted. They can cry for hours protesting at the changes brought about in their schedule. If you do not take remedial measures when your child is an infant, the crying can last upto three or four years of age.

When Should Your Baby Be Able to Sleep Through The Night?

Babies under the age of two months are likely to awaken at least two times every night for feeds. After two months, upto four months, this comes down to one feed per night. After four months, formula-fed babies can sleep through the night for about seven hours straight. Breast fed babies should be able to get through seven hours without waking up for feeds by five months of age. This holds true for all normal babies of this age group and they should be able to fall asleep and stay that way without being held or rocked during the night.

Can you Comfort your Baby if he Cries at Night?

A mother comforting her baby at night

There are two schools of thought on this topic. One school believes that babies will stop crying at night for no reason once they realize that no one responds. The other school feels that every time a baby cries, it should be held and comforted; that a baby should not be left alone for any reason. It is up to you to decide which way you want to go after weighing the pros and cons of each.

Would it Hurt your Baby if you leave them Crying?

It is believed that letting a baby cry on their own can prove harmful to their physical and mental growth in the long term. But there is no evidence to support this claim. However, most of the sleep training methods suggest that parents should stop responding instantaneously to every little cry of their child. But this also involves severing a connection between the parent and child. Some researchers opine that sleep training that involves letting a child cry for any period of time is likely to adversely impact the child’s physical, emotional, social, and behavioural growth due to interruptions in the natural biological cycle of the infant.

How to Calm your Crying Baby at Night?

If your baby wakes up crying at night despite all needs being met, it is likely that he has made it a habit. Here are some ways in which you can help your child over four months of age calm down and sleep through the night:

  • Put your baby in the crib or on the bed when they are drowsy but still awake. Be certain to place your child in the crib at this point even if their bedtime ritual has not been completed. Baby’s last waking memory has to be of the bed or crib and not you. This will encourage baby to go back to sleep on his own when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
  • If your baby refuses to stop crying at bedtime, keep visiting him in intervals of five to fifteen minutes. Do not let baby get too upset. Keep increasing the interval between visits and if your baby seems extremely fussy or afraid, hold him till he calms down. You can sit in the room for a few moments till he calms down, but try to leave before he falls asleep.
  • Don’t take your child out of the crib or bed once you have put them in for the night. Rocking your baby till he sleeps or bringing him into your bed for awhile will defeat the purpose of this exercise.
  • Introduce your baby to a security object such as a soft toy or a blanket if your baby is six months or older. This will be a comfort to your baby when he wakes up at night and your child will soon be happy cuddling this object instead of you at night.

Some other things that you can try to ensure a regular sleep schedule for your child are:

  • Restricting baby’s naps to two hours or less and limiting it to only two naps a day.
  • Avoid changing wet diapers at night as much as possible. If you must, then keep the lights dim to prevent stimulating your baby.

Sleep Training for your Baby

Sleep training refers to the method used to teach your baby to fall asleep on his own. Once this aim is achieved, your baby is more likely to sleep through the night. While some babies easily pick up this art of sleeping, others may take time. There are two ways of sleep training – the controlled crying approach and the no-tears method. The choice is up to both partners after looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each. That said, it is important to remember that for some parents, a single training method might not do the trick. There is no particular age specified at which sleep training should be started. A large number of parents choose the sleep training route because they cannot deal with sleep deprivation any longer. Experts opine that babies are fully able to drift off to sleep by themselves after three months of age.

What is Cry it Out/Crying Down/Ferber Method?

Devised by a physician called Dr Richard Ferber, this method recommends letting your baby cry for a short while before you offer him comfort. Dr Ferber has also penned a book on this topic and it can be ideally applied to babies six months and older. The method suggested is as follows:

  • Gently place your baby in his crib or cot when he is extremely drowsy but not fast asleep.
  • Give your baby a goodnight kiss and step out of the room.
  • If your baby cries soon after, wait for a few moments before going inside.
  • Comfort your baby in a low voice and let the light be on low. Do not pick him up.
  • Leave the room even if your baby is still crying.
  • You have to repeat these steps until your baby goes off to sleep. It is likely that this will take quite a few attempts before you fully succeed.
  • Be sure to extend the time between each visit, giving your child greater time to calm down and attempt to sleep.
  • And if baby wakes up again at night, repeat the same process.
  • According to Dr Ferber, babies should be able to put themselves to sleep in about a week’s time. It is believed that this technique works because a lot of older babies smartly make the most of the situation when they realize that crying will result in them being held or fed. So, this technique conveys the message that their crying game no longer has any takers. On realizing this, they are likely to stop crying without reason.

Gradual Distance Technique for your Crying Baby

The gradual distancing technique is one of the methods suggested to help stop baby crying at night for no reason. Instead of severing your role in the baby’s get-back-to-sleep routine in one go, this method advocates doing it in a phased manner. Here is how you can go about this:

  1. The first couple of days, you can wait in baby’s room till he’s asleep before stepping out.
  2. Then, gradually start leaving the room before he is fully asleep.
  3. If he cries out on seeing you leave, come back and reassure him in a gentle voice without picking him up before leaving again.
  4. This can happen quite a few times in the first few days and you may have to keep leaving and coming back till he falls asleep.
  5. Then, start putting him in the crib or cot at bedtime while he is awake and sit nearby till he starts drifting off.
  6. Every day, increase the distance between where you are and your baby’s crib or cot till you reach the doorway.
  7. Go out of the doorway but remain close so you know if baby calls out or cries.

With this method, in about a few weeks, you should be able to put down your baby in the crib at bedtime and walk out while he falls asleep on his own. Also remember the following tips to make the most of this technique:

  • It is best to try this only when you feel your baby can handle it.
  • Four months is the suggested age.
  • Try not to take a step back when using this method as it can undo all that has been achieved.

When Should you Consult a Doctor?

In most cases, crying babies can be calmed once their needs are met or through your comforting physical presence. But at times, excessive crying in babies at night can be indicative of a more serious cause such as an illness. You should contact a doctor if your baby won’t stop crying at night and one of the following is evident:

  • Physical discomfort or signs of illness such as a high fever or rashes and the like.
  • Your child seems to be afraid of something.
  • Remedial measures do not bring about even the slightest change in your child’s behaviour in two weeks.

Each baby has his own timeline for meeting milestones of physical and emotional growth. It is no different when it comes to sleep schedules. Also, sleep routines can go off track when the baby is sick or if they are on the verge of achieving some milestone. Thus, it is important to remember that when it comes to babies- time, patience, and a lot of effort are required to get the needed results.

Also Read:

Your Baby’s First Cry – What Does It Signify?
How to Stop Your Baby From Crying?
Baby Crying While Breastfeeding