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Every parent is wired to respond to their child’s cry, although each parent may have a different way of soothing their child. Some try skin-to-skin contact; others try to make soothing sounds or gentle rocking movements to calm the baby down. There are also moms who may try breastfeeding in case their baby is crying due to hunger. This works in most cases, but what about the times when babies cry out in their sleep and appear to be distressed? Finding out what causes your baby to cry is the first step in solving the problem.
Is It Normal for Babies to Cry While Sleeping?
Babies crying before bedtime or when they are feeling really sleepy is quite common. It may be unsettling for a lot of parents, but it is really nothing to be concerned about.
The sleep pattern of a baby is different from that of an adult. Babies spend most of their sleep in the REM state, which is the sleeping state in which dreams occur. During this time, twitching or fluttering of the eyelids may be noticed. Their breathing may seem a bit irregular, they may whimper every now and then (even cry out!), and it will seem like they are about to wake up. For a parent to watch this, it can be very confusing.
Experts say that it is very common for children to cry softly and for a small amount of time between the ages of four months to a year old. While some babies do outgrow this behaviour naturally, there are some who will require a change in their routine in order for them to sleep soundly through the night, and to develop healthier sleeping habits.
Why Do Babies Cry in Their Sleep?
Babies are still learning how to express themselves and crying is a way of communication for them. Some causes could be those that make the baby physically uncomfortable, and hence, he won’t restrict his cries to a simple whimper. Here are some of the reasons:
1. Dirty Diapers
This is easy enough to figure out and is what most parents will think to check first. Dirty diapers are not comfortable to wear, and the only way your baby can tell you he needs a change is by crying.
Tiny tummies cannot hold much at a time, and your baby will get hungry quite often and require many feedings. If you notice your child whimpering, but he is not fully awake, it is most likely that he is hungry.
3. Temperature Problems
Your baby may start to feel hot or cold during the night and will need your help in sorting himself out. If the temperature changes, your baby will become uncomfortable and will cry out for you. Do not bundle up your baby too much if it is not very cold, as this may lead him to become more uncomfortable than cosy.
4. Needs Attention
Your baby may simply cry for some cuddles and the security that he feels when you are with him. Babies need to feel your touch and know that you are around them frequently, as there is so much that is new to them. It will be very comforting to a child to know you are there right beside him.
5. Night Terrors
Babies are still new to this world, and they are experiencing a lot that is very new to them, and just like adults, babies process things in their sleep in the form of dreams. Can infants have nightmares? They most certainly can, but nobody is sure what they have nightmares of.
How to Soothe Babies While They Are Sleeping?
Every parent has different ways of soothing their babies when they cry. If your baby is fussing about a bit, it could mean that he is transitioning from one sleep state to the other. In such a case, it is better to first wait and see if your baby needs any comforting at all. If you do decide that you need to intervene, here are some common tried-and-tested methods to prevent your baby from crying in sleep suddenly.
1. Rock-a-bye Baby
Hold your baby close to your body and move back and forth to comfort your little one. Whether you choose to rock your baby in your arms or choose to use a rocking chair, the movement will certainly help soothe your little one into slumber.
2. Wrap Him Up
The womb is not a very spacious place, and your baby is used to having something wrapped around him all the time. This is why babies feel more comforted when they are swaddled or wrapped up close to you. Try tucking your baby in more comfortably to help him maintain his uninterrupted sleep.
Your baby may feel cold or hot during the night if the temperature changes, so one of the things you will need to check on is if he is covered correctly, and not wrapped in too many layers. If you live in very cold climates or if it is winter, you will need to ensure that you are wrapping your baby up appropriately.
4. Hush Hush
This may seem surprising, but the womb is not very silent. Your baby is used to hearing all the noises that take place inside your body; so sleeping in silence may actually be uncomfortable for your child. Making hushing sounds should help to soothe your baby.
5. Go With the Flow
If you can, play soft soundtracks of waves on a beach, a waterfall, or rainfall so that your baby can listen to all the whooshing and calming sounds that will help him feel more at home. Alternatively, white noise, like certain sounds that appliances make, can also help your baby relax.
Pacifiers can work wonders on babies who have a stronger need to suckle. They usually lose interest and dependence on the pacifier by the age of seven months, but experts say that it is unlikely to harm their development even if they do prefer to hold onto it for longer.
7. Stroke of Luck
Skin-to-skin contact is very comforting for your baby as it gives him a feeling of security, knowing you are there with him. Keep stroking your baby’s skin lightly until you feel he is sleeping peacefully.
When to Consult a Paediatrician?
If you have tried every trick in the book and you still see your baby crying in sleep but not awake, you probably need to see a doctor to check if there’s anything wrong. Your baby may just be teething or may have an illness, both of which will need a paediatrician’s advice.
Making sure to have a fixed routine and looking after the health of your child will definitely have a big impact on your baby getting peaceful and uninterrupted sleep. Try to develop a bedtime routine for your child and keep any waking moments during the night time quiet and short, so that your baby quickly associates night with sleep.