There are many reasons a baby or toddler may wake in the night. The obvious culprits of hunger and teething pain are just the tip of the iceberg.
One cause of seemingly unexplained periods of nightwaking is sleep regressions. They happen at specific times of the child’s life and are due to the child reaching a developmental milestone, such as learning to roll over, crawl or walk. Sometimes, a sleep regression can occur without any physical developmental sign; it may be down to an emotional development that we are as of yet unaware of. Usually the cause of the sleep regression becomes very clear after it is over!
Sleep regressions usually occur at around these times — 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46 and 55 weeks of life. These often coincide with growth spurts; when your baby will require more frequent feeding for a while. Sleep regressions can last for days, weeks or even months, depending on the child, whereas growth spurts tend to last for less than a week.
Not all children experience them; my son certainly did, but he skipped the 5 week, 8 week and 12 week regressions. However, sleep didn’t come very easily to him as a baby anyway; he may well have regressed but I would have been too exhausted to notice! Different children have different levels of sensitivity.
The important thing to remember when your child is going through a period of nightwaking is that the reasons why are very valid and real to them, even if we can’t quite put our finger on them. It is important to make sure they feel secure and loved, by responding to their needs promptly and without hesitation. This will help build a foundation of trust between you and your baby. For a baby, the need to be cuddled is as real and intense as the need they have for food.
Sleep regressions can be exhausting so it is important to make sure that you are getting enough rest. Nap with your baby as much as you can during the day, and make life easier for yourself at night by co-sleeping — either bringing baby into the bed with you, or just into the room, will make tending to their night-time needs a whole load easier. The added security of your presence will probably help your baby sleep better, too. You may find that just reaching over and holding your little one’s hand as they stir is enough to send them drifting back to the land of nod.
Probably the best and most versatile motto that will get you through sleep regressions plus a myriad of other difficult stages of development is this one: This Too Shall Pass. It’s true, it will. You will sleep again, I promise.