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The Top 5 Baby Sleep Problems (& Solutions!) From a Baby Sleep Expert

Nicole Johnson

The adage “sleep like a baby” is, unfortunately, not always a good thing. Most new parents are surprised to find out that their baby simply does not sleep just because they are tired. In fact, baby sleep problems are one of the most exhausting and frustrating parts of parenthood! As a sleep consultant for over 15 years, today I’m sharing the top 5 baby sleep problems parents have — and solutions.

1. You Can’t Put the Baby Down

Although you will love holding your baby in the early days, eventually, you have other things you need to do when they are napping. For example, you might need to clean the house, take a shower, or *gasp* take a break. Holding a newborn all day and night is great bonding. As your baby grows and becomes mobile, though, it simply becomes impractical.

Some babies can’t be put down to sleep. You rock, bounce, feed, or hold them to sleep. However, when you lay them down, they wake right up! You might find yourself holding the baby for an hour multiple times a day. Since young babies nap 2 to 6 times a day, depending on age, this is a LOT of time simply sitting and holding your baby. While this might work short-term, it becomes too difficult to keep up long-term, especially when you have other children!

SOLUTION: To address this sleep problem, once your baby is at least 8-12 weeks old, consider gentle sleep coaching.

2. Your Baby Eats Too Much at Night

Babies eat at night. That’s true. Newborns, in fact, need to eat every two hours in the early days. As they get older, babies can go every 3 hours as early as 8 weeks old. By 6 months old, most formula-fed babies are night-weaned and breastfed babies are waking just once a night.

But sometimes babies eat more at night than average … twice or three times at night. Although it may not seem too terrible to wake up twice a night, once you’re doing it for months on end, it is exhausting!

SOLUTION: The key to night feedings is to figure out what is developmentally appropriate for your baby and then night wean in a holistic way.

3. Your Baby Wakes Up Every Hour or Two All Night

Although waking up to feed your baby twice a night already sounds exhausting, sometimes sleep can be worse! Why is it that 4- to 6-month-olds sometimes wake up every 1-2 hours all night? Or 9-month-olds even? You wouldn’t believe it, but you could find that even your 18-month-old is waking up all night!

The reason babies wake up very frequently at night is usually due to sleep associations. A sleep association is exactly as it sounds: something we use to help ourselves fall asleep and, most importantly, stay asleep. And they are normal. However, when a baby is dependent on a parent to “do” something during each sleep cycle (or nearly every sleep cycle), this becomes a significant sleep problem to fix. This is what leads to frequent night waking.  

SOLUTION: To fix a sleep association problem, again, consider gentle sleep coaching as I mentioned in #1 above. For older babies or toddlers, you might consider sleep training using a method such as The Ferber Method.

4. Your Baby is Sleeping Well … But Waking Up Far Too Early

You may find yourself with a baby who is sleeping through the night but waking up before dawn and way too early! Although I am a morning person, doing “mom” things at 5 AM was downright exhausting. And, if you’re NOT a morning person, it could feel like torture and a punishment for something you did in a past life.

SOLUTION: Early waking for babies is almost always related to a scheduling problem. Usually, it means your baby is overtired at bedtime — though not always. Be sure to find an age-appropriate schedule for your baby as the very first step!

5. Your Baby Suddenly Starts Sleeping Terribly

There are many reasons why your great sleeper may suddenly start sleeping terribly. It may be due to health or developmental factors like a growth spurt, reaching a new milestone (like rolling over), a sleep regression, illness, or teething.  

SOLUTION: If it’s a phase, illness, or other temporary issue, simply wait it out. We all have “off” days, and babies are no different. After all, they aren’t robots, and they are going through many developmental milestones in a short amount of time! Try to address the root cause of the sleep problem. Sleep training doesn’t fix every problem!

While I have covered the most common baby sleep problems, babies go through many different changes in the first few years of life, and you may be having another issue not on this list. If that’s the case, know that you are not alone and there are solutions out there!

Nicole Johnson is the founder and lead pediatric sleep consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®, earned her Bachelor of Arts from The University of California, Berkeley, became a Master of Business Administration at The Ohio State University, and is a board member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC). With the help of her team of sleep consultants, she has helped over 50,000 families improve their sleep.

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