A baby or toddler waking to nurse frequently at night is the biological norm.
It is not a sleep problem that needs fixing or training away.
There are some conditions which may exacerbate this normal wakeful behaviour.
It’s worth considering if these conditions may be the reason your baby is waking extremely frequently, or if they are awake for longer periods, cry excessively or are hard to settle no matter what you try.
Baby Waking Extremely Frequently? Here Are 4 Things To Consider
This list is not exhaustive but gives you a starting point if you are worried that something else is making sleep harder to come by and maintain for your child.
Please speak to your care provider about any concerns you have.
#1: Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease
Reflux is a normal physiological process and is experienced by 73% of babies in the first months of life.
It doesn’t necessarily require any treatment at all with most babies outgrowing it by their first birthday. Less than 4% of babies will still experience reflux at 12 months.
However, in 1 in 300 babies, the reflux experienced is not normal and fits under the diagnosis Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
This is a medical condition and can impact on many areas of a baby’s health and development, meaning that seeking and attaining appropriate diagnosis and treatment is essential. GORD can make it very difficult for a baby to sleep peacefully.
For more information be sure to read Reflux in Babies.
If your baby is diagnosed with GORD, you may wish to consider investigating food allergies and sensitivities that may be related to the condition. You can find out more in Cows Milk Protein Sensitivity In Babies.
#2: Allergies, Intolerances And Sensitivities
If a baby is suffering from undiagnosed or uncontrolled allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, it makes sense their little body is experiencing discomfort that may play havoc with their sleep and settling.
For some babies, these problems are quickly and easily identified. For others, it may be necessary to undertake an elimination diet, supervised by a dietitian, to hone into the precise triggers. This may either be for the mother if she is nursing before the introduction of solids; or both mother and baby if nursing after the introduction of solids.
Many families attempt their own form of elimination diet but this can prolong the process and mean foods are often ruled out ‘just in case’ which restricts the diet of mother and child unnecessarily.
If you are wanting more information on role food can play in sleep disruptions, check out the book Fed Up by Sue Dengate.
For more information you can read Could Your Toddler’s Diet Be Keeping You Awake At Night?
#3: Tongue Tie
Tongue tie is a contentious issue right now, but the fact remains, it can and does cause issue for some mother-baby pairs and therefore shouldn’t be automatically dismissed when considering what may be at play for you and your child.
Tongue tie can cause issues with sleep in a number of ways:
- It can be the cause of reflux symptoms which may subside post release of the tongue tie.
- It can cause feeding problems which mean baby needs to feed more frequently and for longer due to their oral restriction.
- It can play a part in sleep apnea which makes restful sleep very hard to achieve.
Not all health professionals are able to identify if a tongue tie is present and even fewer are able to assess if the tie is in fact causing the baby or mother problems. A qualified International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) would be the best place to start.
For more information regarding ties be sure to read All Tied In Knots About Tongue Tie.
#4: Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
If your baby snores, breathes through their mouth, has gaps in their breathing or is a noisy breather while asleep, it is well worth considering having an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist check your baby’s tonsils and adenoids. See your general practitioner for a referral.
Sleep apnoea in your child makes it extremely difficult for your little one to rest peacefully.
For more information, please read this information pamphlet from The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne on Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.
Clean Bill Of Health But Still Waking Extremely Frequently?
Some babies are just the extra level of intense compared to their peers and take waking to the extreme. Their intense need for comfort and closeness, along with their sensitive and busy body and mind can mean these babies genuinely need more nighttime parenting than others.
Dr Sears has written extensively on what he calls ‘The High Needs Baby’. If you are currently parenting a wakeful little firecracker, you may find yourself nodding along to this article that identifies 12 Features of A High Needs Baby.
Parenting a baby who wakes frequently is exhausting work and the importance of nurturing the nurturer is absolutely vital.
Please discuss with your support network ways to ensure you can meet your needs for rest and sleep while still meeting your baby at their point of need.
This too shall pass, but in the meantime , ask for the help you need whenever you need it.