Most parents are mentally prepared for their newborn to wake at night and need parental assistance to get back to sleep.
Growing numbers of parents are also learning just how toddlers can also wake at night and need help to get back to sleep.
No, this isn’t what the baby sleep books, toddler sleep books, sleep consultants or baby sleep whisperers would have you believe, but it is normal and not a sign of a sleep problem.
5 Things No One Tells You About Toddler Night Waking
The statistics on toddler night waking make it even more puzzling. The majority of parents report their 12-24 month old sleeps through the night without parental assistance.
Surely, if this was the case then those toddlers who continue to wake frequently must have a sleep problem.
But in a society where sleep training is the norm, it is tough to get accurate statistics on what biologically normal toddler sleep behaviour looks like when it is free of interventions.
This behaviour was in line with the behavioural patterns observed in other cultures where co-sleeping and breastfeeding remained the norm for their toddler. It has also been found that both continued breastfeeding and continued responsiveness has a positive impact on development.
So here are 5 things you need to know about your toddler’s night waking.
#1: We All Wake At Night And Struggle To Get Back To Sleep
Even as adults, we all struggle at times to find and maintain sleep. From a busy mind to a restless body, it can a frustrating and exhausting experience. Yet, we can filter the experience through our adult brain, our adult emotional regulation system and our adult independence to do what we need or want to resolve the situation.
Our toddlers are still undergoing massive physical and mental growth. It’s hardly surprising these rapidly wiring, busy little bodies and minds still need help to find and maintain peaceful sleep. They are still so very small and still so very young.
#2: Two Year Old Teeth
Teething isn’t fun for most babies – sore, swollen gums, constant drool, irritable and fussy moods. During your toddler’s second year, the last teeth to come through are the four molars and these can come through one at a time.
The first two molars are located next to the canine (cuspid) teeth and usually arrive between 13-19 months on the top, and 14-18 months on the bottom. The second molars are directly behind the first molars and generally erupt between 25-33 months on the top, and 23-31 months on the bottom.
As you can see, this is quite a stretch of time to feel uncomfortable, and toddlers struggle to find and maintain sleep while they work these through. If you know the throb of a toothache, just think about the pain your baby is experiencing as they cut these chompers for the first time.
You can read more about teething symptoms in Signs Your Baby Might Be Teething.
#3: Reconnection After Separation
In the second year of life, many toddlers spend increasing amounts of time away from their parents. As all young children do, they have an intense need to reconnect with their trusted loved ones after they’ve been separated.
This often means increased need for contact, comfort and connectedness at night. This isn’t a behaviour that needs to be discouraged, and if you can recognise this as a need rather than a want, you’ll be able to work out a way to help satisfy this need that works best for your unique family.
For some children, taking extra, intentional time in the evening and throughout the bedtime routine to reconnect is enough to fill their need. For others, this is just the start.
Many families find an open-door policy helpful, where their toddler knows if they need closeness at night, then they can come into the family bed.
Alternatively, you may set up a little mattress, bed or stretcher next to the parental bed for the child to utilise with minimal disruption for everyone.
#4: Sleep Cycling Doesn’t Mean Your Toddler Is Broken
Though the Wonder Weeks aren’t mapped far into the second year of life, the leaps in growth and development continue and they hit just as hard as ever.
During times where your little one is working their way through new skills, along with the usual triggers for waking more often, you can expect to have your toddler calling for your presence more frequently.
This isn’t a sign that all has gone to pot with their ability to sleep. Your child knows how to sleep; they’re simply having trouble finding and maintaining it now in their life. This is not forever, and it will pass without you needing to do anything to modify this behaviour.
If you are finding yourself run down as you respond to your child’s legitimate nighttime needs, ask yourself what you need to do to help keep you well and meet your needs for rest and sleep.
You may need to call in support or lay off some of the expectations you have of yourself for this short time, while your toddler needs you more intensely once again.
#5: You’re Nearly There
It can be hard to see the forest for the trees while you are running the Ultra Marathon of your life, but the time when your little one no longer needs you at night is swiftly approaching.
Think back on the early days of sleep with your young baby and just how far they have come in every aspect of their growth and development. There is no going back. Their burgeoning independence is blossoming and the day will come before you know it – they will not want you with them at night at all.
No more nursing, no more cuddles, no more stories, no more lullabies. No more calls for ‘mama’ in the dark of night, no more little arms clinging to you, no more tears to dry.
You will never regret the time you spend meeting your toddler needs when they needed you each night.
Hang in there tired toddler mamas; you’ve got this!