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How to Handle Infants Waking Up in the Middle of the Night

by Liza Blau

The sleep cycles of infants are shorter than adults, making them more susceptible to waking up during the night, according to Askdrsears.com. Beginning at birth to 2 months, most infants wake twice each night for feedings. Between 2 and 3 months, their feeding requirements drop to once per night. When infants reach 4 months, they're usually able to sleep seven hours or more without being fed. If your infant is 4 months or older and still wakes up at night, help her learn to fall back asleep without your intervention, which is an important stage in her development.

Lift your crying baby out of the crib and hold her until she falls back asleep. Infants younger than 4 months haven't learned how to comfort themselves when they're crying or they are too agitated to fall back asleep, so they still need mommy or daddy. Rock her in your arms, sing soothing lullabies or stroke her face. Keep the bedroom lights off. Help her learn that nighttime is meant for sleeping by whispering, "Everyone's asleep" or "Babies need sleep to grow into big girls." Don't nurse your baby back to sleep -- the danger is, she'll become so used to it, she won't be able to fall asleep any other way, warns the Baby Center website.

Begin teaching your infant how to fall asleep on her own when she's 4 months old, recommends the Zero to Three website. Don't reward her when she wakes up with hugs, play time or allowing her to sleep in your bed. Rewards could cause her to believe that waking up and acting out during the night leads to fun toys and sleeping with you, which won't help her become more independent, according to Kids Health. Instead, give her a soothing back pat -- do just enough to let her know you're there. Wait for her to stop crying and then leave the room.

Allow her her to cry without intervening for an amount of time you feel comfortable with. Set a limit to how long you'll be able to emotionally handle staying out of her room when she's awake and upset, such as 10 to 15 minutes. After the time has passed and she's still crying, enter her room and briefly offer comfort -- rub her back or stroke her face. Don't hug her, which she might interpret as a reward. Leave the room once she calms down.

If your infant begins to cry again after you leave the room, wait another 15 minutes. Stand in the doorway of her room without entering. Offer comforting words from a distance, such as "Mommy is here and now you need to go to sleep" or "I'll be sleeping right in the next room" and leave again. Begin to lengthen the time between your appearances after your little one wakes up and starts crying. For instance, if you were entering her room after 15 minutes of crying, extend the time to 20 minutes after a few nights. Soon, your baby will be able to drift off to dreamland on her own.

Tip

  • Transitional objects, such as a blanket or favorite toy, comforts your infant and helps her separate from you. When she wakes during the night, she can snuggle with the doll or stuffed toy instead of Mommy or Daddy, and fall back asleep.

Warnings

  • Change your infant's diaper during the night only if it's soiled or she's suffering diaper rash. While changing her diaper, use a flashlight rather than turning the bright room light on.
  • Seek medical attention if your infant is suffering from constant interrupted sleep to rule out illness. A cold, ear infection or teething pain can cause sleep problems and your doctor can prescribe appropriate medication to relieve her discomfort.

Photo Credits

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