If you start to see a sleep regression, baby is suddenly waking up crying two or three times a night, naturally, you’re going to look for a reason why they’re slipping back into old habits. And if there’s a tooth coming in, that provides a quick and easy answer.
But when it comes to babies, teething is the ultimate scapegoat. If a tooth is just poking through the surface of the gum, we should only see sleep disturbances occur for 2-3 days before and after the tooth erupts. Even then, some babies may actually sleep a bit longer while teething, and most with good sleep habits are not bothered by teething at all.
Studies show that symptoms associated with teething last for around 1-8 days, so if you’re looking at two weeks of baby crying through the night, it’s either due to some other ailment, or baby has once again learned that crying when he wakes up will bring his favorite person into the room, and she’ll be helping him get back to sleep. (See footnote for source.)
Before we jump to the conclusion that baby is teething, look for visual signs of the teeth coming through. The gums ridge should thicken and the color should look closer to a white/pale pink.
If you suspect teething pain:
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as required and directed by your doctor and the package label during the bedtime routine.
During the day, offer cold foods or teething rings that can soothe the gums
Babies in pain are not comforted by hugs/cuddles alone. If you go to baby at night and they quiet down after being cuddled, it is likely not teething pain.
A well-rested baby will handle teething better than one who’s not sleeping well. (Teething, plus just about every other challenge they face!) Be rest assured it’s going to blow over quickly if you are cautious how you react to wakings.
However, if a baby has always had multiple night wakings, difficulty settling at bedtime and short naps the issue could very well be greater than just teething. What I find is that babies who are reliant on sleep props to fall asleep (ie. breastfeeding, paci, rocking, car rides, etc), have difficulty linking their sleep. In reality, the very thing you are using to put your baby to sleep in the first place is the thing that is causing your baby to wake. When baby wakes a few times in the night, they cry because they're thinking, “Wait a minute, where is my soother, where is mama's milk, why am I not being rocked?” Looking to see what can be done to reduce or eliminate the sleep props help you see far more sleep improvement than teething remedies can provide.
That being said, if teething is imminent, remedy the associated pain as needed and remember that every child will go through this experience differently. We don't want to start over your baby's sleep every month because you suspect a tooth erupting. Try to keep consistent to help encourage better sleep which in turn helps your baby get through the symptoms that much better.
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