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How To Handle Teething and Sleep

Handling Teething & Sleep

Babies can begin to teethe as early as just a few months old, but it might take awhile before the actual tooth even appears. Some babies never show many signs of teething apart from drooling and chewing on everything while others will get fussy and cranky as the tooth is popping through. Some babies will sleep through it all while others will have numerous night wakings. Some experts have said it will not disrupt sleep, but I wholeheartedly disagree. As everything else, all babies are different and they will all have different pain tolerances. I know that my son did seem to be affected and since none of us can go back and know what it feels like, I believe it’s our job, as parents, to be sympathetic, while also making sure they get enough sleep.

Here are my tips for handling teething and your baby’s sleep:

  • If baby is extra fussy during the day when he’s awake (i.e. he is not fussy because he is sleepy), make sure you make him extra comfortable at bedtime with a dose of Motrin or Tylenol or teething tablets and cold washcloth to numb the gums (Please note that Orajel has now been discouraged for babies under two years old by the FDA). Note: My pediatrician did not OK Motrin until 6 months old. I prefer Motrin because it lasts longer (6 hours) than Tylenol (4 hours), but you should check with your pediatrician about when you can administer it to your baby.
  • “Teethers” can be another great (and medicine-free) way to alleviate the pain of teething. We recommend The Teethifier and the Zo-Li Gummy Stick to our clients.

  • Given a baby teethes for what feels like a constant 2 years, you should figure out a plan for how you will handle it because you can’t allow too much sleep deprivation in the name of “teething”, since you may think something is a teething problem, but it’s really a sleep problem.

    My plan with my first son was that if he was extra fussy during the day, I’d give him Motrin (and Orajel which is now a no-no) at bedtime. If he had any night wakings 6+ hours (give or take 1 hour) after the medication, I’d tend to him with another dose and then stay with him for 30 minutes until it kicked in and then put him back down. It was usually only about 2-4 days of super fussy times that he needed extra soothing until the tooth popped through. Other times, I’d have to be more stringent on my nighttime visits, because of the problems it would create.

  • If you are nursing, expect baby to possibly nurse more frequently as it feels good on their gums. As always, you may have to set limits and be careful not to create a sleep association with nursing to sleep.

Should You Stop Sleep Training During Teething?

In general, my answer will be no. If you waited for all your baby’s teeth to pop through before you sleep train, you might wait over 2 years! Some baby’s teeth pop through at a few months old but others don’t until past a year old! Since you have no way of knowing, you need to just do your best and make sure you prioritize your baby’s sleep. Having said that, you may need to alter your plan a bit, as I suggested above, during the few days the teeth are about to erupt through the gums (you might notice them right on the surface of the gums and your baby is extra fussy), but otherwise, help them feel comfortable, but continue to be consistent and help them learn to sleep better.

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Do you have any teething tips?

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  1. says

    I agree that it’s important to maintain normal sleeping patterns as much as possible despite teething.

    I would be careful about giving medication night after night. Save it for times when the baby is really distressed and check for other problems like throat or ear infections. A visit to your doctor is always best if you find you need to give your baby paracetamol or similar more than 2 nights in a row.

    I always found those plastic teething rings that you freeze always worked well to sooth sore gums. Buy 2 or 3 so there’s always one frozen ready to go.

  2. says

    @Nerida Thank you for your comment! Yes, you make a good point that I’d never recommend to give medication night after night after night. I am one that errs on the side of less medication, not more and save it for when they *really* need it. I would definitely encourage everyone to talk to their pediatricians on appropriate doses of medication.

    Nicoles last blog post..Sleep Quick Tip – When Can I Put My Baby on a Schedule?

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  4. Jenny says

    Thanks for the great information. My daughter also seems to get the referred ear pain along with the teething and motrin has been the best relief we have found. I also wanted to share a teething idea. I have a few apple slices on hand in the freezer. When my daughter has a tooth that is about to break through I grab a frozen apple slice and wrap in in a baby washcloth and tie it up with a little hair band. She LOVES to chew on it and only gets a little juice from the apple. It has helped a lot.

  5. heather says

    thanks so much for your advice on this! we’re going through first molar teething right now and just got our babe down after an hour plus of hysterical crying off and on (gave him a dose of baby tyenol after 30 mins) until finally i gave in and nursed him to sleep. i know i shouldn’t have but his cry was so much harder and more insistent. i know he’s in real discomfort. do i let him cry indefinitely even though he’s much more upset than usual and waking repeatedly (normally he just wakes once at about 4am for a feeding)?
    sad and frustrated mama over here

  6. Kimberly says

    Hi Heather-
    I can certainly empathize with your situation. It’s hard when we know our babies are in pain and discomfort. I think it’s fine go ahead and nurse him or soothe as need during this time, but just be sure to keep an eye on how much and for how long you do it so as to not create a sleep association. If he’s just eaten a few hours before then maybe consider giving him another dose of Tylenol and staying with him until it kicks in (that is, if enough time has gone by since the last time). You can also alternate Tylenol and Motrin every two hours if he’s really having trouble.

  7. Kimberly says

    Great tip! Thanks, Jenny.

  8. Jennifer says

    What happens when your 7 month old has nursed to sleep almost her whole life…once she is almost asleep, I stop nursing, but she needs that comfort to relax her? She is waking several times in the night now while teething and I can’t convince her to take a pacifier or thumb and “Cry-it-out” is not an option due to 3 other children who wake due to her crying…and they are school aged and need their sleep!

    Also, a side question, my fiance’s 9 year old son was a co-sleeper who nursed nightly until he was 4 and since being weaned has a terrible time sleeping restfully. He tosses and turnes and wakes with the slightest of sounds. He has us all walking on eggshells past bedtime. Any advice to getting him to sleep soundly?

  9. Vicky says

    I have a nine month old. She has only slept through the nine a dozen times in her short life – all that occurred between 4-6 months. I believe the root of her sleep troubles are teeth. She had two teeth at 5 weeks. Once they cut through she began to get on a fairly healthy sleeping pattern. She would go down with ease (and still does, usually), and would wake between 2 and 4 AM for a feeding – but would go right back down. Around 8 weeks, we started to eliminate the nightly feeding and she was sleeping almost through the night. However around 6 months, this all stopped. She still naps well, but wakes every two hours. If we let her cry to fall back asleep – she throws up (she has reflux). Just a week or two later she had four more teeth come in. Now at 9 months, she has 8 teeth. Her molars are coming in and her canines (she is an early teether, as was I). Now she is NOT SLEEPING AT ALL!!! We haven’t slept for three nights! We have tried Tylenol, Orajel, and Motrin – separately and combined – it takes her a long time to seem relieved and fall asleep, then wakes within an hour or two. I am tired and need some advice!

  10. Debbye says

    HI Vicky, Sorry your having so many teething problems so soon. But on the bright side, you’ll get it over with sooner?! It is a hard job as a parent to really determine when our babies are in pain (like teething) or are falling into habits or sleep associations. One way to tell is if she is extra fussy during the day, it probably is tooth pain. If she is waking 4-6 hours after the medication, go ahead and give another dose and then stay with her for 30-60 minutes until it kicks in, but if she is waking every hour or two, you may have a sleep association problem on your hands, and may need to help her learn how to fall asleep and back to sleep on her own (when you feel more comfortable and know she does not have any teeth popping through). With teething, it is sometimes only about 2-4 days of super fussy times that babies need extra soothing until the tooth surfaces, so maybe give it a little more time, rest when she naps if you can, and hopefully you all will be sleeping better soon.
    Good luck!


  1. […] Teething babies often want to breastfeed more often because it feels good on their gums. Often, this can be difficult because if your baby is older and eating solids, they commonly will stop eating solids almost all together. It can be frustrating (but she just ate this yesterday! what happened?) and they will offset the lack of solids with more breastfeeding. This can mean more night-feedings and more breastfeeding during the day. So, breastfeeding moms have to be prepared for more breastfeeding during growth spurts as well as the height of teething episodes. It’s good to come up with a strategy on how to handle teething sleep problems. […]