Truly, teething can be a tough issue for parents to deal with. While some babies and toddlers seem to just sail through the teething process with minimal pain and fuss, other babies spend days in discomfort and pain. And, of course, discomfort and pain usually translate to NO SLEEP FOR ANYONE.
No wonder, then, that we get so many questions about how to manage teething and sleep disturbances in our Helpdesk!
Not to worry, though – you don’t have to suffer through teething drama alone. Today, we’re looking at 3 tips to help manage your baby’s teething discomfort and sleep disturbances, as well as info on how you can offer comfort without undoing any sleep training progress you’ve made up to this point.
Baby Teething Symptoms
First, though, let’s examine some common teething symptoms so that you can watch for signs of teething and be proactive. Teething symptoms include the following:
- Teething rash (a chapped, red chin from drool, and possibly a diaper rash due to watery stools from swallowing so much extra saliva)
- Diarrhea (from swallowing extra saliva)
- Refusal to feed (tender gums make it tough to nurse and eat comfortably)
- Biting (your baby may chew on hands, toys, or – if you’re breastfeeding – on you!)
- Ear-pulling and/or cheek-rubbing
- Increased night waking
- More fussing/crying than usual
Baby Teething and Sleep: 3 Tips To Comfort Your Baby and Promote Sleep
If your baby is teething and is really uncomfortable, it will almost certainly mess with his usual sleep schedule, at least for a bit. Fortunately, there are ways you can provide comfort while still preserving good sleep habits, and ensuring you don’t inadvertently help your baby form new sleep associations.
- Try teething objects during non-sleep times to alleviate pain. There are zillions of teething toys and teething rings out there, that can help minimize some of your child’s pain. Many of them are designed to be refrigerated or frozen – the added cold can help numb your kiddo’s gums. But remember, you don’t have to be high-tech with your teething tools…a “homemade” option, like a cold washcloth, can work wonders, too!
- Use Tylenol or Ibuprofen for sleep times, to promote longer sleep. Teething toys won’t exactly work during times when your child is sleeping (or, rather, is supposed to be sleeping!). If the pain is bad and is keeping your child awake, then try offering medicine like Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help alleviate your little one’s discomfort. Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider before offering any medication. You may want to try and time when you offer medicine with when you know your baby or toddler will need to feed. So, for example, try offering a dose of medicine right after the bedtime feeding – the medication will last 4-6 hours, and that will maximize the chances that your baby will give you a good, long stretch of sleep at the start of the night. Also – you will want to avoid products containing benzocaine! That’s the ingredient found in Baby Orajel, and it’s not been proven safe for little ones.
- Provide comfort without undoing progress. Figure out how you can provide comfort without creating new “bad” sleep habits, or undoing sleep training progress. For instance, if you want to reinforce the habit of sleeping in the crib, avoid bringing your baby into bed with you during bouts of teething pain – instead, hold your baby until she’s calm, but put her back down in her crib to fall back to sleep. You will definitely want to comfort your baby during teething pain, and when the pain is at its worst, you may need to have a night or two when you break all your “rules” but do try to avoid doing anything that you don’t want to do long-term. One night of co-sleeping for comfort won’t hurt, but if you do it every night for two weeks, then you’ve most likely just created a brand-new expectation for your little one.
“My plan with my first son was that if he was extra fussy during the day, I’d give him Ibuprofen 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 he was calm, then I’d 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.”
Baby Teething and Sleep Training
So, what should you do if your child suddenly starts teething during sleep training? We recommend that you keep on sleep training. Now, this is a general recommendation – there are times when teething discomfort may be so intense that you have to just suspend your efforts for a night or two. But in general, we recommend that you don’t stop sleep training due to teething. There will ALWAYS be “issues” that crop up, which will impact your baby’s sleep, and if you were to stop for all of them, you may never get around to teaching your baby better sleep habits! While you might need to moderate your sleep training efforts a bit, and will definitely need to adjust your expectations during teething, it’s usually best to stick with sleep coaching.
We’d also recommend that you don’t make teething an excuse for putting off sleep training, or for suffering through interrupted sleep. Remember, your child will teethe for a solid 2-3 years – so if you wait until teething is over to start working on sleep, you’ll be waiting forever!! You will no doubt always be able to find a reason to avoid or delay sleep coaching, but if your little one’s sleep is truly problematic, then it’s usually best to just start sleep training, and deal with any speed bumps like teething as they crop up. We know that when it comes to sleep training, the first step is usually the hardest to take – but once you take it, you’ll be well on your way to better sleep!
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