Babies can begin to teethe as early as just a few months old, but it might take a while before the actual tooth even appears. Some babies never show any 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 with 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.
- 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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