Is teething disrupting your baby’s sleep? Here’s how to spot the signs of teething and how to help your teething baby sleep!
When our babies are extra fussy, it’s only natural to want to get to the bottom of it—especially if it’s impacting everyone’s sleep!
Did you know that by nine months old, your baby can have as many as eight teeth waiting to rupture through their gums?
There are a lot of physical developments happening in the first year of your baby’s life, and that includes a lot of growth inside their mouth.
Teething is uncomfortable for your baby, and having so many teeth to grow can mean pretty frequent discomfort. Sometimes it feels like your baby is constantly pushing a new tooth during that first year!
When your baby is cutting new teeth, you may notice some disruption to their sleep. Maybe they’re waking up earlier or sleeping for shorter stretches of time.
So how can you help your teething baby sleep? Let’s talk about how teething impacts your baby’s sleep and what can be done about it.
Do Babies Sleep More When They’re Teething?
You might have heard before that babies who are teething tend to sleep more, but there is no real evidence to support that claim.
In fact, if your baby truly is teething, you’ll probably notice they’re sleeping less and not more. That’s because pain and discomfort tend to cause more frequent wake ups at night!
Interrupted sleep during the night might make for more tired days and potentially longer naps to make up for lost sleep. However, overall, your baby’s total sleep in a day won’t typically increase when they’re teething.
How to Spot Teething Baby Symptoms
Your baby’s disrupted sleep is tough on everybody, but the good news about teething is that symptoms will only occur for a few days before the tooth erupts and maybe a few days afterward.
It’s helpful to keep that timeline in mind, because you can be fairly confident that if a tooth doesn’t emerge after a few days of “symptoms,” teething is not the culprit.
In all, teething symptoms should last for less than a week. Once that tooth comes through, your baby’s discomfort should quickly dissipate. Thankfully, you won’t be dealing with teething symptoms forever!
If you’re wondering how to spot signs of teething, here are some things to look out for:
- Fussiness or refusal to eat during feeding times
- Biting (hopefully not while breastfeeding, but that can happen! Ouch!)
- Swollen red gums or the tip of a tooth peeking out of the gum
- Diarrhea and/or rashes around the mouth or chin (both caused by increased saliva production)
- Elevated temperature, but not a fever (so less than 101 F)
- Sleeping for much shorter lengths of time than is typical for their age
- Your baby starts waking up too early in the morning or from their naps
Why Do Teething Symptoms Seem Worse at Night?
Have you ever had the experience where you lay down at night and all of a sudden you start to notice your aches and pains from the day? When there’s nothing else to focus on, our perceptions of discomfort are heightened.
A similar thing happens to your teething baby!
Your baby can become acutely aware that their gums are in pain when they lay down at night. All of a sudden it’s dark and no one is around—there isn’t anything around to distract them.
When your baby’s discomfort keeps them from getting to sleep in a timely fashion, you can end up with an overtired baby on your hands. Unfortunately, an overtired baby just fights sleep even more!
How Long Does Teething Night Waking Last?
I’m sure you’re wondering: how long does teething fussiness last?
Remember that the acute pain of teething really only lasts for a few days. Even if you’re unlucky and your baby is pushing two teeth one right after the other, you should only see the effects of teething on their sleep for a week or so.
If you’re noticing that your baby’s “teething” fussiness is lasting for longer than that, it’s more likely that you’ve run into one of the common sleep regressions, or there’s a different issue at play.
It seems pretty unfair that both teething and a sleep regression could be going on at the same time, but developmentally speaking, it makes total sense.
Teething can exacerbate the effects of a sleep regression, but during a true sleep regression, there are other physical and cognitive developments at play. Those developments are more likely causing the major sleep disruptions.
Safe Ways to Help a Teething Baby Sleep
Unfortunately, plenty of the teething gels, jewelry, and homeopathic medicines marketed to parents of teething babies are simply unsafe.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not support the use of any form of topical medication to treat the gums of a teething child. They’ve found there’s little to no benefit in symptom relief, and an added concern that ingesting the active ingredient benzocaine can be dangerous for babies.
While there are plenty of teething toys and necklaces out there that can help with gum discomfort, those things can’t go in your baby’s crib with them at bedtime.
So what can we do to help a teething baby sleep?
Not every popular method that parents use to help alleviate teething discomfort is backed by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations. But I’ve done my research so you don’t have to!
Check out these 7 ways to help your teething baby sleep:
1. Safety-Rated Teething Toys
When your baby is teething, their gums get inflamed, sore, and itchy. Chewing and sucking can alleviate some of that discomfort!
Provide a teething ring of safe, firm rubber for your baby to chew on. Make sure that you don’t leave your baby unattended with it.
2. Chill Out
Just like icing a sprained ankle, applying coldness to the affected gums can provide relief.
Try to numb the gums with cold items like a cool washcloth or a chilled (not frozen) teething ring. If your baby is old enough to eat solid food, you can supervise while they eat cold snacks like frozen fruit pops or slushy applesauce.
My daughter’s favorite teething relief was a frozen bagel!
3. Gum Massage
The AAP recommends you apply gentle, massage-like pressure to your baby’s teething gums. Make sure your hands are nice and clean!
4. Foster Independent Sleep Habits like Self-Soothing
Your baby is much more likely to fall asleep on their own if you encourage independent sleep habits like sucking on fingers and fists. One of the benefits of thumb sucking is that your baby can help manage their own teething discomfort at bedtime by distracting themselves with a little hand in their mouth.
But if your little one hasn’t figured out how to suck on their own hands yet…
5. Pass the Pacifier, Please!
Any form of sucking or chewing is going to help soothe those sore gums. Don’t worry about your baby developing a dependence on their paci, there are plenty of ways to help him drop the pacifier later!
6. Ask your Pediatrician About Medication
Speak with your pediatrician about whether an over-the-counter pain medication would be appropriate. Make sure that you clarify the dosage to avoid inadvertently harming your baby.
7. Routine + An Extra Dose of Love
I know that when life gets chaotic or the natural order of things is disrupted, it’s easy to deviate from the routine or think about changing things up. I get it—things don’t feel like they’re working!
But instead of allowing the disruption to derail your routine, stick to it! Babies find routine and predictability comforting, so even if they’re uncomfortable, it helps them when they see the same sleep-time cues that they’re used to.
You might be in for a little more cuddle and comfort time than usual, but lean in to it. Give that teething baby some extra love and show them you’re the same reliable caretaker they love.
Sometimes to help our teething or sick baby get sleep, they need a little extra TLC. Try to help them if they need it and know that you can go back to independent sleep once they’re better!