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Night-waking: 10 Reasons your baby wakes at night

When you bring your newborn home, you expect to be awake a lot at night. After all, many people warn you about how tired you will be in those first few weeks.

Once your baby is eight weeks old, you start to realise just how much of a toll night-waking takes. If you are lucky, your baby will begin to sleep through the night from a young age. But what many parents find is that even beyond newborn days, babies wake at night.

How many times is normal and why do babies wake at night? Here are 10 reasons your baby might be waking at night, in no particular order.

Your baby is hungry

This should be no surprise that babies wake at night due to hunger. In the newborn days, babies will likely wake every 2-3 hours to eat. They might even need to be awakened to be fed until they’ve regained their birthweight. Once a baby is three or four months old, night feedings may drop to 1-3 times per night, until they are between six and 12 months old when they can be night-weaned. When your baby sleeps all night without any feedings depends on several factors. These include whether they are breastfed or not, any medical issues such as reflux, whether you’ve started solids, and their individual patterns.

They are hot or cold

Many new parents tend to overdress their babies afraid of their baby being cold and not being able to speak up. Keep in mind the ideal temperature of the room to sleep is 20C to 21C. Your baby’s skin should feel cool to the touch without being frigid and your baby should never be sweaty. If your baby’s fingers feel like ice blocks, you need to warm the room a bit and/or add another layer of clothing, a sleep sack or wearable blanket.

Sleep associations

How your baby falls asleep sometimes dictates whether he or she can stay asleep. If, for example, your baby falls asleep while bouncing on a yoga ball, he or she may wake every 1-3 hours (if not immediately) for you to bounce on the yoga ball again. This becomes their sleep association, which means it needs to be recreated as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

This is one of the leading causes of frequent night waking in babies and toddlers.

Sleep regressions and developmental leaps

Your baby is developing  rapidly, which is a good thing, but developmental milestones can lead to more night-waking. Your baby may be practising new skills (intentionally or not) or have a ‘busy brain’. In addition, a baby will go through several sleep regressions, the first being the four-month sleep regression. During these sleep regressions, your baby’s sleep will worsen and, if you’re not careful, you may develop new sleep habits that will disrupt sleep even more for your family. Read about all the sleep regressions here.

They need a nappy change

Unless you’re doing elimination communication, your baby’s nappy may get too full, leak, or your baby may have had a bowel movement requiring you to change it in the middle of the night. This may seem obvious, but as your baby gets older, he or she may become more sensitive to a full nappy, especially if you’ve kept too many night feedings for too long. Or, a baby new to solid food may have changed their bowel movement ‘schedule’ and require a nappy change when you haven’t had to change a nappy at night for a good while. As toddlers get closer to toilet training, they often
are more aware of the nappy as well.

Your baby is teething

Some babies are sensitive to teeth cutting through the gums while others aren’t bothered by it. Some babies are bothered by it for just a few days. The height of any sleep disruption usually lasts just three or four nights, so unless your baby is getting one tooth after another, long-term night-waking is usually not related to teething. Short-term night-waking, however, could be caused by the discomfort.


Sometimes our babies fall ill, but the night-waking may start two or three days prior to the illness being evident, unfortunately. Just as you and I may start to feel a little under the weather before we actually catch a cold, they too sometimes start to have ‘off’ days and nights.

Napping too much

A lesser-known reason for night-waking, especially long ones, sometimes is due to napping too much during the day. After six months old, babies and toddlers tend to nap a total of 2-3 hours, on average, during the day. Beyond 3 hours, unless your baby needs higher than average sleep (which is possible), this could be causing your baby to wake at night.

Bedtime at the ‘wrong’ time

The most common reason for a baby to wake frequently at night is due to being over-tired at bedtime. Ensure your baby is falling asleep before fatigue sets in for optimum sleep. Review sample sleep schedules to compare your schedule with the average. Of course, all babies are unique, so you may need to make some adjustments, but timing bedtime correctly can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep at night.

Digestion problems

Gas, reflux and starting solids can impact night-time sleep, too. Reflux can clearly cause discomfort, but so can gas and starting solid food. When your baby starts solid food, their body needs to work harder at digestion and it bothers some babies, at first. They typically adjust fairly quickly while others have a harder time. Be sure to talk to a medical professional if you are concerned about digestion.

Some reasons for night-waking will need more time to be resolved such as sleep associations while others can be addressed immediately such as the schedule or room temperature. There are many reasons babies wake at night, but now that you have a checklist of items to consider, you can address the root cause and maximise your family’s sleep!

About the Author: Nicole Johnson is the founder, owner and lead sleep consultant of The Baby Sleep Site. She has been helping families solve their sleep problems holistically for more than 10 years. 

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By Claire Gilligan
WITH A FIFO HUSBAND WHO WORKS AWAY WEEKS AT A TIME, CLAIRE ENJOYS FINDING FUN, LOCAL THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO VISIT TO OCCUPY HER AND HER TWO GIRLS' TIME. ORIGINALLY FROM SYDNEY, CLAIRE AND HER FAMILY LOVE ALL THE THINGS THE SUNSHINE COAST HAS TO OFFER AND ENJOY SHOWING IT OFF TO VISITING FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Kids on the Coast is a free family magazine whats on guide for Kids: things to do, school holiday fun and free activities for kids... Fun attractions, family food & travel, kids health & wellbeing, kids parties venues, parenting, pregnancy & babies, guide for parents. Servicing Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and beyond, Kids on the Coast is an online guide for parents with kids things to do with kids, schools and education and lifestyle news located on Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast & Brisbane, QLD.

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