Teething gets the blame for a myriad of baby behaviors, especially when it comes to sleep disruptions. As a new parent, you might find yourself frequently wondering, “Is this teething?” or “Is my baby’s wakefulness due to a new tooth on the horizon?” It’s a common concern and for a good reason. Teething can be a significant milestone in your baby’s first year, often accompanied by sleepless nights and endless drooling. In this blog, we’ll delve into the relationship between teething and sleep, helping you navigate this drooly journey with more confidence and fewer sleep-deprived googling sessions.
Teething babies sometimes don’t sleep well, however, generally, sleep regressions refer to phases of disrupted sleep that coincide with cognitive and/or physical developmental milestones. While teething can affect sleep, it’s not considered to be a cause of sleep regression in the same way that the maturation of sleep at 3-4 months, or learning to crawl, walk, or talk is. Teething is similar to illness in that it often impacts sleep when the discomfort associated with these occurrences is most acute.
Teething can start from the time your baby is around 4 months old, and can last until your child is 4 years old! As with all things, there is of course variation in that timeline – some babies may start sooner, and be done earlier, or the other way around. Additionally, some little ones are more affected by the discomfort associated with teething than others, and the first few teeth can be the worst as it’s a totally new experience for your baby. Though your little one may be fussy and drooling for weeks, teething pain is likely the most acute in the 24-72 hours prior to the tooth (or teeth) erupting through the gums. After that, your little one should be feeling less discomfort. Teeth usually come in pairs – if you see one, know another is likely on its way up as well.
While the only sure sign of teething is seeing a tooth, some common symptoms of teething include the following:
Please note: Teething might cause a slight increase in a baby’s body temperature, but it shouldn’t cause a full-blown fever. If a baby has a fever (typically defined as a rectal temperature of 100.4°F or higher), it’s more likely due to an illness or infection rather than teething. In such cases, it’s essential to consult with a pediatrician to determine the cause and get appropriate guidance. Always prioritize the health and safety of the child and seek professional medical advice when in doubt.
Teething can be uncomfortable. A child who usually sleeps well may require assistance to fall asleep and stay asleep while teething, potentially leading to the development of new sleep associations. Teething can disrupt your baby’s nap and feeding schedules, and cause frequent night waking due to discomfort, drooling, rashes, and general malaise. During such times, you may find yourself spending more time holding, rocking, or even offering extra feedings to help your baby get through the night. Additionally, if your baby hasn’t eaten much during the day because their mouth hurts, they may want to make up for it at night.
When your baby is teething, it’s important to offer them the support they need while also trying to maintain as much consistency as possible in their sleep routine. Here are some tips to help your little one sleep as well as possible for naps and throughout the night during teething:
While it is entirely appropriate to provide additional comfort when your child is experiencing discomfort due to teething, be mindful that it may result in your child reinforcing unsustainable sleep associations. A sleep association refers to the series of experiences or tools that your baby associates with falling asleep. This could include being in their crib, rocking, bouncing, feeding, going for a walk in a carrier or stroller, using a pacifier, or a combination of these or other factors. What makes a sleep association sustainable or unsustainable depends on whether or not it’s working for your whole family—not just your little one.
As discussed above, your child will be teething on and off throughout their early years, so if you’re waiting for your child to get through teething before starting sleep training, you’re likely going to be waiting for a long time!
Sleep training is most effective when your child is in good health and able to develop new sleep habits, so it’s best to hold off on sleep training during the most acute period of pain (usually in the days just before the new tooth erupts through the gums). If you are engaged in sleep training and it looks like your little one’s tooth is just about to pop through, you can pause your training method and do your best to stay as consistent as possible. Resume once you see the tooth (or teeth) come through.
It’s absolutely okay to provide extra support and comfort when your little one is sick or uncomfortable, however, the key is to be able to layer on support when it’s needed, and then layer it off once your little one is feeling better. Once you can see the tooth (or teeth), your baby should be feeling less discomfort and should be able to get back into their usual routine. However, it may take some time for them to get back on track depending on how much support you had to offer. Remember, it’s important to approach these challenges with flexibility and patience. Here are some tips for getting sleep back on track after teething:
Life is full of curveballs—especially during your child’s early growth and development. As a parent, you will inevitably face challenges that disrupt your baby’s sleep, whether it’s teething, illness, travel, or developmental milestones like learning to crawl. The key to navigating these challenges successfully is to have a sustainable and flexible response framework in place so that you can respond to wake-ups consistently and keep your family’s sleep on track even in the face of these disruptions. That’s where sleep training using the Batelle method can be an invaluable ally.
The Batelle method teaches caregivers a sustainable response framework that can be adapted to provide more support when needed, such as during illness, teething, growth spurts, or a sleep regression, and then gradually layered off once your little one is feeling better. By managing your response to sleep problems in an intentional manner rather than a reactive one, you can reduce both the intensity and duration of sleep disruptions.
Teething is a recurring source of discomfort throughout your child’s early years, and while it can significantly impact your baby’s sleep, it’s essential to approach these challenges with flexibility and patience. Every parent has been there, and though teething can be a challenging time, remember that it’s just a phase. With the right strategies, consistency in sleep routines, and a lot of patience, both you and your baby will get through it. Stay strong and remember, this too shall pass.