As sleep consultants, we are asked on a regular basis whether or not teething affects a child’s sleep, so we thought we would share some tips for teething and sleep.
We hear parents saying that teething causes their children to regress in sleep every few weeks. So the question is, does teething really affect sleep that much? Our short answer is no, it should not greatly affect your child’s sleep every few weeks. For some babies though, it can affect sleep when your little one is in the acute phase of teething. If you have a child who is a very healthy sleeper otherwise, even in the acute phase of teething, it should be more like a bump in the road vs a full on pothole! Teething can affect sleep for a few days when a tooth is just about to pop out, but it should not be causing super frequent sleep regressions!
How long does the acute phase of teething last?
Usually the worst part of teething lasts a few days to 1 week or so until the tooth pops out. Generally, when the tooth is pushing through the gums and just about to pop, that is the most painful time for babies. When you see a slit or small hole in the gum, this is usually an indication that the tooth has come through and your baby will get some relief. Sometimes the first tooth can be a little worse because they are not used to that feeling.
What are some signs of acute teething?
There are some tell tale signs of the acute phase of teething. This is usually when teething is the most uncomfortable for babies.
- Swollen gums, they might be red or white and it might look like a tooth shape is on the outside of the gum. Sometimes if you feel them, they might feel like there is a bump or a hard portion on the gum.Here are some examples of what the gums may look like during the most uncomfortable phase of teething:
- Red or chapped cheeks
- Overall crankiness that lasts throughout the day. So basically, a change in their overall behaviour during their waking hours paired with some of the other symptoms.
- There could be some loose stools associated with teething
- Sometimes a very mild fever is present (although this is not that common and most often, it is a virus that is causing a fever and not just teething.)
- They might have more drool than usual (but this is not always a sign of true teething. See below*.)
- Their drool and bodily fluids tend to be a little more acidic. So this might cause a little rash under their chin or diaper area.
- You might notice them putting their hands in their mouths a lot more, almost in aggravation.
*Note: Babies drool and put everything in their mouths constantly on a daily basis because that is how they learn about their surroundings. This can start as early as 3-4 months and is not necessarily a sign that they are teething. However, if you see it accompanied by the symptoms above or if you notice a drastic change, it could be it! In other words, just because your 4 month old has begun mouthing things and drooling a lot more, this does not mean that they are teething. If sleep has taken a hit but they are not showing any other signs of true teething, you might want to focus on making sleep changes because it could be months longer before they actually begin teething. We don’t want you more sleep deprived than you need to be!
What if teething is affecting your child’s sleep?
If your little one is not a healthy, consistent sleeper before teething, it might leave room for a lot more ups and downs and you might find that great, consistent sleep is hard to achieve because they have not learned healthy sleep skills yet.
If your little one knows how to fall asleep on their own and sleep was very consistent prior to acute teething, you will be able to get them back on track quickly and it will remain a small set back rather than a full regression.
We do want to be mindful that if they do need a little more support from you during the acute phase that we don’t want to take too many steps back. Little ones will be teething for a few years but it’s important that between those teeth, they are still getting great sleep with as minimal bumps along the way as possible.
If you have already worked on independent sleep skills prior to teething, you will want to maintain those independent sleep skills even when teeth are popping through and your child might be a bit more irritable. Your child might wake a little more frequently than you are used to when they are at the worst part of teething. So you can offer a little more support than you usually would. The key will be to ensure that a few days later, you are going back to regular sleep and keep consistent so that your child does not get too used to that extra support that was offered when they were in the throes of acute teething! Once you have worked so hard on independent sleep, you want to be mindful not to get stuck in a cycle of too much support and help again!
How can you help your baby during teething?
Offering some teething remedies during the day can give your baby some relief.
- There are some homeopathic teething remedies, like Chamomile that some mom’s love. Just make sure to research the ingredients to see if the remedies are safe or recommended for babies.
- Do you have a baby food mesh feeder? These are great because you can stick a piece of cold apple in it or a piece of cantaloupe or celery. Those cold fruits can feel nice on the gums. It is said that celery is a natural painkiller as it is believed that celery has some anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that can help numb the gums a little bit.. Another option is that you can freeze ice/breast milk or slightly flavoured ice and put it into the mesh feeder. Here is an example of the mesh feeder that I am talking about. You can find them at Walmart and most grocery stores.
- Frozen or very cold wash cloths when they are awake to chew on can help soothe uncomfortable gums. *If you use frozen items, please be sure to supervise so that your child does not get
Teething toys are great for when they are awake.
- Tylenol or Advil can be given during the acute phase if you find that they are very uncomfortable and need it.
It is also important to note that some babies will pop a tooth and you may not have even known that it was coming because their behaviour did not change much. Some babies though, will have a bit of a harder time and need a bit extra during the acute teething stage. They may struggle with sleeping, eating and may be a little more miserable about it all.
If you are having a hard time with sleep and find that you are struggling with inconsistent naps, night sleep and your child has many sleep regressions, we can help! Check out our services page or contact us for a free 15 minute consultation to see how we can help!