This is a question I hear a lot – and the question we’re answering in today blog!

Why Your Baby Wakes Up Crying

Well, for starters, your baby may obviously wake up crying sometimes due to the need to eat (hunger is a powerful motivator!). Additionally, your baby may wake up with a wet or dirty (or leaky) diaper, or may wake up because he’s too hot or cold. These are all perfectly reasonable reasons for a baby to wake up – and they’re all reasons that mum and dad need to address, either by feeding or changing baby.

A little less straightforward is the fact that many babies wake up due to their sleep associations. Some sleep associations are pretty straightforward, so naming the causes of crying upon waking is a easier – for example, if your baby’s dummy falls out, he may very well be pretty frustrated that he can’t put it back in, and that then lead to tears!

However, some other sleep associations are less easy to spot as the cause of crying upon waking. If you normally rock or nurse your baby to sleep, she may cry when she wakes up because she’s no longer moving and/or sucking. Similarly, if you typically hold your baby for sleep, she may cry if she wakes up in her crib and is no longer behind held.

Beyond these more obvious reasons, there is something to remember: we all wake up briefly between sleep cycles from time to time. Our babies are no different. Sometimes, your baby may wake slightly and cry between sleep cycles. This is often the cause of those weird 2 minute crying spells that you sometimes may hear in the middle of the night, or during a nap. Do you know what I mean? Those times when you hear a cry, but by the time you’re up and moving toward baby, she’s already fallen back to sleep? The cause there is just brief waking during sleep cycles that happens to be accompanied by some fussing.

This then goes hand-in-hand with the next point: for some children, this waking up crying is a sign that they aren’t really done sleeping yet, and need more rest. We suspect this has something to do with temperament – while some babies might wake too early from sleep and be fairly quiet and content, others will just wail. This was the case for Samatha:

“With my first-born, if he woke up crying, it 90% of the time meant that he was not done sleeping. He may have awakened in between sleep cycles and had trouble going into the next one.”

So in these cases, it is best to wait a minute or two sometimes when you hear crying that you suspect is just waking between sleep cycles – sometimes, your baby will go right back to sleep. Or, even if you ultimately to go in to comfort your baby, you’ll know that the goal should be to help baby get back to sleep, because he isn’t fully rested yet.

Finally, keep in mind that some babies and toddlers, for that matter, will even cry after waking although they are fully rested. Some babies will wake up from a marathon nap crying, or will wake after a long night of peaceful sleep just wailing. In these cases, the problem is most likely that the child just needs a bit of time to fully wake up. ( I know adults like this – I’m one of them, 😉 I don’t wake up crying, but I do need plenty of time and space to fully wake up!) In these cases, you can try simply cuddling your child, or offering a small snack or a favorite toy, and allowing your child to slowly wake up.

So, in short, if your baby often wakes up crying, you’ll want to evaluate the reasons. If it’s not something that requires immediate attention, like hunger, or an uncomfortable diaper or illness, then evaluate whether or not it may be a sleep association. To do that, you’ll want to think about how your child falls asleep (in your arms, in the rocker?), and then compare that to how your child is waking up (in the cot, alone?). Finally, keep in mind that temperament makes a difference, too – it may just be that crying is one way that your child lets you know he’s not done sleeping, or it may be that your child is one who needs to wake up slowly, and is going to fuss a bit while he does it! 😉

If you suspect that sleep associations are causing the problem, you may wish to consider sleep training – this will help your baby gradually learn a new way to sleep, that will not involve negative sleep associations. If you need help with sleep training, you can check out our website or facebook pages you can get one-on-one help with Dream Sleep Club expert sleep consultant. Whenever you choose to change your sleep routines, know that you can overcome negative sleep associations and help your baby or toddler sleep through the night – and Lisa Gargaro can help J