When your baby wakes up every two hours through the night, it is a huge drain for you as a parent. 

As new mums we accept that night waking will be an issue, but when it’s still going on so regularly after a few months, we start to lose the plot. 

It’s made worse when you are unsure why your baby keeps waking every two hours. There is no manual that comes with becoming a mother. You have to wing a lot of the decisions. But lack of sleep is probably something you want sorted out immediately, because it impacts on so much of your life.

When my youngest child was six months old I could not believe I was still having this problem! She would sometimes wake up every single hour.

She would breastfeed enthusiastically for about 10 minutes and then nod off on the breast. The cycle began again two hours later, usually when I myself had only just managed to get back to sleep.

The only thing that finally improved was when I stopped offering her milk at night. This didn’t happen until she was 13 months old. It was a very welcome relief!

Sleep deprivation is the worst bit of the first year with a baby, so when your baby is waking every two hours and it’s been going on for several months, you’re going to want to do something about it!

So, to help you understand why your baby is waking, here are some of the causes and solutions to get your baby sleeping for longer stretches.

Sleep regression

The dreaded sleep regression. If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to a period where your baby sleeps for less time and is harder to settle to sleep. Basically, it’s hell!

If your baby hasn’t been sleeping great for a long, long time, if ever, then you can count regression out. However if it’s been going on for a couple of weeks, then it could be a sleep regression. 

Sleep regressions are where a child who was sleeping well suddenly sleeps for shorter spells and is much harder to settle.

They leave you wondering what you may have done differently to change what was a good routine. Rest assured, it is nothing that you have done wrong and it is totally natural.

Sleep regressions can actually be linked to big developmental leaps your baby is going through. For example they may have started to co-ordinate their movements much better or they may have started to learn new words to babble.

Many parents notice a sleep regression at four months, and this one can be especially brutal as it hits when you were just starting to get to grips with your baby’s naps and sleep.

There can also be a regression at eight months, which could be tied to your baby learning new skills such as crawling and eating solid food. 

What can you do about it?

Keep up the bedtime routine – even if your baby is not going to bed at the usual time. 

Give your baby the chance to settle themselves to sleep, but do not beat yourself up when you have to rock or feed to sleep.

Check out my post on sleep regressions. 

Growth spurt

Signs of a growth spurt include increase in appetite, being fussier and a change in sleep patterns. 

Your baby may seem to eat and eat but never quite be getting enough. A growth spurt lasts from a day to around a week, so it’s fairly short lived!

What can you do about it?

Ride it out. A growth spurt is very natural and your baby is responding to their body’s need for extra calories. If they want to feed, let them feed. 

Snack habit

A snacking baby will eat little and often. It can be exhausting for a parent, and means they spread their feeds out over a 24 hour period, so they are waking frequently in the night to feed their snack habit. 

In newborns, this little and often behaviour is totally normal. They have such tiny stomachs when they are born, so please do not worry about a snack habit in the first three months. As long as your baby is gaining weight and producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies, they are fine. 

If your baby is feeding for just a few minutes at a time, then hungry an hour later and they are more than a few months old, you probably have a snacking baby on your hands.

What can you do about it?

Encourage your baby to eat for longer. If they are nodding off on the breast or bottle, keep them awake by any means necessary. You could tickle their feet or strip them right down to their nappy to cool them down, as being warm tends to make it easier for them to nod off. 

Distract your baby between feeds with a walk, a game or other activity. Try to create a gap of two to three hours (for an older baby of five months plus this will be around four hours) between feeds so that when your baby comes to eat they take a full feed. 

Getting bulk of calories at night

Babies are born without any awareness of day and night, so they can get into a habit of eating all of their main meals at night. 

This could be because your baby is too distracted during the day by all of the fun things they are experiencing to remember to eat, so they save it for night time when it’s nice and quiet. 

What you can do about it

Reverse your baby’s internal clock by helping them to focus on their feeds during the day. Carry out feeds in a quiet environment where they aren’t going to be distracted by other things. 

Keep a diary of your baby’s feeds and try to ensure they get the bulk of their milk requirement during the daylight hours. This website is great for calculating how much milk your baby should be drinking. 

Keep night feeds quiet, with the lights down low and try to get your baby back to sleep immediately. 

Check out this post about helping a breastfed baby to sleep through. 

Not enough daytime sleep

It’s bizarre, but when a baby is overtired, their sleep tends to be terrible. It’s a delicate balancing act, because too much daytime napping will also impact on the night sleep. 

In order to figure out if your baby is getting enough, or too much, daytime sleep, keep a diary for a few days of nap times and how long they lasted. 

What can you do about it?

Check out this baby nap chart which breaks down how much sleep your child be getting in the day and at night by age.

Work on the naps. Try to get your baby on a nap schedule. As a general rule, a four-month-old baby will need to sleep for around four hours during the day. This would be broken down into one longer nap and two to three shorter naps spread out across the day. 

Figure out a routine. I’ve written a post all about baby routines based on the EASY baby books by Tracy Hogg. Do check it out for sample routines for your baby!

Habitual waking

Once your baby gets to around four months, their brains have matured to the point where sleeping is not quite so easy for them to achieve any more. 

This is where habits can form and your baby starts to rely on certain things to get to sleep during the night

What can you do about it?

Once your baby gets to around five to six months, you can start to think about sleep training. I have a post all about sleep training and the different methods out there. 

Try to break the habit by encouraging your baby to fall asleep on their own. If you do not like the idea of your baby crying, you can try gentle sleep training. 

Wake to sleep. This might seem counterintuitive, but some experts swear by waking your baby an hour before their usual night waking. You don’t actually want them to fully wake up, What you’re trying to do is stir them into a lighter sleep, which should then trigger another sleep cycle that helps them go on for longer and eventually this will break the habitual waking. 

You may not want to do anything at all. If you are happy with rocking, cuddling and feeding your baby to sleep, then continue to do so. You may start sleep training at a later date if that is what you want. 

Whether or not you need to actually do anything about it is down to you and whether you are being overwhelmed by the lack of sleep. If you’re happy with the way things are, there’s no rule saying you have to do anything, as long as your baby is getting enough hours of sleep to keep them healthy.

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