Understanding the Nighttime Wakings of Babies: When to Be Concerned

babies and toddlers who cry in their sleep do not necessarily need medical attention

Children over the age of 1 year old are often vivid dreamers - or rather, prone to nightmares.  It is not uncommon for them to cry out while sleeping, sometimes wriggling or thrashing all about without ever awakening.  It can be a little disconcerting when this happens to your child in the middle of the night; but rest assured that no harm will come to your son or daughter despite how it might look.  As long as the crib or bed and the surrounding areas are free from anything your child might bump into or get hurt with, and if he or she is still sleeping while fussing, it is best to let the child sleep. 

Common Illnesses

However, there are times when underlying physical problems cause nightwaking, as well as crying or screaming in the night.  Teething, ear infections, and colic are many times at their worst during the night.  Babies who have colic as infants can easily continue to have it in early toddlerhood, but it will eventually diminish as your child eats more solid foods and has better control over his or her ability to chew, rather than suck at the breast or bottle.  Just as older children and adults can suffer from excess gas through eating or drinking too quickly, so do hungry babies. One way to aid a colicky baby is to perform a tummy massage prior to bedtime, to ease the pressure that is not released through the use of gas drops or by burping.

Arching the back after or during feedings, or upon lying down can indicate Infantile Acid Reflux.  Though there are many doctors who treat this problem with a "wait and see" approach to avoid medicating a young child, there is sometimes no other choice.  If your child also seems irritable, has frequent spit-ups, and sounds raspy when breathing, then reflux could be the case.  As the acid burns the esophagus and stomach, the natural tendency is to arch the back in pain.  Keeping your child from sleeping flat can help alleviate the problem.  You can prop two legs of the crib or bed up to ensure that his or her head is elevated.  As a parent of a child who had IAR within days of being born and had to be on medication, I can tell you that using a baby papasan chair for my daughter to sleep in night or day was helpful.  You can use a carseat, but I definitely prefer the papasan in terms of comfort and functionality.

More Serious Medical Conditions

If your child's stomach feels hard, and there are vast amounts of spit-ups, it is possible that Pyloric Stenosis is to blame.  It is a medical condition where the entrance to the stomach closes, needing prompt corrective surgery.  Although rare, it is seen in infants, rather than toddlers or older children.  While any number of other intestinal disorders and diseases can also affect your child to the extent that he or she is unable to sleep, one that can be hard to diagnose is Celiac Disease, because of its symptoms being similar to other digestive problems.  Celiac Disease is caused by an allergy to glutenous foods - anything from baby cereals to breads.  So definitely if your child has been introduced to solid foods at all, Celiac Disease can't be ruled out.

Non-Medical Reasons

Beyond any of the mentioned reasons as to why your child is an unhappy sleeper, it could be that he or she simply needs a strict bedtime routine.  Your child might cry because of being overly tired, or stimulated from too many activities.  A predictible ritual will help take the stress out of the process, preparing both of your minds for the inevitable.  An early evening walk in the stroller can further aid in the transition before bed.

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