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Toddler waking up at night

toddler waking up at night

My 22 month old daughter is getting her 24 month molars.  For about a week she has been waking up around 1am or 2am and then not going back to sleep, no matter what we do.  She normally goes to sleep on her own and sleeps all night.  We have tried holding her, trying to calm her by rocking, I have tried pain medicines, teething tablets, and benadryl and nothing works!  We have even let her cry-it-out and she cried off and on for two to three hours and never went to sleep (this is very unusual for her!).  The only way we have been able to get her back to sleep is by putting her in the bed with us.  She definitely has separation anxiety and I'm assuming that is related to the teething.  I know this will eventually go away, but my question is what to do in the meantime??  I don't want her to get in the habit of sleeping with us (I have done this for two nights now), but we are all in desperate need of sleep and don't know what else to do!  Do you have any suggestions?

I’m sorry to hear your daughter is waking up at night. Teething is a common cause of fussiness and can disturb a child’s sleep. Our children have struggled more with their molars than their other teeth. Typically, teething causes pain for 2 to 4 days then resolves for a week or so. While I agree that teething is a likely cause - How do you know this is teething? Even if you can see your daughter’s molar cutting through the gums, this could be teething and an ear infection. My first recommendation is to take her to see her doctor.

A few sleep questions. It sounds like your daughter normally falls asleep completely on her own. Children who have not learn to fall asleep by themselves often wake in the middle of the night and are unable to return to sleep. What is her nap schedule? Most children her age should be down to one nap a day. Don’t let her nap later than 4 pm. Stay with a consistent evening routine.

Our children have bad nights too. Our Gordon family rule is that crying or scared children are allowed to sleep in our bed one night - but never two nights in a row. This rule has served us well as we have so far avoided developing bad nighttime habits. Honestly, our children very rarely climb into our bed.

If your doctor “clears her” and agrees it only her teeth. I would try some of the very same things you have already tried in the first two nights. Try to increase her outdoor play time, feed her healthy familiar foods and try a dose of ibuprofen prior to bedtime. A dose of ibuprofen should eliminate her pain and your concern about her pain for 6 to 8 hours. Soon enough her teeth will be in and this will pass. As long as you know she is not in pain it is better to let her cry all night than to repetitively bring her into your bed. Don’t let her waking become a nightly routine.


Follow up - 2 weeks later

After around two weeks of waking up and not going back to sleep, my 22 month old slept through the night a couple of nights and then started waking up again. She is still waking up a couple of times at night (not every night), but now I just walk in and tell her to lay back down and go to sleep and she does. Her molars are still not in yet, so we may have some more long nights ahead of us. It was helpful to know that I can expect ibuprofen to work for 6 to 8 hours and that it is better for her to cry rather than put her in the bed with us. Thank you!




Written January 2012 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician






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