Despite many professionals claiming that teething doesn’t affect sleep patterns or behavior, I couldn’t disagree more. A tooth erupting through the surface of the gums creates a localized inflammatory response, consequently triggering an immune response. Symptoms of illness may present if bacteria enters the inflamed/open gums – extremely common due to the fact that babies at these times chew on anything and everything they can find.
Depending on the child, their age, temperament, which teeth, and how many are coming through at a time, the pain and effect on sleep and behavior can vary in intensity, and length of time. From personal experience with my own three children, and from the accounts of hundreds of parents I have worked closely with, the physical and emotional symptoms, albeit varied, are real: fever, drooling, biting, diarrhea, vomiting, diaper rash, sleeplessness, hyperactivity, teeth grinding, irritable behavior, fatigue, fears, anxiety, croup, ear and/or throat problems, sinus congestion, a runny nose or even a cough.
As such, many sleeping difficulties and undesirable sleep habits commonly develop when a child is teething or unwell. Try not to become too disheartened if you experience that your routine, consistency, and resolve seems to go south at these times. You can help to minimize the impact of these “teething pains” on their sleep (and yours) by taking the following into consideration.
How long does teething take?
Whilst babies can grow their first tooth as early as three months, and some as late as 12 months, the average age to cut their first tooth is between six and seven months. Most children will have all of their milk (baby) teeth by two-and-a-half years.
Depending on the individual, their age, which teeth and how many are coming through at a time; the pain and effect on sleep and behavior may be experienced for one day to a week (or more).
Signs and symptoms:
- Red cheeks.
- Red swollen gums.
- Chewing or biting… on everything.
- White buds visible in gums.
- Rash on face and/or chin.
- Nappy rash.
- Runny stools.
- More frequent bowel movements at all different times of the day (including nap times and in the middle of the night).
- Increased clinginess, irritability, crying.
- Loss of appetite.
- Slight temperature.
- Pulling at ears.
Effects on sleep:
- General unsettledness or wakefulness at sleep times.
- Catnapping or shorter sleeps than usual
- Difficulty settling at naps and bedtime.
- Frequent waking in the hours immediately following bedtime.
- Waking in the early hours and difficulty settling back to sleep.
- Early rising.
- Increased overnight waking – symptoms of teething and illness are
usually worse toward the end of the day and overnight.
- Tune into your child’s tired cues and maintain a consistent day and night routine to avoid your baby becoming overtired. Discomfort/pain and irritability plus overtiredness is often a recipe for disaster!
- Optimize the sleep environment. Elevating the mattress head slightly can reduce the pressure and discomfort from teething and congestion from colds – as opposed to lying flat.
- Connect. All children experience some element of insecurity, frustration, discomfort and overwhelm at such times. To counteract this, it is important that we incorporate some quality time into our day to help them feel safe and loved. Because children offload uncomfortable feelings through crying (and tantrums), if we can hold a loving and supportive precence or them to release these by day, they will have less need to do so overnight.
- Administer pain relief where necessary, upon the advice of your healthcare provider. Most effective if given 30 minutes before sleep times.
- Encourage wind-down time with consistent and positive sleep associations before bed. 10-15 minutes before naps and 30-60 minutes at the end of the day to prevent overtiredness and ensure your child is as relaxed for sleep times as possible.
- Be prepared to spend extra time sitting beside your child’s bed to help them to fall asleep or back to sleep when they may wake prematurely from naps or overnight – many children will have an increased desire for comfort and closeness when in pain or discomfort. Handle any regression if, and when it happens.
- Teething rings/toys. The pressure on your child’s teeth from chewing may relieve their pain temporarily.
- Baltic amber teething necklaces. The anti-inflammatory properties in amber may help soothe swollen gums and alleviate pain.
- Edible teething rusks. Only recommended from six months of age, or after solids have been introduced.
- A vaporizer with essential oils, and nasal aspirators can help clear stuffy noses and ease the pain of congestion for sleep times
- Cold fruit/frozen all-fruit icy poles or a cold face washer to suck on can help reduce swelling and numb the pain.
- Your child may prefer soft, liquefied or pureed foods to solids. E.g. smoothies, mashed vegetables, pureed fruit or yogurt. Chewing food can add to teething discomfort and some children lose their appetite, so opt for foods that are easily consumed and digested.
- Breastfeeding is natural pain relief.
- Try holistic remedies. g. homeopathic teething remedies such as gels, tablets and drops (Brauer, Hyland’s, Wrenn and Co. – or ask your local Naturopath).
- Delay any sleep training or other transitions such as night weaning or weaning from the pacifier until your child has recovered fully.
- Be patient. Respond to your child’s needs appropriately, and with love and compassion. This is only temporary, and you can continue with your normal consistency once your child is feeling better.
*Never self-diagnose. Always seek professional advice at times when you are uncertain of your child’s symptoms, or if your child requires assistance (medical and/or natural) to ease pain or speed up their recovery process. Illness symptoms and solutions can vary greatly, always seek medical advice before making any assumptions or following any recommendations above