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Is teething causing your baby's sleep issue?

Your baby will usually start to cut their first tooth at around 6 months of age and will continue teething until 3 years of age. And no, you don’t have to be sleep-deprived for 3 years due to teething.


I hear it so often from other mothers, ‘my little one slept terribly last night because he’s teething’. And sure, teething can be painful for your baby and can somewhat disrupt sleep, but teething is usually not the reason why your baby is up crying at night.


Blood pressure is lower when your little one is asleep, meaning pain is also reduced. So if your baby was happy during the day, they will not suddenly start waking up at night because of teething related pain.


Most ‘teething’ symptoms are a myth


Common symptoms attributed to teething are sleep disruption, fever, diarrhea, feeding issues, cough, vomiting, and rashes. But a study published in 2000 found that most of these symptoms are not due to teething. These symptoms can often mean that something more serious is going on so it is important to consult your doctor whenever your little one suffers from any of these.


Teething is much more likely to cause drooling, thumb sucking, gum rubbing, and temporary loss of appetite but there is no conclusive evidence to support this. In order to rule out a serious illness not related to teething it is very important to seek medical treatment whenever your little one shows signs of illness.


How to help your baby relieve pain from teething


  • You can give your little one a cold teething ring or washcloth to chew on to help them relieve pain from teething.

  • Over the counter pain relief such as Panadol or Nurofen can help as well but be sure to always follow your pharmacist's or GP's advice when using these.

  • Offering softer foods can also help with your bubs solid intake while they are teething

How do you know if your baby’s sleep is affected by teething?


You can ask yourself a number of questions to determine whether or not your little one’s sleep is affected by teething but always be sure to consult with a medical professional when your little one is showing signs of illness.


  • Is your baby grizzling during the day?

  • Does your baby normally sleep well?

  • Can you feel a tooth cutting through the gums?

  • Is your baby being fussy with their food?


As mentioned previously if your little one is happy as a clam during the day, teething is most likely not the reason why your bub is not sleeping well at night. Especially if sleep disruptions have occurred over several weeks or even months.


The true reason why your baby’s sleep is disrupted while teething


The true reason why your baby wakes up when they are teething can be found in the way they are settled to sleep at the start of the night. If you feed or rock your baby to sleep, they will need your assistance to go back to sleep when finishing a sleep cycle.


So your baby is most likely waking up at the end of a sleep cycle, notices the tooth pain and cries out (a little more than usual) for help to go back to sleep. So teething did not cause the wake up, rather the fact that your little one has not yet learned to self-settle caused the wake up.

How to maintain good sleep while teething


  • Keep to age appropriate awake windows to avoid your baby getting overtired

  • But your little one to bed earlier if they were not napping well during the day

  • Stick to your normal routine so that your little one’s sleep does not regress after the pain has gone

  • Teach your little one to self-settle and re-settle to help them sleep longer stretches at night and take longer naps


Word of warning


Do not use teething necklaces to help with your little ones teething, they are a huge choking hazard and not worth the risk. There is also no evidence that teething necklaces work.


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Sources


Jones M. Teething in children and the alleviation of symptoms. J Fam Health Care. 2002;12(1):12-3. PMID: 12415773.


Leung AK. Teething. Am Fam Physician. 1989 Feb;39(2):131-4. PMID: 2644784.


Macknin ML, Piedmonte M, Jacobs J, Skibinski C. Symptoms associated with infant teething: a prospective study. Pediatrics. 2000 Apr;105(4 Pt 1):747-52. doi: 10.1542/peds.105.4.747. PMID: 10742315.


Sood S, Sood M. Teething: myths and facts. J Clin Pediatr Dent. 2010 Fall;35(1):9-13. doi: 10.17796/jcpd.35.1.u146773636772101. PMID: 21189758.


Yousif MK. Mothers' false beliefs and myths associated with teething. Qatar Med J. 2020 Dec 9;2020(2):32. doi: 10.5339/qmj.2020.32. PMID: 33329998; PMCID: PMC7724255.


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