Teething, Colds and Sleep Regressions – Oh My!

What to do when teething, illness, travel or developmental milestones disrupt your child's sleep


"Why is my perfect sleeper all of a sudden waking up and not going back to sleep?"  Sound familiar?  Regressions are unavoidable for our babies. Teething, illness, travel, even developmental milestones, unfortunately can disrupt sleep.  It’s easy to go to the "Get Through the Night" mode and suddenly what you normally practice goes out the window. The phase passes and sometimes the new (not-so-fun) habits stick around.




Teething doesn't disrupt sleep as much as we think it does. Teething can be the go-to excuse that we tend to use, because it's really the only other explanation, right?  Chances are we need to take a look and see if the basic sleep fundamentals are being practiced. This is what may need to be addressed instead.

I'm not saying teething doesn't cause some discomfort. If your child is teething and uncomfortable you can give them a little bit of pain reliever before they go to bed or throw a small washcloth dipped in chamomile tea into the freezer. Having your baby chew on that can bring great soothing relief. If you have to provide some middle- of-the-night comfort, make sure once the teething stops you get right back to normal so your positive sleep routine stays intact.



If your child is really sick, extremely congested, fever, and just down right not feeling well, then do what you have to do to get him through the night, even if it means extra cuddles, sleeping in your arms, and some extra nursing sessions.  I do it with my own kids!  The key is that as soon as he starts feeling better it's right back to your usual routine and soothing method. If not, suddenly you can be stuck in a sleepless cycle and wondering how did we get back here?


Developmental Milestones

It’s not fair that we call some milestones regressions because this is an amazing time for our little ones.  They are learning these fantastic new skills like flipping over, crawling, talking, and walking, but unfortunately the skill of staying asleep may be put on the back burner while they are busy thinking and practicing. Parents need to understand that now isn't the time to start changing things up at night. He doesn't need to be rocked to sleep or nursed to sleep because naps are suddenly disrupted or night wakings appear.  He may need time to figure out this new amazing development – it may last a week or two – but sleep will become the priority again. Stay the course. Don’t let this temporary sleep struggle become a permanent problem. 


The Common Age of Regressions Timeline

The Four-Month Regression

  • Babies begin to sleep more like adults, in sleep cycles. 
  • When in the state of partial arousal babies may need the environment in which they fell asleep to be recreated like being rocked or nursed to sleep. 
  • If parents are ready, at this point babies can be encouraged to fall asleep on their own in their own sleep environment.

The Eight to 10 Month Regression

  • Many developmental milestones are being practiced and mastered like crawling, pulling up, cruising, and walking. 
  • Connections are being made through cognitive development and language comprehension.
  • Trying to master these new skills could disrupt sleep, but the good news is this phase passes and sleep becomes the priority again.

The 18-Month Regression

  • One of the most difficult regressions because disciplining and limit setting may need to be done. 
  • Your child is gaining independence and this new world of eating a yogurt themselves with a spoon, or repeatedly taking off their shirt and trying to put it back on. It is an exciting time for them and they would rather explore than sleep.
  • It’s up to you to keep to your routine as best as possible and wait it out.

If you have been struggling with sleep issues for a while chances are it's because you may need to implement a little bit of sleep training and it's probably not due to regression.  All types of regression will occur to even the best sleepers. Stay consistent with your routine and sleep will return.


Alanna McGinn is a Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site.  She is a mom of 3 (1 + twins!) and is committed to helping families with their baby and toddler sleep needs.  www.goodnightsleepsite.com, @GNSleepSite, www.facebook.com/goodnightsleepsitehttp://pinterest.com/gnsleepsite/


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