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Teething in babies is something that’s unavoidable and will be the cause of frustration for both the baby and their parents several times over the course of the first year or so.
Tiredness and sleep deprivation is felt throughout the house during a bout of teething, we all know it’s caused by the baby’s broken sleep and frequent waking.
But what many parents are confused with is – if the baby is so tired then why don’t they sleep more and does teething itself cause tiredness?
Teething can cause over tiredness
The symptoms of teething can lead to the baby becoming tired or rather ‘overtired’ and as a result add to the grumpiness and what contributes greatly to the reputation teething has as being awful for all involved.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of teething and why it can cause your baby to be tired.
- Sore gums and pain when the teeth emerging
- A temperature
- Diarrhea (indirectly)
- Excessive breastfeeding for comfort
The above symptoms can cause tiredness for many reasons;
How does teething cause tiredness in babies?
We know from just being in the situation that a teething baby is over tired. They’re grumpy, don’t nap easily or for very long and the night time can be horrible. But why does this happen? When adults are sick and tired themselves they have no problem sleeping and probably sleep more if anything – why won’t babies do the same?
First, because their body is using up more energy to deal with the teething symptoms, their very immature immune system is working overtime to make sure its fighting any infection which can happen around their swollen gums as well as dealing with inflammation in their mouth. You can see this in their flushed cheeks, runny nose, mild temperature, excessive chewing and dribbling. Teething can often seem like a medical cold.
Sleeping would help them out but of course they’re grumpy so they seem like they’re fighting it.
They may have a decreased appetite which means they have less energy to begin with, some babies may even have more of an appetite. For breastfeeding mothers you’ll find that they’re feeding an awful lot more than usual, this is because the boob gives them both comfort and a natural painkiller.
Breastfeeding mothers will find a teething baby more likely to fall asleep at the breast than anywhere else…hopefully you’re in a position where you are able to lay there with them to give them some sleep as this could be a precious nap. Make sure to stock up on nipple cream!
Lastly, a baby’s teething starting to come appear out of the gums and all the symptoms that come with it leads to bad naps and a bad night – and that is because of more serotonin and less melatonin.
Serotonin is a key hormone that regulates mood, it is released when we’re happy and it keeps us happy. If we are stressed, anxious or depress our body can release less of it.
It also regulates bowel movements which is why many parents report diarrhea in a baby’s nappy when they’re teething (because there’s less serotonin to keep the process running smoothly). Serotonin also plays a key part in our sleep by regulating when we wake up naturally – this is one of the biggest reasons why babies can nap for less time than usual and why night time sleeps are all over the place.
To improve serotonin levels, they should be bathed in natural light during the day. You may feel run down yourself and not in the mood to go out but serotonin can be a key ally in your quest to improve teething tiredness. If you really can’t get out then let as much natural light into the house as possible.
The other important hormone for sleep in your poorly teething children is melatonin which can emerge only in darkness. Stress and anxiety caused by teething symptoms can block this hormone from pouring out at night which leads to early wakings and a delay to falling asleep in the first place.
The opposite of serotonin and melatonin – cortisol – can be released in large quantities when children are in extreme stress such as a tantrum or being overtired and then getting upset uncontrollably, when there’s a lot of cortisol present it will inhibit the release of serotonin and melatonin.
This will lead to inability to fall asleep making an tired baby worse.
Tired teething baby tips
As your baby’s teeth come out through the gums it can make them tired and grumpy which leads to being overtired. This is completely normal and medical advice diagnosis or treatment is not necessary nor will it be given unless they had a particularly high fever. Do seek a doctor if this seems to be the case.
It’s going to be rough but it can be softened with some small actions for both you and your baby.
Acceptance – The first tip we can offer is to accept that teething symptoms will happen and you can’t cure it, only make it more manageable for everyone. The sooner you accept that ‘it is what it is’ the better.
Patience – You’re going to need a lot of patience to get through this unharmed. A little patience goes a long way and having parents with a cool head can make things significantly easier.
Look after yourself – You will be able to look after your baby much better through this pain period if you look after yourself. Sleep when baby sleeps, eat healthy food, get plenty of sunshine and exercise and put your health high in the list of priorities.
Sleep – Getting the baby to sleep can be hard as their tooth annoys their gums and they become fussy and resist their usual routine. Look for the tired signs and try to react as soon as possible – take your baby where they sleep best and make sure it’s dark. Getting a really good nap in can make a world of difference to your child’s discomfort and as a result, yours.
Use medication if needed – Your doctor, nurse or pediatrician will recommend something like Calpol, Nurofen or Tylenol to help take the edge off a particularly bad bout of gum pain, drooling and other cold like symptoms. Don’t be afraid to use them but don’t get reliant on them, either. If it is particularly bad and even medication doesn’t seem to do anything don’t be afraid to seek medical advice diagnosis or treatment from a professional.
When your baby’s going through teeth pain it will cause pain and other symptoms which will lead them to become tired – this is perfectly normal and it won’t just happen once, it will keep happening until all of your chid’s milk teeth have come in.
By understanding a little bit about a baby’s physiology and how the tiredness can be managed before it becomes the dreaded ‘overtired’ it allows parents to react differently and manage the process better – it won’t make it all go away but it can help keep you sane until it’s over!