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Bedtime is one of the hardest parts of the day for parents of newborns, if not THE toughest time. You’re already tired from looking after them in the day and often they can take a while to get to sleep and then proceed to wake up crying several times in the night. This is by far the biggest cause of parental stress and depression, in our opinion.
As adults, we generally love sleep. We enjoy the wind-down and then feeling rested in the morning…so why don’t babies like it? Why do babies tend to cry before sleep? Shouldn’t they also be eager to get their head down after a hard day’s babying?
It’s worth noting that babies do not do this on purpose, they do not cry simply to get at their parents – it’s simply a primitive communication method.
This article explores this common behaviour babies share during the bedtime routine and perhaps help you make it a little bit more manageable for everyone involved.
Causes of babies crying before they go to sleep
They don’t want to be away from you (and crying is the only way they can express it)
Newborn babies who have just been thrust into the world have not known anything but the comfort of the womb for 9 months and quite frankly the real word is not comparable. It’s cold, loud and bright. When they’re born they are a little anxious and can become attached quickly to their parents, usually the mother. Bedtime is perhaps one of the most anxious times and one where they may be placed in a cot away from the parent which can cause distress and result in crying.
Your baby is missing your touch and smell which is unsettling and they are simply crying for this to return. For sleep to happen melatonin needs to be produced and this hormone is blocked when the stress hormone cortisol is produced – simply put, if your baby is upset or anxious they will have a hard time falling asleep.
This is completely normal behaviour – a baby SHOULD want to be with their mums and dads all of the time, especially at bedtime. Until the age of around 7 months, however, babies do not understand the concept of something being in another room if they are not in front of them – they will not understand ‘I’m just in another room’ as their brain hasn’t matured enough to grasp that concept.
This is quite an intense period of time, especially for parents of firstborns but as most parents will tell you – it does get better.
There is little you can do here other than giving them the attention they crave, it might not settle them instantly but it will in time. However, it’s important to create a solid bedtime routine as soon as possible where the same thing happens every night – this can help produce melatonin and not cortisol. Your baby will start to learn what’s happening and understand that everything is OK and his parents are always there for them even if not right next to them.
As if your problems weren’t bad enough, around 7-8 months of age babies can begin to grasp what it means for someone to not be there and for them to be alone. This can make them cry before going to sleep because they feel like they’re being abandoned which will leave you to have to come and comfort them again, which is exhausting.
Again, this is a perfectly normal response from a baby of such a young age. They have known nothing but their parents for so long as they are simply not old enough to simply self soothe. It’s no surprise that this is a common age for disillusioned parents to consider the dreaded ‘cry it out’ method. It is intense having to constantly soothe a child in the middle of the night when you are so tired of yourself. Understanding the situation and what the baby is going through can make a huge difference. Remember, babies do not cry and wake you up for the sake of it, their brains are not capable of ‘revenge’.
There’s not much you can do other than to continue with the bedtime routine, never make any massive changes and perhaps most importantly – be there for your child. Give them lots of love and cuddles and in time they will learn to self soothe from understanding that you are always there for them. Is this the easiest method for parents? Hello no! But is it best for your baby’s mental development which can affect them for the rest of their life? Hell yes.
Cry it out, sadly, teaches the baby the opposite – they will learn not to cry because they know no one is coming from them, but that is an article for another time.
They aren’t tired yet
Have you ever tried going to bed when you’re wide awake and nowhere near tired? Your baby may be crying to tell you that they’re confused as to why they’re being put in a dark room to go to sleep. Babies may not be able to walk and run around but they still need as much stimulation as possible during the day and a solid bedtime routine in the night.
If you find that your baby has napped maybe a little too much in the day and hasn’t done much when they have been awake then this might be a reason why they cry before sleep for you. Try bringing toys, playmats, jumpers, door bouncers and so on into the mix during the day to get them knackered.
Hungry babies are upset babies and until they can talk the only way they can tell you is to cry. Adults can also ‘act out’ when they’re hungry but at least an adult can do something about it whereas a baby can’t.
Babies aren’t necessarily hungrier at night time, but if they are hungry they will find it hard to sleep as hunger is an annoying feeling which blocks melatonin and will make it less likely to sleep for long stretches. For an easier time to get baby to sleep without tears, make sure they’re well-fed during the day and offer them some healthy foods during the bedtime routine. A nice cup of warm milk or yoghurt are good choices to help your baby have a full tummy and one less possible cause of why babies cry before they go to sleep.
Don’t overfeed them as this can have the opposite effect and what we aren’t fans of hungry milk.
Have you ever noticed when you have a cold it always seems worse at night time? That’s when your nose seems more blocked than usual and you feel hotter or colder? Well, babies who are under the weather probably go through the same thing. And, it’s fair to say babies are unwell often due to their immature immune system.
There’s not an awful lot you can do and you’re likely to get tears before bed one way or another. But, using medicines such as Calpol/Nurofen and offer lots of love and hugs can make things go a lot better.
When you have a baby it will feel like they are teething every single day because of the crying, at times. However, teething is a legitimate cause of crying before sleep because teething does seem to be more uncomfortable in the night time. You can’t magic teething pain away but you can make it a little more comfortable with Calpol, pacifiers, comforter something to chew on and of course, hugs and kisses.
Babies really do cry often before sleep and as you can see above it will feel like it if it’s not one thing then it’s another. As such, the best advice anyone can give a parent during this period of time is to be patient and be there for your child and it will soon pass. Don’t rush in and do anything drastic or draconian to try and magic away a behaviour which quite frankly is perfectly normal and should be expected.