Your baby’s first year is a huge period of growth and change. One of the most noticeable changes from birth to the 1st birthday is their teeth! Those adorable pearly whites are actually present under the gums in utero, but they’ll need to make their way to the surface. As you can imagine, this process can cause some unpleasant symptoms for your little one.
Teething is one of the most obvious signs of growth and development during your baby’s first few years. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges. For babies and parents, teething also means pain, crying, and lots of drool. And what about sleep? Do babies sleep more when teething?
When do babies start teething?
The American Dental Association (ADA) explains that babies usually have 20 teeth under the gums at birth. Considering these teeth will all be out and proud by age 3, that’s a lot of moving and cutting that happens in a relatively short period of time. These are the teeth your baby is working on in the first year:
- The central incisors on the bottom usually poke out first between 6 and 10 months. These are the two bottom teeth in the center of your baby’s mouth. Next up are the central incisors on the top, which appear more around 8 to 12 months.
- After that, the lateral incisors — which bookend the central incisors — erupt in the opposite pattern (top first, then bottom). This typically happens around 9 to 13 months and 10 to 16 months, respectively.
- The first molars tend to appear next, both sets coming in between 13 and 19 months.
Keep in mind that your baby’s teeth will appear on their own unique schedule. Some babies may start to get teeth as early as in the first couple months of life. Others may not see much happening until closer to the 1-year mark. And, sometimes they don’t follow the usual order.
It’s a good idea to schedule your baby’s first dental appointment shortly after their first tooth appears, or no later than their 1st birthday. Your child’s pediatrician may also examine their teeth at annual well visits to look for signs of decay.
Teething and sleep
Most information focused on sleep and teething indicates that budding teeth disrupt sleep habits. In one study, over 125 sets of parents reported on their babies’ teething habits, covering a whopping 475 tooth eruptions. One of the most common complaints? Wakefulness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also mentions that the pain from teething may be enough to wake a baby from sleep. Beyond that, parents who end up changing their baby’s bedtime routine in response to irritability may make the problem worse. They suggest using some at-home methods to keep the baby comfortable, but to keep the normal bedtime routine for consistency and better sleep.
Does the birth of teeth affect a baby’s sleep?
If a baby or child feels discomfort when teeth are coming in, this can interfere with their quality of sleep or lead to difficulty falling asleep. If the baby has gum pain or other symptoms such as fever or diarrhea, it is normal for them to refuse to feed or to start sleeping worse.
When the baby is not comfortable, he loses his appetite and cannot fall asleep or maintain sleep through the night due to the pain and the need to relieve it. However, difficulty falling asleep can be due to a number of factors.
If your baby used to sleep and eat well and you notice a change in his behaviour now that his teeth are coming in, it is important to see your paediatrician to make sure that this is the real reason and that there is no other problem that is bothering and interfering with your child’s routines.
Does teething make babies sleep more?
Generally, babies won’t sleep more during teething. If they are sleeping more, the sleepiness might be more related to a symptom instead of the actual process of teething. Acute fevers, for example, tend to make babies a bit sleepier.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually suggests the opposite, stating that the level of pain or uncomfortability from teething can be enough to wake a baby from their naps or from overall sleep. Also, if parents start to change their baby’s daytime and bedtime routines to accommodate changes due to teething, that can inadvertently lead to less sleep.
Every baby is unique
If you’re wondering whether it’s normal for your baby to either be getting more sleep, or losing sleep, it’s also important to remember that every baby is unique in their growth and development. This is especially true when it comes to teething. Some babies will experience much more discomfort, while others might not even be fazed at all. The impact of teething generally depends on which teeth are erupting along with how many teeth are coming in at a time.
Also, it’s believed that genetics plays another role in terms of how a baby is affected by teething. If an older sibling is hardly bothered by teething, for example, it’s likely that you’ll see those same patterns in younger siblings.
Do babies ever sleep more while teething? It’s possible.
According to the popular baby website The Baby Sleep Site, some parents have anecdotally reported that their kids do sleep more during particularly severe teething episodes. In a way, they say, the teething can act like a bad cold and make your baby feel under the weather. These claims aren’t backed by formal studies or mentioned by leading pediatric organizations. If your child is excessively sleepy, you may want to call your pediatrician to rule out other causes.
Could the nocturnal restlessness be something else?
If your child is not experiencing teething symptoms other than restlessness, the interrupted sleep may be due to other factors. Ear infections or colds also disrupt sleep, so if you suspect your baby may be ill, call your paediatrician.
Reaching new milestones, such as crawling or standing can also disrupt your baby’s sleep. This is because he is so excited to learn these new skills that he wants to practice all the time! Another trigger can be anxiety about a separation or sudden change.
Other reasons your baby might be sleeping more
Your little one might be sleeping more than usual for a number of reasons that aren’t related to teething. According to KidsHealth, babies grow an average of 10 inches and triple their birth weights in the first year.
In one study, researchers explored the link between sleep and growth. Their findings? Babies see an increase in both the number of sessions (naps or bedtimes) of sleep, as well as the total duration of sleep when they are going through growth spurts. The longer the sleep session, the greater the growth.
Otherwise, illness can sometimes masquerade as teething. Here are some ways to identify if your baby has a cold versus a new tooth on the way.
- Runny nose? Teething mucus or drool doesn’t run out of the nose. If your child has a runny nose, they may have a cold.
- Fever? Teething doesn’t usually produce a fever. If your little one’s temperature is above 101˚F, it may indicate a viral or bacterial infection.
- Ear-pulling? This action might be more related to teething than an actual infection. If your baby is pulling or grabbing at their ear and also very fussy, you may want your doctor to check both the teeth and ears.
- Getting worse? Teething symptoms are typically mild. If your baby seems to be getting sicker, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
Relieving the discomfort caused by teething
To ease the discomfort caused by the birth of the first teeth you can try some commonly recommended strategies:
- Offer a silicone disc (which you can buy at the pharmacy and put in the fridge to cool) for your baby to bite;
- Regularly clean and moisturise the skin of the mouth and chin to prevent the formation of sores caused by excess saliva;
- Apply a specific gel/balm for the baby’s gums (ask your paediatrician for advice);
- If the baby refuses to eat solids (which can hurt the gums, which are already weakened by the eruption of teeth), ask the paediatrician if it is necessary to reinforce feeding or increase the number of feeds or feeding bottles.
Babies go through a lot of change in the first year. Teething is just another one of those milestones in a line of many. Though it’s normal to feel anxious or worried if your little one is acting differently, rest assured that this stage will soon pass and your baby will have a beautiful smile to show for all the struggle.