An over tired baby can be difficult to get to sleep, keep asleep and to feed. Let me talk about sleep patterns, settling and feeding of over tired babies.
When babies are tired they may: yawn, have jerky movements, clench their fists, and grimace into a cry. As they grow older these may change to include: louder vocalizing, increased irritability, rubbing of eyes and perhaps rubbing an ear or pulling at their ears. These are all signals for you to put your bub to bed. In my experience, however, these cues are often missed and the bub becomes over tired.
Over tired babies have a sleep pattern that indicates more sleep is needed. An over tired baby will usually be difficult to settle and startle awake shortly after falling asleep. More often than not the baby will wake crying, but then resettle soon after. Most babies will sleep for a short interval; I call this a ‘catnap’ or ‘powernap’. Catnaps are about 20 to 40 minutes long and bub wakes crying. The crying does not mean ‘get me up Mum’, but rather that bub is still tired and needs sleep. The deeper sleep stage is at least 1 to 2 hours and follows the catnap stage. As discussed in previous articles, when bub initially wakes crying you need to STOP, ASSESS, and ACT. Give bub the chance to go back to sleep.
Very over tired babies find it difficult to self settle. Remember, it is HOW a baby cries, not how long. Often a baby will cry/fuss before going to sleep. Keep in mind that crying is communication and often it is not a ‘help me’ cry, rather a ‘I’m tired and need to sleep’ cry. They are allowed to fuss a bit before going to sleep. If the crying escalates, becomes intense and stays intense, do go into help soothe. Please, do NOT time the crying. When I do home calls, I like demonstrating the intervention. I find demonstrations give parents a better idea of exactly what I mean.
Feeding an over tired baby often results in them not feeding well. They may pull off the breast, arch their back and cry. This behaviour is often mistakenly interpreted as signs of ‘Reflux’. Another common, but not always accurate interpretation, is low milk supply. A formula fed baby may simply fall asleep sucking or fusses and tries to push the teat out. Differentiating between over tired behavior, reflux and low milk supply can be difficult. In some cases, to assess for a medical condition such as Reflux, you may need the help of a medical professional. To help you assess your bub’s behaviour, try listening to the kind of crying bub makes before and after a feed. Write down bub’s feeding and sleep patterns. This may help identify the cause of bub’s over tiredness.
Pay attention to what your bub is tring to tell you. Watch their behaviour and sounds, and you will soon learn when they are ready for bed.