Wondering what to do when your overtired baby won’t stop crying? Break the cycle and help your newborn catch up on sleep with these tips!
I was in actual tears from frustration.
No matter how tired he was, my newborn baby would fight his sleep, kicking and squirming when he realized he was drifting off. He’d jolt and buck himself awake the closer he got to falling asleep.
He was the type that would get overstimulated easily and would startle with every creak and sound. And despite putting him down at the first sign of sleepiness, I still couldn’t manage to get him back on track with his naps.
It seemed like a lose-lose situation. Putting him to sleep was making him cry, but I also couldn’t let him not sleep, either. And so, the overtired cycle continued.
What to do when your overtired baby won’t stop crying
You may also be at your wit’s end, wondering how to stop and break the cycle of an overtired baby.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant crying, feeling like nothing you do is working. Your baby just cries and cries and never seems happy despite his drowsiness and fatigue. He keeps waking up any time he comes close to sleeping, and you can’t even get the basics done without him screaming.
You understood having a baby would be rough and that you wouldn’t get much sleep, but you can’t exactly survive on no sleep. And if he’s too young for self-soothing, what are you supposed to do in the meantime? Will he eventually sleep?
Don’t worry, mama. Rest assured that what you’re going through is normal, especially if your pediatrician doesn’t see any worrisome signs. While you won’t be getting 11-12 hours of sleep straight just yet, you can try a few tricks to get him to stop crying and finally fall asleep.
Here’s what worked for me, and I hope these tips work for you, too:
1. Watch the clock, not sleep cues
I felt like the most clueless mom when I couldn’t for the life of me seem to spot any signs of an overtired newborn. While other moms could tell the difference between their babies’ cries, I could barely tell that mine was getting sleepy.
Just when I thought I finally saw a sleep cue, he was already overtired to sleep well.
Then I learned that, instead of looking for newborn sleep cues, I could also watch the clock instead. Your little one can only stay awake for a short time—as little as 45 minutes—before needing another nap. And with feeling overtired to begin with, you can shorten that time even more to play catch up.
Only once he’s about three to six months old can his wake windows stretch to about two hours or so. Before then, aim for a max of 90 minutes at a time, and err on the side of even less time than that.
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2. Change things up
Nothing is worse than doing the same thing over and over and still not getting the results you want. That was pretty much me as I sat on a yoga ball bouncing my baby to sleep, hoping he’d finally knock out. Even though he wouldn’t stop crying, I’d still bounce and rock even more, hoping he eventually would.
Instead, I learned the importance of changing things up. For instance, you can:
- Change the way you put your baby to sleep. Maybe it’s trying a new way like walking around with a baby wrap or putting her in the swing. You might take her out on the stroller or even drive her around in the car seat. You could turn on white noise or shushing during the bedtime routine. Having a checklist of different go-to strategies hanging on a wall can help break you out of your rut. When one method isn’t working, try another one.
- Take a break. She can feel your energy. You might be better off putting her down in a safe place (like the crib) to grab that shower and feel refreshed than continue to rock her and feel upset or resentful. A break can also mean a new change in scenery, like carrying her in your arms and stepping outside for fresh air.
- Don’t put her to sleep. Does she cry even though you’re doing what had worked in the past? I realized that I had to stop putting my baby to sleep when he’d cry the whole time despite my efforts. Experiment and see what happens if you don’t do what you normally do and give your baby the chance to settle on her own. Her constant, inconsolable crying could be a sign that she may not like being put to sleep.
3. Feed your baby
There were times when I felt resentful for being the only one who could feed my breastfed baby. Not my husband, nor my mom, but me. I felt glued to him, unable to run a simple errand should he cry and need to feed. I kept stretching his feed times, hoping he’d settle on a sleep schedule.
Except I learned that babies usually cry because they’re hungry. Yes, it can feel constricting having to feed your baby after it seems like he had just fed, or that feeding him seems to be the only way to get him to stop crying.
But he may be hungry, especially if he’s going through a growth spurt. Don’t discount his actual need for milk when he’s crying endlessly. This might be his way of letting you know he’s hungry, or even a way to increase your milk supply.
How can you tell if he’s hungry or if he’s simply sucking for comfort? Check to see if he’s eating. His throat should be moving if he’s actually swallowing, and he’ll likely make gulping sounds as he drinks.
You can also try a pacifier. If he takes to one, he may just need to comfort suck, but if he spits it out in frustration, he’s likely hungry.
Remind yourself that constant breastfeeding is temporary, especially during growth spurts. Once he’s caught up on eating and sleeping, you won’t always be breastfeeding him this often.
4. Keep your baby warm
Wondering how to calm your suddenly cranky baby? Depending on your current weather, a simple way to calm a crying, overtired baby is to keep him extra warm. For instance, a few ways to provide that warm comfort include:
- Giving him a relaxing warm bath. Dim the bathroom lights, keep the room heated, and give him a nice, warm bath.
- Place a heating pad on his crib. Then, a few minutes before you plan to set him down, remove the pad so that the mattress feels nice and warm. Always check that it’s not too hot.
- Swaddle him in a warm blanket. Place a blanket in the dryer to warm it up, then wrap it around your baby. Again, make sure it’s not too hot.
If you’re overwhelmed because your overtired baby won’t stop crying, you’re not alone, mama. I’ve been there and know all too well the exasperation and loneliness you might be feeling.
Thankfully, you’re not stuck, either. You can create the healthy sleep habits you want. Start by putting him down for nap time by the clock instead of keeping him awake for too long. Change things up, whether it’s how you put him to sleep to taking a much-needed quick break.
Don’t discount his constant feeding—he could be going through a temporary growth spurt. And finally, try keeping him warm as a way to relax him into sleep, like with a warm bath or a blanket.
You can even combine these tricks, like giving him a warm bath, feeding on demand, and keeping his wake times shorter than usual to help him catch up on sleep.
No matter what, know that this is normal—yes, even your tears of frustration.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your 3 Week Old Baby Won’t Sleep Unless Held
- How to Get an Overtired Newborn to Sleep
- Newborn Not Sleeping? 9 Tricks to Help Your Baby (Finally!) Sleep
- What to Do When Your Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up
- What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Nap Unless Held
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