You’ve read every book on baby sleep training, divided night shifts between you and your husband,
But that was 6 months ago.
Now your baby still hasn’t slept through the night, you have no idea what you’re doing wrong, and you can’t even enjoy this new, exciting time of your life because all you want to do is sleep.
When your baby is waking every 2 hours, a bone-tired exhaustion sets in. I don’t know what your exact situation is, Mama, but I understand your desperation for a solution.
In this post, we’re going to review a few common causes of night wakings and, most importantly, help you find the easy solutions you can try to help your baby sleep through the night.
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night: 5 Proven Tips
- How to Get Your Baby on the Perfect Sleep Schedule
- 7 Things that Might Be Killing Your Baby’s Sleep
Why is My Baby Waking Up Every 2 Hours?
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. Blunders in Babyland does not diagnose, treat, or give out any professional advice for any medical conditions.
Sleep is a skill.
It’s a skill that, we as caregivers, teach our babies to master. Just like any other skill, some babies naturally excel at sleep, while others struggle at first. If your baby is waking every 2 hours, that does not mean that he is incapable of sleep (depending on his age). It may just mean that he needs a little help.
First, let’s work on expectations. How old is your baby?
When Can a Baby Sleep Through the Night
If your baby is younger than 12 weeks, he may not be physically capable of sleeping through the night yet. But, chances are, you can extend his sleep longer than every 2 hours.
However, if your baby is younger 2 months (i.e., still a newborn), you should know that feedings are extremely erratic at this age. A newborn’s sleep cycle can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
“Troubleshoot” Your Baby’s Night Wakings
Moving forward, let’s just assume that your baby isn’t a newborn and that your baby waking every 2 hours absolutely is preventable.
There are several causes of a night wakings that we can look at it that may improve your baby’s sleep. The trouble is with infant sleep, it can be pretty finicky. Your baby’s poor sleep may be because of one or ALL of these factors.
So, it’s important to troubleshoot your baby’s night wakings. When I dealt with all-of-a-sudden wakings with my daughter, I literally made a checklist to go through that I could log all of the possible factors that could be hindering her sleep.
I know, total new mom move. But you know what? It worked. I was able to track the changes I made to my daughter’s nighttime routine and narrow it down to a growing pacifier addiction and a sensitivity to morning light.
If you want to use the same spreadsheet I created, you can snag it (plus a whole lot of other infant sleep goodies) for free below.
Okay, before we dive into what can be causing your baby’s frequent wakings, let me just ask: how much do you know about infant sleep? Do you feel pretty knowledgeable about the basic foundations of newborn or infant sleep?
If you’ve read a few books (maybe a few posts), and you’ve already done the research then that’s fantastic. You’re prepared to move on to the troubleshooting phase.
If you don’t have a clue about how a baby is supposed to sleep, bedtime routines are so far out of your hemisphere you don’t know where to start, or you feel like you’re drowning right now, now might be a good idea to brush up on your newborn sleep basics. I wrote a post specifically designed to give you the basics.
Or, if your baby is 3 months or younger, you can try Mommy Labor Nurse’s newborn sleep class. It’ll tell you everything you need to know and probably eliminate the troubles you’re experiencing now.
Why Your Baby Wakes Up Every 2 Hours: Common Causes
1 No Bedtime Routine
Believe it or not, what you do before your baby goes down for the night is extremely important.
If your baby is falling asleep whenever (sometimes 8pm, sometimes 9…) with no routine to wind him down, how is he supposed to know that he’s supposed to sleep through the entire night?
Answer: he’s not! He has no clue. An infants’ circadian rhythms (that biological clock that distinguishes night from day) is notoriously underdeveloped. Meaning, he takes most of his nighttime cues from you.
Solution: Implement a Bedtime Routine!
Babies thrive on routines and structure. Truly, they do. In a world that is fresh and new, and maybe just a little scary at times, a routine provides the perfect environment for them to learn the skill of sleep.
Mama, if you struggle with routines in your own life (I get it!), providing a daily and bedtime routine for your baby is not as hard as it sounds. I promise!
You can check out this baby sleep basics post, for ways to get started. Alternatively, if you’re short on time and have zero knowledge on newborn/infant sleep in generally, I highly recommend Mommy Labor Nurse’s newborn sleep class. It’s cheap, quick, and it’ll tell you everything you need to know and probably eliminate the troubles you’re experiencing now.
2. Snack Feeding (“Trained Night Feeder”)
If your baby is waking every 2 hours to nurse in small increments, then congratulations, Mama….you have a snack feeder on your hands.
Snack feeders, also known as trained night feeders, will wake several times a night, just for a snack, whenever the slight inclination hits him.
Snack feeding usually begins as a newborn.
Newborns are notoriously sleepy. So, your newborn might struggle to take a full feedings (at that age, full feedings are usually defined as 20 minutes per breast, or about 3 ounces of formula).
If you let him fall back asleep without a full feeding, he will simply wake up sooner, because his little tummy was never full, and demand another feeding. He falls asleep again, and the cycle continues until he expects frequent, small snacks.
There are several other scenarios that create a snack feeder:
- Leaving a bottle in the crib
- Allowing your baby to suckle randomly
- Allowing your baby to carry sippy cup or bottle with him throughout the day
- Mistaking hunger cues for another issue (E.g. when your baby wakes at the 45 minute mark, feeding him may be reinforcing a deeper sleep issue)
- Nursing for comfort (this can be an especially easy situation to fall in when your baby is teething and nursing can relieve his discomfort)
As you can see, the causes behind snack feeding are pretty innocent, everyday occurrences. So, if you think your baby is a snack feeder, please don’t feel bad.
The Solution: Ensure Full Feedings
Breaking your baby of snack feeding is tough. It will make you and your baby uncomfortable and it will take time.
Try to follow an Eat-Play-Sleep routine. In other words, try to limit feedings to the beginning of your baby’s wake cycle and make sure your baby is getting that nice, long feeding. Don’t let him fall asleep at your breast! Tickle his feet, jiggle your boob, anything you can to make sure his little tummy is full.
If your little snack feeder gives you some push back, I absolutely love The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems’ tutorial for this one.
On page 157, Tracy includes a 3-day plan to transform your baby from a snacker to a great eater (her method is gentle, no-cry sleep training). She also wrote a case study for a baby boy that had this exact same issue and the exact steps she and his parents took to break him of it.
Back to your baby waking every 2 hours at night. Once you fix this problem during the day, your baby will be able to extend his feedings at night.
You can also apply this concept to night feedings to naturally extend the time between feedings.
Related Post: How to Get Your Crazy Baby on a Sleep Routine that Works
3. He’s not Getting Enough Sleep During the Day
Sleep deprivation is a vicious cycle.
When your baby is overtired, cortisol (a stress hormone) builds up in his system. Because of this, he is unable to unwind and find that restorative sleep he desperately needs. Which, of course, causes him to be more tired.
If your baby is waking up every 2 hours and he’s not getting good naps during the day, chances are he’s waking when his sleep cycle attempts to transition into deep, restorative sleep. This is when babies are most susceptible to wakings.
Solution: Make Sure Your Baby Naps Enough During the Day
Babies 2-3 months old should be sleeping roughly 12 hours a day (3-4, 1.5-2 hour naps). If your baby is 4-6 months, he should have a minimum of 3 1.5-2 hour naps a day.
If your baby is taking 45 minute catnaps during the day, he will be tired and have more nighttime disruptions. So, the easiest solution to stop his frequent night wakings, is to settle him into a nap before he becomes exhausted (look for sleep cues!)
But, there is a balance. Try not to let your baby sleep for more than 2-2.5 hours at a time, because that might translate to too much sleep.
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4. He’s Getting Too Much Sleep during the Day
On that note, watch out for letting your baby sleep too much.
You’ll know if your baby is getting too much sleep during the day if he prefers to sleep 3-5 hours at a time during the day but still wakes up during the night every two hours or so.
Night/day confusion can be one factor leading to getting too much sleep during the day.
In the beginning, babies have no concept of night and day. It’ll be a long time before his circadian rhythm kicks in and helps him differentiate when it’s time to sleep or time to party.
It’s our job to help that circadian rhythm develop as quickly as possible.
The Solution: Implement a Consistent 1.5-2 Hour Sleep Schedule
Some mothers find it difficult to wake their baby from a sound nap. After all, if you’re bone-tired, then it goes to follow that you should let your baby sleep!
But, trust me, it really is necessary to provide some parental intervention here.
Once again, try to follow a steady daytime nap routine. (If you need age appropriate sleep schedule samples, I’ve included some in the free bundle below) include a sample schedule for this in my baby sleep packet).
5. Sleep Regression
Even the best sleepers can develop crazy night habits during sleep regressions. Sleep regressions are a phase where your baby’s sleep becomes disrupted due usually developmental leaps or physiological changes.
The most common sleep regressions happen around 4 months (the dreaded 4 month sleep regression), 8-9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years. If your baby is about to hit any of these milestones, there’s a good chance that a sleep regression could be the culprit.
The Solution: Help Your Baby Transition with Varying Techniques
The 4 month sleep regression technically isn’t even a “regression.”
In fact, your baby’s sleep habits are actually maturing. Your baby is trading his coma-like newborn sleep patterns for a standard 45 minute cycle.
The problem is, your baby isn’t used to this new sleep cycle. Every 45 minutes, when your baby transitions into the next level of sleep, he is more susceptible to wakings. If you baby hasn’t learned to self-soothe or he is dependent on a sleep prop, or the temperature in his room isn’t just right, he may wake up.
If your baby is going through the 4 month sleep regression, be patient, help him transition into deeper sleep independently (once again, the Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems is a great resource for 4 month sleep regressions and teaching your baby to self-soothe).
6. Growth Spurt
If your baby has been sleeping great until now and is suddenly waking up for a snack, there’s a good chance he’s going through a growth spurt.
In the early days, you’ll probably notice that your baby goes through a growth spurt every month or so. Some major growth spurts include 4 weeks, 6-8 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months.
The dead giveaway to a growth spurt is hunger.
If your baby is suddenly waking up every 45 minutes and famished, (and your milk supply is fine), he’s probably going through a growth spurt.
You won’t have to wait very long for your suspicions to be confirmed: your baby will grow–fast. My daughter gained almost a pound in a week!
Solution: Feed Your Baby More During the Day
Sometimes, lost sleep due to a growth spurt is unavoidable, but if you can satisfy his caloric needs during the day, you’ll minimize these disruptions.
Implement cluster feedings, add in an extra feed, adjust his 3 hour routine to a 2 hour…whatever you have to to get more calories in him.
7. Habitual Night Wakings
My daughter loved waking up at 3AM on the dot. She was 8 weeks old at the time. After a short nursing session and a little rock, she would go back to sleep.
If your baby is waking up at the same time every night (almost to the minute!) then it’s probably due to habit rather than hunger.
Several things can cause habitual night wakings:
- Your baby’s natural biological clock is stuck (Have you ever woke up at the same time of night for no reason at all? That’s what this is.)
- What once was a hunger waking has turned into habit
- Lack of an established bedtime routine (i.e., it’s time to party!)
- The simple need to cuddle
The Solution: Break the Habit!
I know, easier said than done right? If a baby wakes every 2 hours or at the same time of night, he may not be too happy when you try to switch things up.
First of all, I would stop and wait at least 10 minutes before picking him up. Babies naturally make so much noise in their sleep, your involvement could be the very thing waking him up. So, give it a few minutes and see if he wakes up on his own.
If not, you can implement these methods for breaking him of his habits.
- Let your baby cry: If you’re absolutely sure his waking is not from hunger, illness, injury, or discomfort, you can try Cry-It-Out. It’s effective and quick.
- Use the Pick Up/Put Down: Developed by the Baby Whisperer, this gentle method assures your baby without developing I used this method until my daughter was six months with a ton of success.
- Gradual Elimination: Extending feedings and interact by 5 minute increments
- Wake-to-sleep method: Also from The Baby Whisperer. With this method, you basically rouse (barely) your baby just before she would usually wake up and help her fall asleep again to break the habit.
8. Sleep Props
A sleep prop is any object, person, or thing a baby needs in order to fall asleep. This could be a pacifier, a person, your breast or bottle, a white noise maker, rocking, music….almost anything! On the surface, a sleep prop isn’t so bad. I mean, it gets your baby to sleep, right?
The trouble surfaces after your baby’s 4 month sleep regression, when his sleep patterns shift to 45 minute cycles.
If your baby requires a certain object to fall asleep, he’ll naturally rouse at the 45 minute mark, realize that he doesn’t have his sleep prop and will scream out his discomfort. The most common sleep props babies become addicted to are:
- Nursing to sleep
- Your breast or bottle
- Noise makers (music, white noise machines, the washer or dryer)
- The car
Sleep props are one of the most common reasons for a baby waking up every 2 hours, but that doesn’t mean that these objects are inherently bad for your baby.
Pacifiers especially get the brunt of the blame, but honestly, they can be so beneficial. They satisfy your baby’s instinctive need to suckle and prevent your baby from nursing to sleep.
The issue arises when a pacifier becomes a requirement for sleep.
So, how can you tell if your baby has a sleep prop? The dead giveaway is this: put your baby down for a nap without it. If your baby sleeps fine, you’re good to go. If he cries and won’t sleep without it, you know you’ve got a problem.
The Solution: Get Rid of the Sleep Prop
Sleep props suck, especially after 4 months.
If your baby is younger than 4 months, it should be relatively easy to break the habit by going cold turkey. He might fuss for a little bit for a couple of naps (usually a day or so tops), but it’s relatively a painless process.
If your baby is older than 4 months, you’ll need to use an age-appropriate solution that works for you and your baby.
Some moms like to use gradual elimination, which can take a couple weeks. Other moms like to go cold turkey with cry-it-out (this is the most efficient method and will take about 2 days for babies under 12 months).
I used a combination of these two methods to eliminate my daughter’s binkie. This approach took about a week. I took away the pacifier at night first and then I eliminated it during her naps.
9. Developmental Leap
When your baby is learning a new skill, there is no better time to practice than in his crib. At 2AM. Every Night.
If you’re new to “Developmental Leaps”, this concept was heralded by the book, Wonder Weeks. The book suggests that your baby will have biologically timed “leaps” at set points in his life. During this period, your baby might be fussy, losing sleep, or just a grump in general.
Don’t worry, most of these fussy periods are short and will be followed by a “leap” forward. At this point you get to see your baby explore her new skill.
I’ve found that rolling over and standing up cause the worst sleep disruptions.
Often your baby will figure out how to roll one way, but can’t figure out how to roll back. The same goes for standing up. He might be too excited that he’s standing to actually sleep!
The Solution: Help Her Practice Developmental Skills during the Day.
The quicker your baby masters the skills she’s trying to learn, the quicker you both will sleep!
During play time, help her practice as much as she can. If she continues to practice at night, either encourage her to go back to sleep or wait for her to fall back asleep on her own.
10. Check for GERD or Infant Reflux
Most of the time, we think of GERD as an ailment that affects only newborns. In reality, severe cases can get worse around 4 months and can last until your baby is a toddler. GERD can be a very painful affliction that can destroy your baby’s sleep if left untreated.
Here are just a few symptoms of GERD:
- Wet Burps
- Frequent hiccups
- Arching like he’s in pain (can also be attributed to gas)
- Hunger strike
Most babies experience these symptoms at some point, but GERD is much more intense and fairly frequent. If your baby is spitting up after every meal or won’t even touch solids, get him checked out.
Solution: See Your Pediatrician GERD and Practice an Eat-Play-Sleep Routine
My daughter suffered from mild reflux (it did NOT feel like mild at the time). Several articles and books I read said that the only solution for reflux was to give your baby small, frequent meals (snack feeding).
I tend to stay away from this solution. Snack feeding can exhaust you and foster unhealthy sleep habits later (as you might be experiences already). I’ve found that an eat-play-sleep routine helped minimize her symptoms.
If you feed your baby at the beginning of his wake cycle, instead of nursing him to sleep, he will have time to digest the food before being laid down again.
If Your Baby is Waking Up Every 2 Hours, Don’t Give Up!
That’s my possible solutions for your baby that is still waking up every 2 hours.
I know this situation is frustrating and that you must be absolutely exhausted. Just hang in there.
It may not feel like it right now, but I promise that this is a temporary situation (even if it feels like an eternity right now). Your baby is capable of getting a good night of sleep, it’s just that sometimes she needs a little extra help.
My charge to you is this: look at your daily routine. Are feedings erratic? Do you have a consistent eat-play-sleep routine? If not, start there.
And remember, there are resources available to help! If you’re looking for more possible causes and solutions, check out this post, 7 Sneaky Things That Might Be Killing Your Baby’s Sleep. I think it’ll surprise you!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Good luck, Mama!