Baby and toddler sleep red flags

The amount of information and advice out there on paediatric sleep is almost as exhausting as the sleep deprivation itself!

Generally, when parents are experiencing challenges with their baby’s or toddler’s sleep, they’re told one of two things: You need to sleep train them; or it’s just normal.

Or to put it in other terms…you need to let them cry-it-out or wait-it-out.

Neither of these are ideal solutions for most exhausted and frustrated families.

Countless parents don’t want to sleep train, whilst others have tried different approaches and found it to be unsuccessful anyway.

Then there are the parents who are told that their child’s sleep is normal, and it will improve with time. Yes, this is true for many babies or toddlers. Night waking is 100% normal and healthy, so sometimes caregivers need to adjust their expectations around their child’s sleep.

But, then there are the parents whose gut instincts are telling them that something just isn’t right. That little voice is usually right.

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. We see you. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of sleep red flags to look for that could signal one or several underlying factors that are impacting your child’s sleep. This list is by no means exhaustive, so observe your little one closely, look for any patterns, keep a diary, and seek professional help.

Baby and toddler sleep red flags

Before we look at the red flags, here are some indicators that something is getting in the way of biologically normal sleep:

  • Your baby or toddler is consistently waking and crying every hour or more overnight.
  • Your baby takes a long time to go to sleep or resettle, no matter what you do to support them.
  • Naps are consistently shorter than one sleep cycle.
  • Your child is very restless in their sleep.
  • They’re in a grumpy, irritable mood during the day or they often seem tired between naps.

Do any of those indicators seem familiar? Here is a list of red flags for you to investigate further, and who to turn to for support:

Could it be airway issues?

  • Snoring or noisy breathing
  • Open-mouth breathing during awake time or whilst asleep
  • Pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • Frequent nasal congestion or ear infections
  • Gasping or sputtering while sleeping

If you recognise any of these red flags for airway issues in your child, see your GP. You may need a referral for an ENT specialist.

Could it be allergies or intolerances?

  • They wake up screaming/upset/uncomfortable
  • Any breathing changes
  • Mucous and/or blood in stools
  • Rashes or hives on their body
  • Congestion, coughing or wheezing

If you recognise any of these red flags or your child already has a confirmed allergy or intolerance, see your paediatrician or naturopathic doctor.

Could they have nutrient deficiencies?

  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Constipation or changes in bowel habits
  • Kicking or thrashing in their sleep
  • You had low iron or anemia in your pregnancy
  • They have pale skin
  • They often seem tired, lethargic or low in energy
  • Underweight or overweight
  • Poor physical growth

If you recognise any of these red flags for nutrient deficiency, please see your doctor, paediatric nutritionist, or naturopath.

Could it be feeding issues or oral ties?

  • Baby often vomits after a milk feed
  • Baby seems to have painful gas
  • Short but frequent feeds
  • Gagging or choking while feeding from breast or bottle
  • They frequently unlatch or leak milk outside their mouth during a feed
  • Clicking sound during feeding
  • Regularly take a long time to feed
  • Fussiness or back arching during or after feeds
  • Frequent blocked milk ducts or mastitis
  • Toddler refuses to eat or drink

If you recognise any of these red flags for feeding issues/oral ties, please see your lactation consultant or feeding therapist.

Could it be a gut health imbalance?

  • Reflux in babies
  • Poor immunity or constantly unwell
  • Tummy aches and uncomfortable after meals
  • Poor nutrient absorption
  • Frequent gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea
  • Skin conditions
  • Fussy eating

If you recognise any of these red flags for gut health imbalance, see your paediatrician, paediatric dietitian, or a naturopath.

Could it be environmental?

Finally, the conditions of your child’s sleep environment, such as light, sound, temperature, blue light exposure, and smell can all impact their sleep. On a larger environmental scale, little ones can be sensitive to chemicals in their food, toxins in the house, and the air quality.


So, if you feel that it’s one or more of these factors, you can take comfort in the knowledge that there is expert help and support out there for you and your little one. Trust your instincts, and if you’re dismissed by a healthcare provider, try another one and keep persisting until you find the answers you’re looking for.


If you would like to book a free initial sleep consultation with our resident holistic and gentle baby sleep specialist Kara Wilson, submit your details here.


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