Ages 8 to 12 Months: Sleeping

At 8 months, your baby probably still takes two regular naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. She's likely to sleep as much as 12 hours at night without needing a middle-of-the-night feeding. Be aware of some possible problems ahead: As her separation anxieties intensify in the next few months, she may start to resist going to bed, and she may wake up more often looking for you.

During this difficult period you may need to experiment with several strategies to find those that help your baby sleep. For example, some children go to sleep more easily with the door open (so they can hear you); others develop consoling habits, such as sucking their thumbs or rocking. Your child might adopt a special blanket or stuffed animal as a transitional object, which comforts her when you're not nearby. Anything that's soft and huggable and can be stroked or sucked will serve this purpose. You can encourage your child to use a transitional object by providing her with an assortment of small blankets or soft toys. But avoid resorting to a pacifier; if she depends on it to fall asleep, she'll cry for you to retrieve it each time it falls out of her mouth during the night.

Sleep Patterns

Once your baby dozes off, her sleep patterns will be quite predictable. After one or two hours of deep sleep, she'll move into a stage of lighter snoozing, and she may partially awaken before returning to deeper sleep. For the rest of the night, there will be alternating periods of deeper and then lighter sleep. During the lighter periods, which may occur four to six times a night, she may even open her eyes, look around and cry for you. This can be an exasperating experience, particularly if you've just become used to getting a full night's sleep. However, take comfort in the fact that most babies go through this stage, largely because of separation anxiety. She just needs to be reassured that you're still there when she wakes up. She also must learn to put herself back to sleep, and it's up to you to teach her. To do so, use the same techniques you relied on to get her to sleep in the first place. Handled properly, this period of nighttime awakenings should last no more than a few weeks.

Helping Your Child Sleep

Don't do anything that will reward your baby for calling you in the middle of the night. Go to her side to make sure she's all right, and tell her that you're nearby if she really needs you; but don't turn on the light, rock her or walk with her. You might offer her a drink of water, but don't feed her, and certainly don't bring her to your bed. If she's suffering from separation anxiety, taking her in your bed will only make it harder for her to return to her own crib.

When you do check on her, try to make her as comfortable as possible. If she's gotten tangled in her blanket or stuck in a corner of her crib, rearrange her. Make sure she isn't sick. Some problems, such as ear infections or the croup, can come on suddenly in the night. Once you're sure there's no sign of illness, then check her diaper, changing her only if she's had a bowel movement or if her diaper is uncomfortably wet. Do the change as quickly as possible in dim light and then settle her back in her crib under her blanket. Before leaving the room, whisper a few comforting words about how it's time to sleep. If she continues to cry, wait five minutes, then come back in and comfort her for a short time. Continue to return briefly every five to 10 minutes until she's asleep.

Remember that her behavior is not deliberate. Instead, she's reacting to anxieties and stresses that are natural at her age. If you stay calm and follow a consistent pattern from one night to the next, she'll soon be putting herself to sleep. Keep this objective in sight as you struggle through the "training" nights. It will ultimately make life much easier for both of you.

Excerpted from Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam 1999

© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics