Sleep and Your 8-12 Month Old

Just when your baby is beginning to develop in so many positive ways, certain sleep problems may start to crop up. These problems are often due to your baby's increased awareness of her "separateness" from you. Separation anxiety may mean tears and tantrums (the baby's, not yours) when you try to leave her in her crib at night - and may mean more sleep interruption for your baby as she wakes up and looks around for some sign that you are near.

It can be difficult to respond to your 8-month to 12-month-old's nighttime needs with the right balance of concern and consistency, but remember: This is the time to set the stage for future restful nights for the whole family. The important thing now is to try and keep the sleep experience a positive one for your baby.

How long will my baby sleep?

While research shows the average number of hours slept at this age is 13 per day, the range of normal is still quite wide.

Your baby is probably still taking two naps a day - one in the morning and another sometime after lunch. The naps can last as long as your baby needs them to be. Some babies will nap 20 minutes, others a few hours. The naps will usually help prevent your baby from becoming too cranky to sleep well at night and will help her (and you) enjoy her waking hours more. If you feel the napping is interfering with her bedtime too much, wake her from the afternoon nap a little earlier each day. This way, you can gradually induce her to sleep a little longer at night.

Where and how should my baby sleep?

By this age, your baby is picking her own positions for sleep and is sure to move around a lot during the course of a night's rest. Keep large stuffed animals out of her crib; they can still cause problems for her if they fall onto her face. Check for ties and ribbons that can wrap around her neck. Get rid of objects or toys with sharp edges and corners. You have probably already made sure your crib is up to today's safety standards, but if you haven't, check it out.

Once your baby is pulling herself up using the sides of the crib, it's time to remove the soft bumper cushions. The bumpers can give her a dangerous "leg up" for climbing out of the crib and falling. If there is still a mobile hanging over the crib, take it down now. Don't forget to look around for other things that your baby can touch from a standing position in her crib. Wall hangings, pictures, draperies, and window blind cords can all be potentially harmful if they are left within your baby's reach.

What should I do?

While you can be generally pleased that your child is attached to you and doesn't like to be away from you, at night you can try to handle the "detachment" the same way you do when separation anxiety is an issue during the day (for example, when you leave her with a babysitter). Follow your usual bedtime routine with an extra hug and kiss, let her know that you will see her soon, and make a quick exit. Make sure your baby has some favorite toys in the crib to keep her company in your absence. Playing a tape of Mom and Dad singing songs or lullabies may help settle her. Some parents even leave an article of their clothing in the crib so Mom's or Dad's familiar scent lingers with their baby.

Try leaving her door open so she can hear your activity in the next room. This may help her feel less alone. If she keeps on crying and calling for you, a few words of reassurance from the bedroom door ("Mommy's right here but it's time for you to go to sleep now") and another quick exit may do the trick. Try and lengthen the time between these personal appearances until - at long last - your baby is asleep.

When your baby wakes up in the night and cries for you, remember not to reward her for this, or it may continue for a long time. Reassure her quietly that you are indeed there, but then give her the message that she needs to go back to sleep. The best bet may be a soothing pat on the back, a repositioning of the blanket, and another quick exit. If you are firm and consistent about requiring your baby to put herself back to sleep, this stage should pass pretty quickly.

Of course, during these middle-of-the-night "visits" with your baby, you'll want to make sure she's not ill or sitting in an extremely soiled diaper. If you need to change her, remember not to turn on too many lights and to keep interaction to a minimum.

When to call the doctor?

Teething pain is a common reason for sleep problems at this age, and your doctor may be able to suggest some ways to relieve your baby's discomfort.

Call your doctor if you are concerned about a baby who can't be consoled or who seems to be irritable day after day because of extremely interrupted sleep.

© Copyright 1997 American Medical Association