Did your 8 or 9 month old baby used to be a ‘good sleeper’? Or perhaps not so good, but you’d figured out some tricks and methods to get some approximation of good sleep at night and during naps? Only now you’ve found that suddenly little Tootle (imaginary baby name of the week) is taking ages to settle, waking quickly, crying, fussing, complaining, and generally making a mockery of your previous boasts and relief that she was sleeping fairly well?
It can be very frustrating to feel like something’s gone wrong, especially if you can’t seem to fix it. But if you know what’s probably causing these sleep habits to change then hopefully you can deal with it a little better.
Your baby is older now
Bottom line, even if it seems like a moment ago you learned a routine or a method or a style of babycare that worked, in the first year your baby moves into a different phase of life every few weeks. That means that you need to adapt to these changes every few weeks as well. It’s common to see parents still trapped in a thought pattern from a time their baby was younger, often also trying to combine with information they’ve found or been given about the changes facing their baby now. For example, babies who are eating solids also being pushed to drink frequent large amounts of milk around the clock; the new phase on top of the old.
There are some big things that are changing at around the 8 or 9 month mark that can have an impact on sleep habits.
Little Tootle spent most of her life on her back, stuck in the spot she was placed. For a few months now she’s probably been mastering the art of rolling, sitting, perhaps even crawling. The notion that she can move towards something she wants is novel and finally, achievable. Once she has learned how to roll easily, pull herself up or along, and manoeuvre around in a circle you will see some changes when she is placed in the cot. You may or may not have been tucking her in up until this point, but regardless, she can wriggle all around now. It’s doubtful any kind of tucking can keep her in place and nor should it. If she can move then she is no longer at much risk of smothering, though you still should keep pillows, doonas, and other puffy, fluffy things out of the cot. Trying to keep her tucked in is a reason Tootle might wake, as she tries to roll but ends up twisted and unable to find a comfortable position. Sleep Tootle in a sleeping bag so she stays covered and put her down on her side, allowing her to find the spot that suits her.
Around this time many babies begin to prefer to sleep on their tummies. This frightens parents who had it drilled into them never to sleep their infant on their stomachs. But Tootle is older now! She can move her head and neck from side to side and raise her upper body. It is safe for her to sleep on her tummy and likely to help her feel relaxed, as the pressure on her stomach is comforting.
Tootle might have learned how to pull herself up. It’s much harder to learn how to get back down! If you are being called into the nursery by shouts and find your baby standing up and crying, don’t assume she’s ready to get up. It’s much more likely she woke and now that she can move, she did – tried standing, got tired and, oh no! realised she couldn’t get back down. It doesn’t take much for that situation to become distressing to Tootle. Lay her back down and help her learn this skill during waking time.
Now that Tootle knows how to move around and is learning how to go after the things she wants, it has dawned on her that the grown-ups are moving around too. This can be both scary and frustrating.
It’s scary for her to realise that the important grown-ups in her life can move away from her. Once upon a time she thought these grown-ups were just an extension of herself. As she consolidates her ability to move she also consolidates her sense of self and separateness from others. But do we still exist when she can’t see us? This philosophical question can give rise to separation anxiety, where Tootle worries that her special grown-ups will walk away and vanish. This is a time when it’s important to reassure her that you do come back, but not to teach her that she can demand that you do. It’s tempting to rush back whenever she shows anxiety about you, but if you do that 99 times and the 100th you can’t (got a job? need to go to the toilet? have other children?), she will be much much more distressed, since she’s been taught to expect that you are controlled by her whims. You may need to come in to resettle and show yourself to her many times during this phase, but don’t jump up to do so as soon as she calls for you.
It’s also frustrating for Tootle to discover that even if she is physically capable of moving her body, there are still limitations to what she is can do. This is when she will come up against baby gates or shut doors, hear “No” when reaching for power cords, and be put in a cot when she would rather be elsewhere. The sense of content resignation she may have once had is now gone as she learns the control she’s gaining over her body does not necessarily translate to control over everything else. You’ll only set yourself up for a demanding baby, toddler, and child if you try to avoid her frustration when learning this lesson. The reality is that she can’t do whatever she wants and there’s no harm in her learning it. Show her how fun allowed activities can be, let her have some freedom to explore, but be firm when setting boundaries (even simple, literal ones like a baby gate).
In a nutshell
Your 8 or 9 month old is learning a lot of new things about her body and the world around her. It’s an exciting and challenging time for her that has her brain ticking over. Physical changes mean that she needs to be able to move around and find a comfortable position on her own in the cot, but emotional changes mean that she takes advantage of this rather than settling into sleep as easily as she once may have.
You need to be consistent with your expectations for sleep when it’s nap time or night time. Reassure her you are still here but don’t allow her to give up on sleep too easily. Keep the cot for sleep only (no toys in the cot) and resettle her rather than get her up if she wakes before she’s rested enough.
– Using a sleeping bag rather than blankets. If you do use as blanket as well as the sleeping bag, use a smallish one draped over her.
– Leave her un-tucked and free to find her own sleeping position, even one on her stomach.
– Help her to learn how to get back down to a prone position once she is standing by practising during play time.
– Help her to understand you are still here even when out of sight by calling out to her when she can’t see you, rather than coming straight back.
– Play games that help teach object permanence (knowing that something is still here even if we can’t see it) with games that hide and reveal things. ie. peek-a-boo, hiding things under cups for her to find, looking in and out of cupboards.
– Be consistent with sleep routines so she can learn to predict when she is expected to sleep in the cot and when she can expect to get up and play with the grown-ups.