Sleep and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
Though your baby is beginning to develop in so many positive ways, certain sleep problems may start to crop up near the first birthday. Stranger anxiety and separation anxiety are two normal stages of development that can happen during this time, and they can interfere with much-needed nighttime sleep for you and your baby.
This may mean tears and tantrums when you try to leave your child in the crib at night — and more sleep interruption when your baby wakes up and looks around for some sign that you’re near.
It can be difficult to respond to your baby’s 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. Try to keep the sleep experience a positive one for your baby, and be consistent with your response to nighttime wake-ups.
How Long Will My Baby Sleep?
While the average amount of sleep per day at this age remains about 14 hours, the range of normal is still quite wide. Your baby is probably still taking two naps a day. Some babies will nap 20 minutes, others a few hours.
Your baby may start resisting naps because he or she doesn’t want to be away from you, but naps will help your little one (and you) enjoy the waking hours more. Naps help prevent your baby from becoming too cranky to sleep well at night. The key is to be as consistent as possible with sleep routines and nap times.
How Should Babies Sleep?
Follow these safety precautions with your little one:
- If your child is not rolling over regularly, place him or her on the back to sleep — not on the stomach or side — to lower the chance of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Once your child is rolling over regularly, you no longer need to worry about your baby’s sleep position. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor.
- Make sure your crib meets current safety standards. Use a firm crib mattress with a sheet that fits snugly. Don’t put anything in the crib that can interfere with your baby’s breathing, such as plush toys, pillows, and bumper pads. All of these items can touch a baby’s face and block breathing. Once your baby is 1 year old, you can place a light blanket in the crib. Security items like “lovies” are also OK.
- Watch out for other hazards. Avoid items with cords, ties, or ribbons that can wrap around a baby’s neck, and objects with any kind of sharp edge or corner. Look around for things that your baby can touch from a seated or standing position in the crib. Hanging mobiles, wall hangings, pictures, draperies, and window blind cords could be harmful if they are within a baby’s reach.
Although many cultures endorse bed-sharing, there is a risk that the baby can suffocate or strangle, and multiple studies show that there’s a higher incidence of SIDS in households where a baby younger than a year old slept in the parents’ bed. This is especially true for babies of mothers who smoke.
How Can I Make Bedtime Easier?
Your child is attached to you and doesn’t like to be away from you. But try to handle nighttime “detachment” the same way you handle separation anxiety during the day (for example, when you leave your child with a babysitter). Follow your usual bedtime routine with an extra hug and kiss, let your baby know that you will see him or her soon, and make a quick exit.
If your baby has a favorite toy or blanket that you feel is safe to have in the crib, it can be left for comfort. Sleep with the item yourself for a few days before giving it to your child. That way, your scent will remind the baby of you. This is the time when “transitional” objects become important to babies. They help your baby move from being with you most of the time to having some time away from you and becoming more independent.
Try leaving your baby’s door open so he or she can hear your activity in the next room. This may help your little one feel less alone.
If your child keeps on crying and calling for you, a few loving words 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 to lengthen the time between these personal appearances until — at long last — your baby is asleep.
What If My Baby Wakes at Night?
When your baby wakes up in the night and cries for you, reassure your baby quietly that you’re there, but then send the message that he or she needs to go back to sleep. Your best bet might be a soothing pat on the back and a quick exit. If you are firm and consistent about teaching your baby to go back to sleep without you, this stage should pass pretty quickly.
Of course, during these middle-of-the-night “visits” with your baby you’ll want to rule out illness or a very dirty diaper. If you do need to change your baby, remember not to turn on too many lights and to keep interaction to a minimum.
Night terrors can begin at this age, so don’t be surprised if your baby starts screaming and crying in the middle of the night and nothing you do seems to help. Night terrors are different from nightmares — nightmares usually start when kids are 3 to 4 years old, and children wake up from them feeling scared. But with a night terror, which happens during deep sleep when babies are not dreaming, sleep suddenly gets disrupted and a baby may suddenly start crying or screaming in distress. But the baby has no idea that he or she is crying and has no memory of the event in the morning. To help, just make sure that your baby is safe and he or she will eventually quiet down.
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 the doctor if your baby can’t be consoled or seems to be irritable day after day because of interrupted sleep. Perhaps there is an illness involving no other symptoms besides sleeplessness, or maybe your doctor can help you find ways to enhance your nighttime routine with your child.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: November 2014