Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baby Behavior Mysteries: A 9-Month-Old Who Resists his Crib

Recently, we asked readers to share their "baby behavior mysteries" with us. In response, some of you posted questions on the blog and others asked questions at conferences and trainings. Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing some "solutions" to these mysteries. We won't always be able to make suggestions that might change the babies' mysterious behaviors but we'll do our best to explain why the babies behave the way they do. In today's post, we'll share another one of those sleep-related mysteries that so many parents seem to share.

"My 9-month-old often refuses to let my husband put him back in his crib at night. I have to go in and nurse him every time he's up in order for him to go back to bed and sometimes even then he doesn't want to go back in his crib!"

Big Changes Bring Big Challenges

During the second half of baby's first year, physical, social, and emotional changes continue to accelerate. Your tiny, helpless, mysterious, unpredictable newborn is long gone. Your little one is now active, everywhere, experimenting, emotional, and exhausting! For several months, your baby has been sleeping for longer stretches and you might have had a moment or two where you felt, well...rested. Then sometime around 9 months, you are faced with two common challenges that leave you confused. First, your baby seems very clingy, not wanting to be separated from you even for a few moments and second, he starts to wake a little more often and is stubborn about going back to sleep. Both of these changes can be frustrating for parents but if it is all reassuring to you, these changes are also a normal part of babies' development.

The Explanation

As babies become more able to move away from their parents by crawling, pulling up, rolling, and taking steps, their minds and instincts tell them NOT to stray too far. They might even become anxious if you aren't within sight. "Separation anxiety" is used to describe babies' distress when they realize that mom and dad are not close-by. As your baby gets older, his emotions will seem more intense and you'll find he is less likely to be swayed or quieted by distractions. Complicating things further, babies tend to wake more often between 9 and 12 months for several reasons including changes in routine and the drive to practice new physical skills. So, from your baby's perspective, his desire to be in your arms makes a lot of sense. While playing with your husband may be wonderful and fun during the day, your baby knows that all his anxieties melt away while he's nursing. Therefore, you are the one he wants when darkness and separation become frightening.

So, mystery solved, right?

Except...that you probably want to know what you might do to get a little more rest. That's a lot tougher. We'll share some ideas next time.

Next time: Ideas to Help with a Waking 9-Month-Old


  1. What a smart baby...would the mother in question prefer to sleep in a cage, or would she rather be in her bed with her mate?

    Babies are people too!

  2. My son is 12 mos and loves to play with his dad but likes me to be near. He reduced his nursing sessions around 11 mos but is adding more. You are right about nursing melting his anxiety, and it relaxes me, too.

  3. i actually doubt its the nursing. we have the exact same phenomenon in our house w our 10 m.o. and I no longer nurse. The separation anxiety is strongest with mom in my experience and I don't believe it has anything to do with the fact that I used to be her food source.