Monday, February 7, 2011

Tips for Dealing with a Waking 9-Month-Old

Last time, we shared some reasons why a 9-month-old may wake and refuse to go back to his crib. In this post, we promised to share some tips to help the tired parents with older infants. Some of you may be expecting us to produce sure-fire ways to get that baby back into the crib, sleeping through the night - sweetly, quietly with no tears or stress. Well...most of you will know that we can't do that, because we tell you the truth.

Our reader asked:
"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!"

Since the beginning of our blog, we've had many posts about sleep. You can read through some of them by clicking here. These posts always seem to attract strong opinions and we realize that each family manages the night time hours in their own way. For some of our readers, "sleep training" may seem to be the logical answer to a baby's refusal to go back to sleep. We've already shared our reasons why that would not be our first choice. Other readers would tell any mom waking with an older infant to sleep with the baby. You may have noticed that we haven't talked about co-sleeping, which the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes. Co-sleeping is both a simple act and a complicated issue and we believe that others are better at examining the pros and cons of that practice and that our readers can make their own informed decisions. So, we'll stay focused on understanding, and working with, the baby's behavior (that's what we're here for after all).

It is important to understand that it is not unusual at all for a 9-month-old to wake once at night. Many mothers find the infrequent night nursing is fine for them, others search for ways to phase the night nursing out of their lives. This is a process that takes a little time.

Some ideas:

1. We're going to assume that this baby is growing well, feeding well, and not showing any hunger cues when he wakes at night. Growth spurts can cause babies to feed more frequently for a few days (even at night) so you might want to give it some time and see what happens. Some older babies may be uncomfortable and wake while teething. If you have any concerns about your baby's health, growth, or development, you should talk to your baby's doctor.

2. During the day, give your baby as much opportunity as possible to practice new physical skills, like crawling, pulling up, and climbing over things. The drive to practice these skills can cause older babies to wake. Make sure that the day time naps aren't stretching out so that you can get more done. It is easy to let that happen but you'll be up more at night that way.

3. Keep up a regular bedtime routine. Follow the same pattern of activities each night, ending with your drowsy (or sleeping) little one in the place where you would like him to sleep.

4. Trying leaving something small in the place your baby sleeps (like a burp cloth) that you've been handling or wearing (nothing big like a blanket or pillow - those objects aren't safe for babies). Sometimes anxious babies can be calmed by something that smells like mom (or dad) or other familiar objects.

5. Check the room for blinking lights or other changing sights or sounds that might stimulate your baby in the night. Consider a soft steady night light (turned on during the bedtime routine) and some low level white noise to cover any little sounds that might disturb your baby during periods of lighter sleep.

6. Your baby may want to nurse to go back to sleep because he is anxious or having difficulty calming himself. This would be quite normal for older babies because they don't yet have the skills to understand or control their emotions. While nursing may be both familiar and effective in helping him relax, it is not the only way to calm your baby (if you would rather not nurse). You or your husband can use "repetition to soothe" techniques like stroking, rocking, talking softly or singing to your baby. Your husband can establish a new calming routine that he uses at night when needed. Your baby will not like the change at first (so you might want to start the process when you've had a chance to get some rest or don't have to wake up early the next day) but if you gently persevere, your baby will adapt to the new routine.

Next time: JenB Returns!


  1. Wow, you must have been channeling me somehow. I wrote a sort of funny post about infant sleep on my blog to sort of help me deal with my frustrations of my 8 month old not sleeping very well lately. She's teething. Most of my frustration is coming from my husband and I worrying that we might be doing something "wrong" that our baby does not sleep through the night. I'll definitely have to share this with him.

  2. Babies this age also can be hungry and not be going through a growth spurt. This happened to us and at 9 months our little guy was up 2-3 times a night to eat (and then would happily go back to sleep). It was a simple fix, though, we just had to train his body that night was for sleeping and not for eating. We started feeding him less (only nursing on one side and then trying to limit nursing time) and "delayed" his meals by having my husband go in and comfort him for half an hour. It was simple and low stress and within two weeks he was sleeping through the night! (except of course for teething or illness or growth spurts...)

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  4. We'd like to clarify our description of the AAP recommendation described in this post. The AAP recommends co-sleeping, defined as "a separate but proximate sleeping environment," and opposes bed-sharing. In other words, they recommend that babies should sleep in the same room as their caregivers, but not in the same bed. Often times the terms co-sleeping and bed-sharing are used interchangeably and we apologize for any confusion.