Though your baby is beginning to develop in so many positive ways, certain sleep problems may start to crop up near the first birthday. These are often due to your baby's increased awareness of "separateness" from you. Stranger anxiety and separation anxiety are two normal stages of development that can occur 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. This is also the age when night terrors can appear. These can be more "terrifying" for the parent than the baby if you're not sure what is happening.
It can be difficult to respond to your 8- 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 to keep the sleep experience a positive one for your baby and to be consistent with your response to wakefulness at night.
How Long Will My Baby Sleep?
While the average amount of sleep per day at this age is 13 to 14 hours, the range of normal is still quite wide at this stage.
Your baby is probably still taking two naps a day — one in the morning and another sometime after lunch. The average length of a nap now is about 1 hour. Some babies will nap 20 minutes, others a few hours. Naps help prevent your baby from becoming too cranky to sleep well at night, so it is important that they be long enough.
This is the age when your baby may start resisting taking 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. The key is to be as consistent as possible with nap times and your approach to putting your child in the crib.
Where and How Should My Baby Sleep?
By this age, most babies are rolling over and picking a comfortable position for sleep. Your baby will move around a lot during the course of a night's rest!
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. Night terrors occur during the deep part of sleep and although they may seem worrisome to you, your baby is actually still asleep — even if your baby's eyes are open — and has no idea that he or she is crying. Make sure that your baby is safe and he or she will eventually quiet down. Nightmares usually start around 3 to 4 years of age and children wake up from them feeling scared.
When your baby wakes up in the night and cries for you, remember not to reward this behavior or it may continue for a long time. Reassure your baby quietly that you're there, but then send the message that he or she needs to go back to sleep. The best bet may be a soothing pat on the back, a repositioning of the blanket, and a quick exit. If you are firm and consistent about requiring your baby to put herself or himself 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 rule out illness or a very soiled diaper. If you do need to change your baby, remember not to turn on too many lights and to keep interaction to a minimum.
Always keep safety in mind. Make sure your crib meets current safety standards. Don't put anything in the crib that can interfere with your baby's breathing — stuffed animals, blankets, or soft pillows can fall on a baby's face and block breathing. Although bumper pads are widely used, their safety has been questioned. One study from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found a number of accidental deaths appeared to be related to the use of bumper pads in cribs and bassinets. The Canadian Pediatric Society has recommended against the use of bumper pads since 2004. If you do use bumpers, it’s best to use the kind that secure at the top and bottom. Also, avoid items with ties or ribbons that can wrap around a baby's neck, and objects with any kind of sharp edge or corner.
If you use bumpers, remove them once your baby is pulling up using the sides of the crib. Bumpers can give your baby a dangerous "leg up" for climbing out of the crib and falling. Babies can also get tangled in hanging mobiles, so remove them as well. Don't forget to look around for the things that your baby can touch from a standing position in the crib. Wall hangings, pictures, draperies, and window blind cords are potentially harmful if left within your baby's reach.
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 manage 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. This is when "transitional" objects become important to babies. They help your baby transition 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 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 to lengthen the time between these personal appearances until — at long last — your baby is asleep.
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: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008