I recently received an email from a mother who was beginning to have new sleep problems with her 6 month old. Whenever I get questions about a 6-9 month old and new sleep issues, most parents relate the problem to either teething and or not getting enough cereal/solids before bed time.
In fact, new sleep issues often arise around this age as your baby is beginning to think and use those frontal lobes. Many babies had been sleeping for 6-10 hours a night by now and then suddenly begin to awake and they are crying. This must be pain from teething, right? So in response to that, many parents start giving their baby a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen nightly, but the sleep problems do not go away and still no teeth!
At the same time, most babies are eating solid foods beginning around 6 months, and parents were convinced that starting solids would also cure the sleeping issues. The baby is eating cereal and waking up in the middle of the night. What gives?
I think the most important milestone for this age baby to ensure good sleep: the baby must put themselves to sleep. Many of the babies who are having awakenings are being rocked to sleep, or having the pacifier put back in their mouth all night long. They are routinely rocked every night and then put down, so when they have arousals (as we all do all night long) they want to be rocked back to sleep, they are smart now and know what they want! Similar to wanting a back rub every time you wake up, sounds good right?
While all of this is going on in your baby’s mind your parent mind is telling you it has to be teething pain or lack of food or something worse, and not just a new phase of baby sleep! Suddenly habits are started, the baby is getting fed in the middle of the night again, or you are giving acetaminophen every night, and typically the arousals continue.
Sleep is precious for both baby and parent and a baby between 6-8 months of age should be able to not only put themselves to sleep at bedtime, but self console to go back to sleep in the middle of the night. Makes sense but takes a bit of work. This usually requires letting your baby cry for awhile. I am not a propionate of letting an infant cry it out or (CIO as this cute mom emailed), but I do see the need in this age baby. They have to learn to self-console and it is easier to break a bad habit sooner than later. Some babies have more stamina too, so each baby is going to be different in how long they can CIO.
Practice putting the baby down awake and going back into the room to let them know you are present but not active in getting them to sleep. Lengthen the time between each visit to their room. Repetition and consistency are the key. It takes a while but most babies will then get back into even better and longer sleep at night, and you can stop all of that acetaminophen. They get teeth forever (well, at least for 12 years) and that is usually not the reason for waking up. Ask them when they are 5 and getting molars and sleeping well!
That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.