One of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written is all about the 4-5 month sleep regression. I need to make a confession, I lied a little bit in it.
I gave the impression that things get a lot better after six months. And they do. Often though the improvement is only temporary and things can often get a lot, lot worse towards the end of the first year. Once again it is transient, things will get better. I apologise for withholding this information from my earlier blog post. I did it deliberately for a good reason.
When parents are deep in the depths of the 4-5month sleep regression the very last thing they want to hear is that things will get better, but only for a couple of months when they get much worse. The feelings of utter despair this may cause may make parents turn to conventional (not gentle) sleep training, to get over the 4-5 month regression and to try to stop the 8-10 month one from happening. I really would hate to be responsible for that decision, so I lied. I’m sorry, but I did it with your, and your child’s, wellbeing in mind.
So what the heck happens to sleep between eight and ten months of age? One thing is for sure and that’s the fact that it’s a very common age for lots of night waking and difficulty settling babies to sleep initially.
Research has shown us that at nine months of age, getting on for two thirds of babies are waking regularly at night, that’s almost twenty percent more than those who wake regularly at six months. In fact sleep at this stage is actually worse (in terms of night waking) than it is at three months! It is second only to newborn sleep in terms of sheer number of night wakings needing your help.
The problem with this is that this is unexpected. Many parents expect infant sleep to get continuously better as the baby ages. This assumption is one supported by most sleep experts, mainstream media and health professionals, with many expecting babies to be ‘sleeping through’ after six months. Society really does lose all tolerance of baby sleep (or lack of) after six months. Newborns wake lots, that’s to be expected, but once they are nearing their first birthday most feel they should be ‘sleeping through the night’.
If we presented these expectations in graphical form they would look something like this:
In reality however it looks more like this:
Sleep in infants is not a constant, it doesn’t continue to get better, it’s messy. It improves, it regresses, it stays the same. Life happens; teething, illness, holidays, returns to work, moving bedrooms, developmental leaps and many more can and do have a great impact on baby sleep. Normal baby sleeping patterns don’t just stick to an upward trajectory.
What happens in the life of an eight to ten month old?
- Eating more solids (new experiences and risks of allergies/intolerances)
- Learning to pull up, cruise and crawl
- Increasing communication skills
- Separation anxiety
- Moving to their own bedroom
- Mother returning to work
- Attending more baby classes and groups (which may overstimulate)
and more…..each of these can have a dramatic impact on sleep.
There is no doubt however that separation anxiety is a key player when it comes to babies waking at night and needing parental reassurance to get back to sleep. While this age is commonly one that many parents resort to sleep training it is the very age that is most important to NOT resort to sleep training. Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage, it’s an indication of parenting done well and although it may not feel like it, it’s a great indication that – in time – the baby will be confident and independent. This is the stage where babies need to know that parents are always there for them, that they can trust us to always come back. Once this trust is built that’s when the path to independence (and what many term ‘self settling’ or ‘self soothing’) really starts to develop.
My biggest tip for this age range when it comes to sleep is to understand why it happens and if at all possible engage in some mega ‘self care’ to allow you to make it through the tough couple of months, ultimately this will make your life easier in the long run, although in the short term I can appreciate it feels anything but. Other elements to consider:
- Is there something wrong in the baby’s sleeping environment? (temperature, lighting, bedding)
- Is your baby going to bed at the correct time for their biological needs?
- Do they need to drop a daytime nap?
- Are you using a dummy/pacifier? (post six months I strongly believe they negatively impact sleep).
- Do they have any allergies or intolerances to the new food in their diet?
- Do they have any nutritional deficiencies?
- Are they being overstimulated in the daytime?
- Are you taking a good couple of hours to reconnect after returning from work?
- Are you trying to night wean prematurely?
- Following the above point many babies this age are genuinely hungry at night. Their busy daytimes often lead to a dramatically lowered intake of milk (whether less breastfeeds or less bottle feeds), the quiet nights are often used to consume what they didn’t during the day.
- Do they have other items that provide them comfort and remind them of you? (taking on board all senses).
- Are they getting enough daylight exposure?
- If they are in daycare, is the setting right for them?
- Is your bedtime routine sleep friendly? and long enough?
- Do they have any other sleep cues aside from you?
- Are their needs for attachment being met sufficiently in the daytime?
- Are you reading their tiredness cues correctly?
These are all covered in ‘The Gentle Sleep Book’ in much more detail.
What I can promise you is that it will get better (and just for full disclosure I should add “until 18 months”, but that’s another blog post!).