Success! You've made it through the first six months of your child's babyhood. The night feedings, wakings, and general fussiness should start to peter off right about now, but that doesn't mean you're the parent of a sleeping beauty just yet. At 6 months of age, your babe's old enough to sleep through the night, but she might need a little help getting there. To regulate your baby's sleep, you can either test a training method or tackle older infant sleep issues head-on so you can finally reclaim your pillow.
- Night eating. If your little one's still eager for a milky nightcap, now is a great time to try night weaning. You don't need to be severe or abrupt; just try offering less time on the breast or a little less formula in the bottle over a period of one or two weeks. As your baby finds less food in the night, her stomach and brain will adapt to the change in eating pace. It'll make it easier when you transition into sleep training and snoozing through the night.
- Sleep training. You can successfully alter your child's night schedule by using behavioral methods. Here's the thing: Some sleep training methods, like Ferberizing, are strict. You're meant to let your baby "cry it out" so she learns to soothe herself. But other methods of sleep training, like the Sears or Pantley method, are much gentler. They use your baby's natural biological routine to facilitate a sleep-conducive environment, along with calming methods like checking on your baby regularly. Sleep training usually works best for babies who wake up habitually, so if your little one's wide-eyed at bedtime, it's time to hanker down and do some research. For some, a modified Ferber approach works best. For others, co-sleeping or ignoring training altogether is the perfect solution. Talk with your partner, and when you pick a method, stick to it so your babe has plenty of time to readjust.
- Self soothing. Your baby is old enough to put herself to sleep at this point. Unfortunately, she might have become totally reliant on different soothing methods that you provide for her. Certified pediatric sleep coach Cate McKee notes, "Babies at this age need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and 3.5 hours of sleep during the day spread out over 2-3 naps." Put your baby in her crib for naps and nighttime while drowsy but still awake, so she can learn to fall asleep on her own.
- Sleep regression. Around 8 months of age, many babies experience what is known as a sleep regression. Researchers are unsure as to why it happens, only noting that it often affects babies who have previously had few sleep issues and who have slept through the night before. Physician and parenting expert, Dr. Fran Walfish, suggests a firm approach. Head into your baby's room, but don't pick her up. Instead, let her know you're nearby. "To be a good parent you must be comfortable concurrently balancing love/nurture with limits/boundaries," says Walfish. "You are loving your infant by staying with her during her struggle. You are setting boundaries by not picking her up until... the morning."
- Sleep position. Don't become lax with your baby's sleep position. A study published in a 2008 issue of Pediatrics found that a whopping 29 percent of parents don't place their 6 to 9-month-old babies on their backs to sleep. While it's true that the risk of SIDS diminishes by the month, it's still safest for your baby to sleep on her back for the entire first year, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Separation anxiety. With all of your baby's new talents—crawling, laughing, and jabbering—can come with a complete dependence on you. Separation anxiety usually hits around this time, which means bedtime's traumatic for a super-attached tot. If you hear your babe crying for you in the night, head in and comfort her, but keep her in her crib so she learns that nighttime is for sleeping, and you're always safely nearby.
- Medical issues. The common cold, teething, and various other health issues can definitely throw a wrench in your plan for a good night's sleep. It's important to seek attention when necessary—ear infections and some bronchial colds and coughs require other meds. Otherwise, offer plenty of TLC when your little one's under the weather, and get back on the sleep training horse when she's better.
The older your baby gets, the more predictable her sleep schedule becomes. Long, sleepless nights start to become a thing of the past, with better naps and a better night's sleep for everyone in your home. Of course, your older baby probably makes up for it with keeping your on your toes when she's awake, but armed with more energy, you'll be ready to tackle even the craziest of days!