Months of late nights and new parent anxiety are enough to leave you in a sleep-deprived haze. But as you near the end of the first year, you'll find that your growing baby is way more predictable than he used to be, allowing you to settle into a comfortable routine. Unfortunately, different factors can disrupt your new schedule, reintroducing sleep woes and making you both miserable. Nip them in the bud by tackling the causes with these tips.
- Night terrors. Toward the end of the first year, these sleep disruptions are likely to make an appearance. Your little one has bad dreams, just like everyone else. The problem? He can't express his fears when they manifest. Physician and parenting expert Dr. Fran Walfish notes, "Some babies wake up more frequently in the middle of the night due to nightmares or conflict during the daytime. Stay empathetic and clear on your plan." If your babe wakes up terrified, head in for a few moments of calming time. It's important that you show your baby that you're safely nearby, without disrupting your entire night of sleep.
- New skills. You're probably delighted when your baby starts pulling up on furniture during the day. Not so cute? Pulling up on the crib at night. You'll definitely need to lower your baby's crib mattress, but this can create a fun game for babies. "Babies became quite mobile during this phase which causes new twists in a nap time or bedtime," warns pediatric sleep coach, Cate McKee. "For example, when put down in the crib, babies can 'pop' back up again. Parents should avoid a power struggle and the 'jack-in-the-box' routine." Lay your baby in his bed once, and don't make his new skill his new nighttime game. Even if he's pulling up on the crib, he'll eventually get tired and lay down.
- Sleep regression. While sleep regressions—characterized by peaceful sleepers beginning bedtime battles or suddenly waking up in the night—are most common in the eighth month, you might still be dealing with its effects in your older baby. Here's the thing: your little one's learning new skills and concepts at breakneck speed. "All of the transitions in development can be observed in sleep regression," says Walfish. "No worries, parents! Stick to your routine." Avoid giving into your baby's struggle to snooze. Instead, continue your current sleep routine, along with familiar blankies, books and bear hugs, and minor sleep disruptions will eventually resolve themselves.
- Daytime sleep. Your little guy might be fighting to give up some of his daytime naps, but don't phase them out completely just yet. A 2011 study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California found that 9-month-old babies who napped more during the day were generally happier and enjoyed more positive maternal interactions, which then led to better sleep at night. Your tiny snoozer still needs around three hours of sleep during the day, which can be split into a morning and an afternoon nap. Over-tired babies are grouchier and have a harder time falling asleep come bedtime, so make naps a priority.
- Teething. Your older baby's on the tail end of teething his front teeth, but just on the cusp of getting some painful molars in. The discomfort and drooling from teething can definitely keep him up at night, unraveling your carefully laid schedule. Offer up infant ibuprofen to help cut down on nighttime pain, making sure to follow the package directions for dosage. Alternatively, try to numb up the pain before bed—but don't feel pressured to fork over cash for a fancy teething toy. Instead, dip the corner of a clean wash cloth into apple juice and freeze it to create yummy and satisfying teething aid on the cheap.
- Preemie woes. If your little one was born before 36 weeks gestation, you might have a harder time than other parents when it comes to establishing and maintaining a bedtime routine. A study published in a 2010 issue of Journal of Pediatric Neurology found that premature infants' brains simply released less melatonin at 9 months of age than term babies. Melatonin is nature's sleep aid, so even though your preemie baby's growing normally, the natural urge to sleep might be weaker in his brain. Try a variety of methods to help him catch some zzz's, and you'll eventually create a one-of-a-kind bedtime routine that works to ready his brain for sleepy time.
- Medical issues. As always, it's important to remember that brief illnesses, ear infections, and other medical issues can throw a wrench into even the most predictable sleep patterns. If your little guy is feeling sick, ditch the militant shut-eye schedule and offer plenty of extra TLC. Once he's better, you can go back to your regular plans.
While you're planning your baby's first birthday party, you're also celebrating making it through the first year. You've earned your graduation from clueless new parent to a totally experienced, been-there-done-that mom. The next year will bring a ton of a new adventures for you and your toddler, so have a piece of birthday cake and celebrate your triumph!