Monday, October 11, 2010

My 6 month old just started crying before naps?

The Question:

Hi Jane,

Wondering if you can help!

My six month old daughter has just started crying before her day time naps.  And when I say crying, I mean really screaming sometimes kicking her legs out and arching her back, and for up to 20 or 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Up until now she has been an absolute angel.  She sleeps about 12 - 13 hours through the night with 1 or 2 feeds (usually 1), but she goes straight back to sleep after the feed, or I put her in her cot and she puts herself to sleep.  She is still doing this now, and is still an angel at night, but it's the day naps that have started causing heartache.

She has always only power napped in the day - usually only sleeps for about 30 - 40 minutes at a time and 3 or 4 times in the day.  In the past she'd start grizzling and rubbing her eyes and I knew she was tired, so I'd give her the dummy (she only uses this for day time naps) and she'd go to sleep straight away.  Now she screams and screams.  Is this normal?  At first I thought she may be teething, but why would she only cry at pre-sleep time?  Then I thought that maybe she is just at that age where she changes a bit, gets her own personality, and isn't just a dream baby who only sleeps, eats and poo's!  A lot of people have told me babies change at around 6 months.

Anyway, would appreciate your advice, thanks so much!

Kindest Regards,
Clair Mudaliar
(Gold Coast, Australia)
The Answer:

Dear Clair,
I just noticed that you sent this letter in July and I'm just getting it answered in October!  That means that your baby is nine months old now and is probably doing something completely different.  I love your Australian accent that comes through in print!  A "dummy" must be a pacifier, "grizzling" must be fussing, and every mother everywhere loves her baby to go to sleep "straight away."
I agree with your friends that tell you that babies go through changes at six months.  And they continue to change pretty regularly until they are 3 or 4 years old.  It's frustrating for a mom because just when she thinks she's got a great system going, her baby quits cooperating.  They don't need as much sleep, they become more aware of their surroundings, they teethe, they catch a little cold, they take a jump in appetite.  If you want to maintain a strict schedule in your life, if you want your baby to be in her bed at certain hours, you can.  But you'll have to plan on letting her scream or just lay awake to accommodate you.  I had eleven children.  Some were content and happy, others more demanding, but I never accomplished the feat of determining when they would sleep and when they would wake.  I knew every trick in the book to get a sleepy baby to sleep.  My husband was genius at it.  But if they weren't ready, I just let them be up until they were. 
Judging from the letters I receive, sleep seems to top the list of difficulties you face as mothers.  Sometimes it's easy to equate your overall success and failure as a mother, with how well your children go to bed.  There are hundreds of books written on the subject.  I've read some of them.  But I think that really, I just gave up fighting it.  The more I read about brain development in the first year, the less comfortable I felt letting babies scream it out.  So I didn't.  I walked, rocked, used binkies, bottles, car rides,etc.  When I was worn out, my husband stepped in.  Many times when we'd had a particularly rough night with a baby, we'd find that they had a fever in the morning and probably had been achy and miserable during the night.  I was glad we hadn't left them to cry.  After the first year, I had tender feelings for them.  I had a relationship.  I didn't feel comfortable letting them cry then either.  Sometimes I let them sleep with me.  It just wasn't a big deal.  By the time they were three or four, they seemed to go to bed better unless they had a late nap.  You see, my policy was just to be sensitive to their feelings...about sleep and about everything else.  They were people.  I just tried to treat them well.  I wanted them to feel secure, safe and loved.  It isn't, perhaps, the neatest, tidiest way, but it's a way that I look back on with satisfaction.  I believe that unique bonds are formed in the long, hard nights.  Motherhood requires continual sacrifice and then sometimes even new levels of sacrifice.  
This has been a long answer to a short question.  So...I would move through the stages of your baby's life with flexibility.  Don't get frustrated.  Just meet her needs from day to day and enjoy each new stage of development.  Accept that they are part of life and that she's growing as she should, and find tender ways of helping her learn to sleep as she changes.
All my love,


  1. I loved the sleep books by Ferber and Weissbluth. It sounds to me like she is overly tired -- because her power naps aren't sufficient to get her through her sleep cycles. The advice in those books might be a nice companion to Jane's, thought the philosophy behind them is different.

    Jane, a wonderful, loving response as always! I am off to go ask a question of my own!

  2. I agree with Jane's comments- with bedtime limits. My son would sleep with us every night or never go to bed until 11 pm if we let him. So I try to be sensitive to his day and emotional state etc, but then draw the line and put him to bed. I NEVER could let him cry it out. I tried once at about 11 months and he THREW HIMSELF AGAINST THE CRIB HEADFIRST. Turns out, he felt trapped in his crib and as soon as we put him in a bigger bed without walls (13 months, he was fine. As Jane said, you will not look back and say, "wow, so nice that I went to bed at 10 each night, or had 3 hours with my husband" as much as you will be happy that you have a loving, trusting relationship with your child as you meet their needs and love them. SACRIFICE. PATIENCE. TRIAL-and-ERROR = PARENTING!

  3. Oh Jane I love your wisdom! But mostly for the boost of confidence you give me in my own parenting. Thanks!

  4. I really struggled with these same things with my first baby. I felt betrayed every time he broke out of his "routine". Around nine months he really started to be a horrible sleeper-- at night and during naps and I was going crazy. My friend mentioned the term "sleep regression" to me and I googled it and stumbled across this really wonderful book called "The Wonder Week" by Hetty Vanderijt. I'm not a big fan of parenting books, especially sleep books, but I found a copy of this book and it proved to be SUCH a blessing for me. Basically what the author talks about is how around the time that babies are making physical growth spurts-- about every 3 months-- they also make cognitive growth spurts. Their whole world changes cognitvly and they have to learn how to adjust to it. It is the equivalent of gaining a new sense. It makes their world scary and unpredicatable and all they want is what is familar and safe-- usually mom and milk.

    The book gives you an idea about the sorts of things babies experience at each "leap" and how you can help them, and yourself through, it. I bought a copy of the book before I had my second baby and it was amazing what a difference it made for me. Whenever she started to get extra fussy or break out of her routine I'd know she was starting a leap and I was so much more patient and understanding of her.

    Like I said I'm not a big parenting book person, but this one is great. I think they also have a wonder weeks website that gives you some of the basic information about each leap. Just know that what your baby is doing is normal and she is going to do it MANY more times. Just love her and help her make sense of this crazy world.

  5. This is exactly how I feel, but have been too afraid to say it because most people that I know can not believe that I would rock my babies to sleep everynight. They thought I was being too soft when I said I could not let them cry it out, it hurt too much to think about doing it. I will eve wear them for naps if they need me to. Thank you

  6. I agree with Danielle on this. I am one that let my 2 year old navigate his sleep schedule. I just supported him in a sense. Some times he slept with us, sometimes he didn't. He loved it when we moved him into a big boys bed (double mattress on the floor, so he wouldn't fall off to far) at 13 months! He was an early riser and loved to fall asleep on the couch my his mom and dad. Now he is just over 2 and seriously a good sleeper. He will come tell me when he is tired and wants a nap. He will tell us to put him to bed. It's hilarious.

    I always felt very judged by others, because I never let him cry it out and didn't ever have a strict schedule. I questioned if I was hurting him more then helping him. I always felt like I was doing the right thing, but then the world would try to tell me otherwise!

    Thanks so much for this boost of confidence!

  7. I'm honestly crying right now. Tears falling onto my keyboard (which can't be good for it) because I have NEVER found someone who affirmed how I felt about the sleeping thing. Because ALL the books say to let them cry. And my friends say to let them cry. And my HUSBAND says to let them cry. And I just. don't. feel. good. about. it.
    And finally I have someone on my side. Who sees it the way I see it. And feels the way I feel about it. And I know that I'm not crazy.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


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