Sleeping at 7 Months

Dear Magda,

It is becoming more and more difficult to put Alison, my seven-month-old, to sleep. I have always nursed her to sleep, but now she wakes up crying as soon as I put her down, or shortly thereafter. I have tried putting her down later and later in the evening, thinking she was not sleepy, but this did not help. Now, neither Alison nor I get enough sleep. Help!

Tired Parent

Dear Parent,

I’ll try. But do not expect a magic formula; sometimes we cannot isolate any one problem area from the rest of the everyday life of your baby.

I know that the easiest way to put your baby to sleep is to nurse her into sleep. I have observed, however, that as an infant becomes more aware of herself and of her environment, it is better to put her down while she is still somewhat awake. It is possible that waking up in a crib with no memory of having been put there can be disorienting and scary. Babies younger than Alison may wake up confused because of the sudden change in their sensitive vestibular organization, (i.e. going from a more upright position to lying flat in the crib).

Rather than putting Alison down later and later, I suggest that you sensitively observe the very first signs of tiredness. That is the time a child is ready for sleep. As time goes by, increased tiredness builds resistance —and once the second wind hits, going to sleep becomes an ordeal for both your baby and you. An overtired child sleeps restlessly, wakes up more often during the night and gets up grouchy, way too early in the morning. Stress and overstimulation can also cause exhaustion, irritability and resistance to sleep.

Many parents I have advised have learned with surprise and delight that contrary to their fears, putting babies to bed very early in the evening did not make them wake up earlier in the morning. Indeed, their babies often woke up much later in the morning, adding hours of sleep.

Your goal is to develop good sleeping habits. The easiest way to develop good habits in general is to have a predictable daily life. Young babies thrive on routine. Ideally, daily events of eating, sleeping, bathing, outdoor play. etc., happen around the same time and in the same sequence each day. As the baby is learning to anticipate the next event, many conflicts are eliminated. A mutual adaptation of the biological rhythm of your baby and your family schedule develops. It also enables you, the parent, to plan ahead for those blocks of time when your baby is usually napping or playing peacefully.

But be prepared that there will be times when a child becomes reluctant to fall asleep, e.g. when she comes down with a sickness, shortly before a spurt of new developmental milestones, or during certain vulnerable times of emotional growth, such as separation anxiety. Your 7-month-old Alison is at a sensitive period for separation anxiety.

Both the amount and the pattern of sleep change from child to child and of course change as she grows. Newborn and very young babies alternate periods of sleep with periods of wakefulness six to ten times within 24 hours, with an average of 18 to 21 hours of steep; two- to three-year-olds average 12-14 hours of sleep.

Everything that happens to your baby during the day can influence her sleep pattern. Does she spend plenty of time playing outdoors? Building a room-size outdoor playpen is an excellent investment. Napping outdoors is a good habit.

I want to talk a little about how to put a baby to bed. As bedtime approaches, create an atmosphere that becomes progressively slower paced and more quiet. Do you happen to know the lovely book by Margaret Wise Brown, Good Night Moon, in which page by page the room darkens, gradually evoking a sleepy mood? This is the feeling I suggest you work toward.

Repeating a simple pre-bedtime ritual helps your baby to get ready gradually. For example, making a habit of commenting while putting away toys can be helpful: “The ball goes into this basket here in the corner; dolly sits on the top shelf; the toys will stay here until morning when you can play with them again.” Such comments build a bridge between ‘tonight’ and ‘tomorrow,’ and provide a sense of continuity and security. Then you may continue, “I am going to pull the curtains now, then I will turn off the big light and put on the night light, then I will go into the other room.” As Alison grows older, she may take over your role and have such monologues herself.

Some infants have a special bed companion, a ‘lovey’ such as a Teddy bear or blanket, also referred to as a transitional object. Putting Alison and her lovey to bed, you may talk to the bear, “Have a peaceful rest. I will cover both Alison and you so that the two of you will feel comfortable and cozy. Are you ready for your lullaby?” (You may want to sing or wind up a music box — music is a soothing way to end a day.)

Finally, caress your baby gently and say, “Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

As you can see, l am giving you ideas of how you can create an atmosphere conducive to rest. But remember nobody can make another person fall asleep, (short of giving sleeping pills). How to relax and let sleep come is a skill Alison, like everybody else, must learn all by herself. Children also wake up several times during the night and learn how to case themselves back into sleep, (unless they have a need, or get scared.)

Your overall attitude can make a difference. Do not feel sorry for “poor baby” who must go to bed — rather remember how good it feels to rest when you are tired, and how nice it feels to wake up refreshed.

Wishing you peaceful nights and joyful days in 1984.


Editor’s note: We have followed these guidelines with Nathan from his earliest days, and he now knows when he needs sleep, and that it feels good to sleep when he is tired. The other day, he came in the kitchen after his rest, hugged me and said, “Mommy, I had a wonderful nap.” ■

EDUCARING® Volume V, Number 1, Winter 1984

First, my wishes for children. I wish they could grow according to their natural pace, sleep when sleepy, eat when hungry, cry when upset, play and explore without being unnecessarily interrupted. I wish them to be allowed to grow and blossom as each was meant to be and not molded or shoved into some mode of faddism that confines like a violin case. 

I wish children would nor have to perform for their parents, sit up when ready for rolling, or walk when ready for crawling. You know, a child can be pushed to do these things, but may not be physiologically really ready. In our culture, we push to attain these states faster than they should be reached. 

I wish children would not have to reassure parents of their effectiveness. They should not have to smile when frustrated or clap their hands when sleepy. They should not be ping pong balls between parents, nor experimental subjects of toy manufacturers, cereal makers, or new fads and theories in child care. 

Please, parents, the next holiday season, don’t succumb to the pressure of buying expensive, complex toys designed to be used certain ways. They rarely give children opportunities to explore and use them in their own way. Toys designed to entertain create passive onlookers and future television addicts, rather than curious, actively learning children. Pressures from commercials are especially strong at the holiday time of year. Think of the many children who are lost and bored unless they are entertained, and who keep asking, “What shall I do now?”

For parents I wish a lot of things, too. I wish they would feel secure, but not rigid. I want them to be accepting, but able to set limits; available, but not intrusive, and patient, but true to themselves. They need to be realistic, but consistent in their expectations, having the wisdom to resist new fads. I hope they can achieve a balance in giving quality time to their children and to themselves and achieve a state of self-respect and equal respect for their children.

I have a special wish for fathers, too. I wish that fathers could assume a new role of fatherhood based on human relationship rather than believing that being warm and gentle is not manly, or that a father is expected to be tough. They need not throw children into the air, nor blow cigarette smoke in their faces (Yes, I have seen this done “playfully.”) Roughhousing not only scares babies, but sometimes causes brain damage. What I’m saying is that playful pummeling is okay, as long as it’s not forced by the father and hard on the child. I would like fathers not to be afraid to be their own drummers, but to be themselves and to know that just because they are men, they need not be “macho.” They can be tender and soothing and quiet and still be men.

Above all else, I wish that we not lose sight of laughter. In spite of all the pain we might see and feel, we need to maintain our sense of humor. People who take life too seriously are terrible to live with!

Educaring® 7 (1), Winter, 1986.