Q&A: getting a 9-month-old into a crib

I've gotten at least 6 questions on this in the past two months. And, frankly, I've been avoiding answering them because I don't really have an answer. So let's all take our best shots. I'll just summarize, because all of the questions were essentially the same.

Everyone wrote:

"I hope you can help me because I'm about to go insane. My beautiful baby has been sleeping with us for the past few months, but in the last couple of weeks she's been waking up 3-4 times a night. She'll nurse (or take a bottle) but then won't go back to sleep right away. Instead, it's like she wants to stay up and play for some reason. She never did this before. Why?!

In addition, she wiggles around so much in the bed that I can't sleep for more than ten minutes, and my poor partner is getting kicked in the kidneys all night. It's definitely time to move her to her own crib, but I don't know how to start. Should we put her crib in our room and work on that, then move her to her own room? Or should we just go cold turkey and put her down in her own room? She seems to be one of the kids whose tension increases from crying, so I really don't want her to suffer if she can't fall asleep right away in the crib.

She still nurses at night,and I don't want to wean completely until she's at least a year, but I don't know how to night-wean if I'm still nursing during the day, because I'm afraid it'll confuse her. Also, she's always been a great napper, but in the last week or two she's started to nap poorly. Should I work on getting her to nap in the crib first (she's always napped on our bed, but that isn't so great now that she's crawling) or try to do both nighttime and naptime sleep in the crib at the same time?

In the beginning we got so much more sleep with her in the bed with us, but now I'm afraid I've created a monster by not switching her sooner. Help."

The bad news is that you people all have a lot of stuff going on. The good news is that you're not the only ones. Almost everyone's baby starts sleeping poorly during the 9-month sleep regression, no matter where they sleep. So there's absolutely no need or reason to recriminate yourself or look backwards. You made the best decision at the time. The situation has changed, so it's time to adjust and move on.

Now let's start to pull this all apart. The first issue is the poor sleeping. That's a result of the 9-month-sleep regression, and there's nothing you can do about it (short of drugging your child) until the baby goes through that developmental spurt. So tired you forgot what the sleep regressions are about? Here's the post. Their little bodies just can't stay asleep because there's so much going on inside their brains.

This is also a prime time for learning to crawl, pull up, walk, etc. All that physical development also makes it really tough for babies to sleep, and they often wake themselves up in the middle of the night with movement. It's a little funny when your baby wakes up and is shocked to be up on hands and knees rocking. His or her body just did it without any conscious effort.

The trifecta of sleep disturbances is completed by teething. I don't know if anything more needs to be said about teething. If you want to give remedies, there are a bunch here and in the comments, but some kids are just really rough teethers and those kids are going to have disturbed sleep no matter what.

So. Your kid is sleeping poorly right now and you've determined that there's nothing you can do about it. That means you have to approach from the angle of your own sleep. If you have a partner, the two of you can take turns sleeping and being the night parent. Divide up your nights any way you want to (some couples will do a 2 am divide so each gets half a night of sleep, while others alternate nights), but the person on duty is on duty, and the person who's not is sound asleep and blissfully unaware of how restless the baby's sleep is during the other parent's shift. If you don't ahve a partner, maybe you have a relative or friend who would come over and take one or two nights for you so you can catch up a little on sleep. remember that this is a time-delineated problem, so if you can just make it through the next few weeks things should settle down at least a little.

The real problem with being in this situation is that you're desperate for the baby to be out of your bed and just sleeping, and you can't take it anymore. But right now is exactly when it would be a disaster to move the baby into a crib, and would just mean hours of trauma and crying for all of you. You're desperate to nightwean, but the nursing is the only thing that creates any remote sense of peace at night.

IME, and I've heard this from a fair number of other parents, that point of maximum tension, when something's got to change or you will lose your mind, is right before things get better on their own. It's almost as if the balance of the kid's development is somehow designed to push the parent to the edges before retreating back to a point of comfort. With that in mind, deciding you can hold on another hour or day or week when you feel like you're seriously going to lose it is sometimes the best thing you can do for your emotional health. At other times, the best thing you can do for your emotional health is hand the kid to someone else and just leave for an hour or a day to get yourself back a little. There is no shame in saying "I just can't take this right now" and asking for help.

So now let's assume that you've made it through the awful not-sleeping phase and your kid seems to be less restless and better able to get back to sleep. But you still want the baby out of your bed. Now's the time to switch to the crib (or mattress on your floor, or whatever you choose) since the developmental spurt is over.

My recommendation is that you think about how your child is, and how you are, and let that help you pick where to put the crib. If it were me, I'd try with the crib in the other room just to see what would happen. But I'm a gambler like that. So do what you think makes the most sense and makes you feel most comfortable.

For the actual switch, try to keep the routine as identical as possible to the old routine. You may have to rock to sleep after nursing instead of nursing in the bed, or change some other element, but you'll have the most success if you can keep your routine as similar to the old one as possible. Do what you need to to get your baby to sleep in the crib. Then come up with a plan of what to do for wake-ups. Lots of couples send in the non-nursing parent (assuming one of you is nursing) for the first wake-up, and find that the baby gets angry, but after a couple of nights stops waking up then (because there's no milk payoff).

You should also decide how long the baby is going to be expected to stay in the crib. Obviously it would be excellent if your baby would sleep all night, But that probably won't happen right away. So what do you do when s/he wakes up? You can try to get the baby back down in the crib (designate whose job this is ahead of time), or you can bring the baby in with you. We chose the second route and it worked out really well. Gradually he slept later and later, until one day he didn't wake up until 6:30 am, and was sleeping all night in hs crib. It was kind of shocking. But you might want your baby to sleep all night in the crib sooner and be willing to go through more struggle to make it happen. Just pick a way that will work for you all. Then give it 4-5 days and reassess to see if you're making progress, and decide what to do from there.

I'd try just switching into the crib first, to see if that cures the nightweaning problem. It's possible that your baby will sleep all the way through, or only wake up once, in which case your problem is basically solved. Just start sending in the non-nursing parent for that wake-up, and see if the wake-up stops after a week or so.

If you do have to nightwean, cut out one feed at a time, starting with the earliest one. Send in the non-nursing partner to get the baby back to sleep. The baby will be angry, so it might be tough to calm him or her down. If the baby seems truly hungry, feed the baby. This process could go smoothly, or it could really suck. Remember to pay attention to yoru baby's messages and go only as far as your baby can. Some kids do truly need to eat at night even past a year, so if your child seems really hungry, don't pay attention to when the baby "should" eat, just feed your child.

About naps? You got me. Usually once the nighttime sleep is straightened out, the naps fall into place. And if you're going to want to be out and about in the warm weather, don't get your child used to only taking naps in the crib, or you won't be able to let him or her nap in the stroller while you run errands.

Anyone else? What did I forget in this strange potluck of a post?