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The 12-Month Sleep Regression

Happy first birthday to your little one, AND congrats to you! You survived the first year! While I KNOW there are plenty of good things about the first year, I also know there are many hard parts – it’s okay to acknowledge both! This birthday may have lots of conflicting emotions. Missing the baby snuggles WHILE being happy that the sleepless nights are (mostly) over are both valid!

Do me a favor and let your child’s birthday celebration be about everyone. Your child is not the only one who has grown a lot in the past year.

While there IS a 12-month sleep regression, the good news is that this tends to be one of the “easier” regressions. It still has its difficulties but it is generally not nearly as long-lasting or troubling as some of the other regressions.

To review, regressions fall into three categories:

1. Skill-Based Regressions: Your baby is learning a new skill like crawling, sitting, or talking!

2. Separation Anxiety-Based Regressions: Your child is learning more about how they exist in relation to you in space. They might also be learning what is an effective way to have you come back to them!

3. Cognitive-Based Regressions: We see this often in the toddler years! Toddlers are learning a variety of skills that include power, control, and reasoning.

The 12-month sleep regression is a tiny mix of all three of these! As I mentioned before, the 12-month sleep regression is generally not too daunting, but it does often cause the caregiver to feel a bit confused, as it can feel like there is a little bit of everything going on!

Symptoms of the Twelve-Month Sleep Regression

· Nap strikes (especially the second nap of the day!)

· Heightened emotions at bedtime or at wakings in the night (more screaming or tears involved)

· Increased night wakings or early morning wake-ups

How long does this regression last?

The good news is that this regression tends to be on the shorter side! Traditionally, regressions can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks, but this regression trends closer to 1 to 2 weeks!

The Golden Rules for this Regression

Navigating this regression can feel confusing and overwhelming! There are two main rules that I want you to follow to come out on the other side of this regression as quickly as possible!

1. Do NOT drop down to one nap

This regression is notorious for children skipping or delaying their second nap of the day, and it often has parents wondering if they should make the transition to one nap! While a small percentage of babies will be ready for that transition to one nap, most will not at this age. It’s my preference to hold off on this transition until we KNOW that it’s not just the regression at play. Continue to offer two naps a day, even if your little one doesn’t take it.

If your child is in daycare, then you may find that your daycare transitions them to one nap a day at this age. While it is too early for most children to transition, we cannot control what happens at daycare – and I often find that this transition works for daycare simply because EVERYONE is napping at this time. There is a bit of “peer pressure” that occurs with napping.

Many parents are worried about this transition at daycare, not only because of the schedule change but also because their little ones will be sleeping on a cot or a mat, as opposed to a crib. Again, I would not stress about this at first: this usually plays out much differently at daycare than it would at home since everyone will be sleeping on a mat or cot.

If your child’s daycare does transition them to one nap, then you can continue offering two naps when your child is at home – in fact, I would encourage you to!

2. Extend wake windows IF sleep doesn’t improve after 2 weeks.

If sleep doesn’t improve after two weeks, then I do not want you to immediately drop that second nap. Instead, what I will have you try is extending wake windows slightly! If your child is falling asleep within 15-20 minutes during their first nap, then you do not need to change the first wake window. I do want you to try adding 30 minutes to their second wake window to provide some more sleep pressure for their second nap.

This may make bedtime a little bit later: That’s okay! You may be entering into the “yellow light” stage of a nap transition! To read more about this you can click the blog link below:

3. Remain consistent with your independent sleep routines

Additional night wakes or escalated emotions at bedtime can tempt you into more hands-on methods to help your little one fall asleep (like rocking or feeding to sleep). If you are already assisting your little one to sleep in this way and do not want to make changes, then skip this part! However, if you have already established independent sleep and would like to maintain it, read on!

During sleep regressions, it is vital that you remain consistent with your regular routines and habits. Consistent does not mean perfect! If you deviate from the plan occasionally, then it will not have a long-term impact on your child’s sleep. However, if you establish new sleep routines and habits during this time, then your little one will continue to expect these routines even after the regression has ended. This is where I often hear parents say that they have been in a sleep regression for months! If certain sleep behaviors have lasted for months, then it is likely not a sleep regression but instead a new sleep routine.

If you have created a new sleep routine, and it’s no longer working for you, then I do not want you to feel guilty in any way about it. Sometimes we do what works best in the moment, even if it means there are some longer term consequences. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, in fact I think it speaks volumes that you are being flexible to meet your child where they are at.

It also doesn’t mean that this new routine is permanent. I promise, it is NEVER too late to change our routines and sleep practices. Even I, a certified sleep consultant, fell into this pattern a few times! I wrote a blog about it! You can read more by clicking the link below:

Common Causes of this Regression

1. On the move!

While your baby may be full of all kinds of new skills, movement is most certainly one of them! There can be a large range of movement development including increased crawling speed, pulling up to stand, cruising while holding onto furniture, or full-fledged walking! ALL of these milestones can impact sleep, simply because new skills are EXCITING. Your baby may want to either practice them at all times of the night OR their brain may simply be buzzing and overstimulated from all of this learning they are doing during the day!

There are two ways to help ease this aspect of the regression.

First, I want you to make sure you are providing LOTS of opportunities to practice these new skills during the day. The best place for your baby to be is in a safe, open play space. While limited time in containers (bouncers, car seats, strollers) is often necessary, just make sure you are ALSO offering lots of time in an open space as well. When you have time, sit near your baby and help guide them through these new milestones!

Second, if your baby is practicing these new milestones in their crib and gets stuck, then do not immediately rescue them. This will often occur when your child first learns how to pull themselves up on furniture! They will learn how to go up before they learn how to go down! It’s common for babies to get “stuck” while holding onto the edge of the crib because they don’t have the confidence to simply sit back down yet. I’m a big believer that the motivation to learn something new can come from being uncomfortable. Ideally, we want your baby to learn how to sit down themselves! Therefore, don’t RUSH in the room when your baby gets stuck. Instead, wait 3-5 minutes before entering the room and helping your child to sit back down.

2. Sleep needs are dropping

Over time your child’s overall sleep needs will drop! This means that they will need slightly longer wake windows than they did before. This MAY be the reason why your baby is delaying or skipping their nap! As stated before, we want to make SURE that this is what is happening and it’s not just the regression at play, so please wait the entire two weeks before adjusting the schedule.

If you do need to adjust baby’s schedule, then keep in mind that change does not need to be drastic! Consider adding 30 minutes onto their second and third wake windows! You can also consider capping their first and/or second nap by 15-30 minutes.

For example, if your child’s previous schedule was:

7:00 AM Wake

9:30 to 11:00 nap

2:00-3:45 nap

7:00 PM Bedtime

Now, their adjusted schedule would be:

7:00 AM Wake

9:30 to 10:45 nap

2:15-3:30 nap

7:30 PM Bedtime

3. Separation anxiety is peaking

If you did not notice a peak in separation anxiety between 8/10 months, then you may notice it hit in full force now! If your child is peaking in separation anxiety, you should not JUST notice a change in behaviors at night: you will also notice it during the day. Separation anxiety can look like:

· Crying when you leave the room

· Acting like a velcro baby (always wanting to be picked up or carried around)

· Getting upset or anxious in anticipation of events that typically lead to separation (i.e. before daycare drop-off or during your bedtime routine)

· Having a preferred parent and being abnormally upset if handed off to a different caregiver

There are two main ways I want to approach this stage of separation anxiety:

Practice Separation During the Day

If we are only practicing separation at bedtime, then bedtime may quickly become even more escalated than normal! Make sure you are practicing separation throughout the day. Your child should see you leave and come back regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Have a quick goodbye routine that you do every time (it can be simple like a kiss on the cheek and wave goodbye). Don’t linger at your goodbye, and don’t sneak out! Walk out the door confidently!

If you are the only parent at home, then a simple way you can build up this skill set is by putting your baby in a safe place and going around the corner to grab a glass of water or use the bathroom.

A more fun way to work on this separation is by playing LOTS of peek-a-boo!

Lengthen your Bedtime Routine

Whenever separation anxiety is peaking, your child can benefit from some additional one-on-one time with you! Be strategic about when you use this one-on-one time.

For example, if your child is crying when you’re walking out the door, I don’t necessarily want you to stop what you are doing to give them one-on-one time in that moment. Instead, be mindful about spending some one-on-one time with your child before it’s time to leave!

My favorite way to do this is to start your bedtime routine 10 minutes earlier and have special play time with your child in their room. Make sure to put away phones and other devices and focus on JUST being with your child. Set a timer so that you can get the benefit of a full 10 minutes with your child before you move on to your bedtime routine!

Need more information about separation anxiety? Read my Separation Anxiety Blog below:

4. Other factors that may contribute to the 12-month sleep regression

First molars coming in!

Molars SUCK. The one-year-old molars are the big teeth that come in at the very back of your child’s mouth. They can be very painful when coming through. While teething can certainly disrupt sleep, it is important to remember that not EVERY sleep disturbance is due to teething, and pain from teething really only lasts 48-72 hours.

When you are experiencing a sleep regression, it’s always good to do a quick teething check. If you notice swelling, redness, or some tiny white bumps in the back of your child’s mouth, then they likely have their molar coming in! Talk with your pediatrician about offering over-the-counter pain medication, like Infants’ Tylenol.

Transitioning to whole milk or weaning from breastfeeding

Most babies will transition to some form of milk around 12 months, and for many babies, this sudden introduction of dairy can be a bit of a shock to the system! This is why I love a gradual transition. You do not need to transition to milk all at once! Instead, focus on fading out the amount of breastmilk or formula you are offering and slowly introducing a little bit more milk at a time.

As you can imagine, weaning from breastfeeding can be a big disruption to sleep. Breastfeeding offers so much more than nutrition: it offers connection and comfort as well. Let me be clear, I’m not implying that you HAVE to wean at 12 months! If you want to continue to breastfeed, then I’m SO proud of you. At the same time, if you have decided to stop breastfeeding, then - again - I am SO proud of you. Neither of these decisions is easy to make!

If you have decided to stop breastfeeding, then I want to make this change in two phases:

1. If you have not already, create some time between feeding and sleep. If you typically offer your last feed right before sleep, then start offering it earlier in your nap or bedtime routine instead!

2. Once you have decided to eliminate that feed, replace that time with another activity that focuses on connection. Rocking, reading, or playing are all GREAT ideas for this age.

Keep in mind that for some babies, weaning off the bottle may be just as difficult! Many babies have an emotional connection to that last feed, even if a breast is not involved! Feeding is comforting! You can follow the above steps to wean off bottle feeding before sleep as well.

Final Thoughts:

While this is generally considered one of the “easier” regressions, please know that no regression is easy. Sleep disruptions can truly have you in a state of panic and wondering if sleep is ruined forever. Take a moment to remember that NOTHING is forever. This regression WILL end and you will be on a predictable routine again. Until then, your best has ALWAYS been good enough for your child.

Edited by the insightful Emily Schafer

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