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Sleep Challenges for Older Babies Aged 9-18 Months

Sleep Challenges for Older Babies Aged 9-18 Months

The period from nine months on is such a gorgeous age - your baby will likely be babbling away, perhaps forming sounds or first words, getting their first teeth, learning to sit, crawl or even walk, and enjoying playing games. But these developmental milestones can also lead to huge sleeping challenges, even for babies who have been angelic sleepers for many months.

There are several issues you may face around this age:

  • Separation anxiety

  • Teething

  • Learning to move

  • Nap resistance

  • Early waking

  • Continued inability to self-settle

Separation anxiety

This starts to develop from about 8 months old, as your baby begins to realise he is not physically attached to you! Your baby may have been quite happy settling at bedtime and playing independently for short periods, but all of a sudden starts to cry and wail every time you leave the room (or when you put him into his cot). Over the coming months separation anxiety will continue to come and go in waves, usually while your baby is going through a significant developmental milestone. As babies get older and begin to become more independent physically, perhaps even taking their first steps, you will probably notice it peak again before easing up once they have mastered their new skill.

This can come as a rude shock for parents who have had babies who up until now settled well, without help from mum or dad. It can also drive you crazy as you feel like you can't even go to the loo without taking baby with you! Making matters worse, it’s often between 9-18 months that many parents need to return to work either in a part-time or full-time capacity, and settling into daycare can exacerbate separation anxiety even further.

Specific tips for dealing with separation anxiety (both day and night):

  • Use a sling during the day for short walks, into a shop, jobs around the house etc - babies of this age love being up close to mum or dad and it gives them extra cuddles when otherwise they may be in a pushchair.

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that includes plenty of cuddles, stories, baby massage etc.

  • Play some games that teach baby about object permanence - which is the developmental concept babies need to learn to understand that you still exist even after you have left the room. Peek a boo or hiding toys under other things are both good at this age

  • Make sure your baby spends time with people she knows and try to avoid leaving your baby with care-givers she doesn't know, particularly at this age. If you need to go back to work around this time, make the transition as easy for you both as possible, by spending time at the daycare/care-giver's place together.

  • Gradually increase the times you are apart from your baby, eg the first time at a care-giver or daycare without you should only be for an hour or two.

  • Always say goodbye if you are leaving your baby - do not sneak out as this may lead to distrust and further upset - both at bedtime and during the day.

For more information see our articles on ‘Tips on helping your child nap well in daycare’ and ‘Separation anxiety in babies & toddlers’.


Hmm... there are many views on whether teething affects baby's sleep, plus different babies can be affected in different ways. However most babies will be unsettled and may wake in the night for a night or two when teeth are actually breaking through the gums.

The key with teething and sleeping is to be supportive if your baby is in pain and undergoing this major development, but try to avoid new habits developing that will lead to ongoing sleep problems. Teething continues off and on for the first two years...that's a lot of broken sleep for the whole family if bad habits develop.

As a rule of thumb, if the sleep problem has been going on for more than three nights, there is a reason other than teething!

Tips for dealing with teething:

  • Check if you can see the tooth just under the surface or starting to break through. While red cheeks, extra drooling and other signs may indicate a tooth may be coming, these can continue for weeks and months.

  • Once you can see a tooth coming, try to continue with your usual bedtime routine and settling.

  • If your baby has real difficulty settling or wakes in pain, discuss this with your chemist or doctor, and consider the appropriate use of some baby pain relief. If your baby doesn't respond to the pain relief within 5-10 minutes, then it's probably not teething pain which is causing the sleep problem.

The key with teething and sleeping is to be supportive if your baby is in pain and undergoing this major development, but try to avoid new habits developing that will lead to ongoing sleep problems.


  • As soon as the tooth is through the gum and growing, then get straight back into your normal expectations for settling and sleeping.

  • Perhaps the exception to this is when babies are cutting their molars. These big teeth cover a large surface so you might notice that they take much longer to come through and sleep may consequently be disrupted for a longer period or you may find you have a series of bad nights over the course of a couple of weeks. As per our recommendations for teething in general, however, the best thing you can do during this time is to try to avoid creating new sleep habits that require your presence.

Learning to Move

Learning to move can have a major impact on your baby's sleep. First there is the cognitive development going on in that little brain; often babies simply can’t stop trying to practice their new skill just because it’s bedtime and all that brain development can make falling asleep difficult.

Over the coming months, your wee one will go through a variety of developmental milestones, beginning with getting up on his hands and knees, rocking or starting to crawl one or two steps. Then just when you think the new skill is mastered the process will start all over again as she starts pulling up to standing, cruising around the furniture and eventually taking her first wobbly steps.

Then there's the physical side of things. Your baby will get tired from all the extra exertion, leading to an over-tired baby (= unsettled night sleep).

Plus your baby may constantly want to try the new skills they are learning. This is all good during the day but can be a major frustration to you at bedtime or 2am! A baby who previously settled easily may really struggle to lie still and relax as they are learning to crawl, and this can also continue to be a challenge for really active babies for months.

Often once the new skill has been mastered, your baby may have a couple of nights where they sleep all night - they are physically and mentally exhausted! Then your baby's sleep will likely return to how it was before the developmental stage they have just been through.

Tips for dealing with learning to move:

Give your baby lots of opportunity to practice her new skills during the day!

  • Recognise that major developmental stages such as learning to crawl, stand and walk almost always impact on sleep for a couple of days.

  • You can use a Safe T Sleep or Babe Sleeper to stop your baby being able to crawl round or pull up in bed. These are certainly great options for helping your baby settle faster and get back to sleep easier in the night. They can also be very reassuring that your baby has remained in a safe sleeping position during the night. Alternatively, if your baby is settling back to sleep despite their new found movement but keeps getting arms or limbs stuck through the cot bars, you might prefer our breathable cot liners.

  • Give your baby something to look at in bed which may encourage them to lie still as they are falling asleep - I use a book tucked down the side of the mattress and a musical toy attached to the cot that our baby can pull himself.

Nap resistance and changes to day sleeps

Once babies are about 9 months old, they often start to resist their day sleeps. While they may have been settling easily at about 9am, all of a sudden your baby may cry, scream or just refuse to go to sleep.

No, it doesn't mean it's time to give up the morning sleep! It's just an indicator that your baby's daytime routine needs adjusting. Babies between the ages 9-12 months do best on two naps a day and generally need between 3-4 hours sleep with naps in the morning and afternoon, and bedtime about 7pm. Usually one of those naps will be shorter than the other. Between the ages 12-18 months, mostolder babies will drop from two to one day sleeps. Your child will let you know by either resisting the morning sleep so it moves gradually closer and closer to midday, or by flat out refusing to go down for either the morning or afternoon nap. Before you decide to move her to one nap, however, try our tips below.

Baby standing up in cot

Tips for nap resistance:

  • Change your baby's morning sleep time until 30 mins later, so put her down at about 9.30am (rather than 9am). If she is still not settling easily, try 9.45am.

  • Move her afternoon sleep back by 30 mins until approx 1.30pm.

  • Make sure your baby has plenty of opportunity to play and move about, so she gets physically tired.

  • If the suggested nap times don't work for your baby, continue to use tired signs such as eye rubbing and grizzling as a cue that it's time to sleep.

  • If you have avoided a structured routine until now, give it a try - your baby will almost certainly sleep better!

  • If your baby is over one and you have persevered with the above and find that she is still resisting her naps then it may be time to try her on one day sleep. To do this, move her morning nap back to 11am. As she adapts, this will gradually move closer to midday. Bringing bedtime forward to 6/6:30pm can help her adjust and combat overtiredness. You may also find that two naps are required on some days. If this is the case, often a quick nap on the go in the late afternoon will do the trick.

  • As with all nap transitions, it can take a few days for your wee one to adapt. Be flexible and persevere and she should pass through the phase relatively painlessly.

Early Waking

Babies of this age can suddenly start waking early, when up till now they've slept till 6.30-7am. Another rude shock for parents!!

The most likely causes of early waking at this age are:

  • Baby is chilly in the morning

  • Too much light coming in the bedroom windows

  • Household or outside noise

  • Waking for a milk feed

  • Reinforcement as mum or dad gets baby up for cuddle/feed/come into their bed

  • The timing of the first day sleep - baby will wake early if the first sleep is too early as this is treated as an extension of their night sleep.

  • Baby's evening bedtime, ie if you put your baby to bed at 6pm, they are unlikely to sleep past 5.30-6am!!! Babies of this age need 11-12 hours night sleep so make sure your expectations of what constitutes an acceptable time to start the day are realistic.

Tips for solving early waking:

  • Bedtime at about 7pm

  • Move your baby's morning sleep 30 mins later, as above under 'nap resistance'

  • Avoid reinforcing your baby's waking, such as giving milk feeds at 5.30am or putting baby into bed with you until a reasonable 'wake-up' time.

  • Treat early waking as you would night-waking at 2am - resettle your baby in her own cot, using whichever technique you normally use, such as popping in the dummy or ssshing and patting.

  • Try leaving your baby for 10 mins before going in, despite her protesting, to give her the opportunity to go back to sleep.

  • Peg an extra layer on the curtains, such as a dark coloured sheet or black-out lining.

  • Make sure your baby is warm by using a baby sleeping bag that can't be kicked off. If you use blankets, dress baby warmly enough that it doesn't matter if the blankets are kicked off.

  • Play music or preferably white noise on repeat all night, so it covers any disturbing noises from neighbours, birds, cars or in your house.

  • Try doing a dreamfeed with your baby ASLEEP at about 10pm for a week.


Continued inability to self settle

If your baby continues to be unable to self settle after these issues pass, or your baby has always had issues at bedtime or woken in the night, then consider starting a sleep training program.

This isn't as scary as it sounds, as there are many different options for teaching your baby to self settle. For example, you can use a gradual method if you are currently feeding your baby to sleep, or choose a verbal check-in method if you are OK with short periods of crying. While no-one likes to hear their baby crying, the quicker you teach your baby to settle and resettle themself in the night, the far less crying you will get overall.


So, yes, the phase between 9-18 months can be a really challenging period for baby's sleep! So much is going on and even the best sleepers can suddenly seem impossible to get to settle. We hope this information will help you, and once you develop a consistent plan and stick to it, you and your baby will soon be enjoying a full night's sleep.

If your baby has been a good sleeper until recently, any sleep training will likely be very quick. For example, our 9 month old baby had been struggling to settle and waking in the night while he was learning to crawl and getting his first 2 teeth. Once we decided to stick to a sleep training technique (the verbal check-ins technique shown on the Sleepeasy Solution DVD) it took an hour on the first night to get Ben off to sleep. We checked on him at 5/10/15 mins and offered verbal reassurance only. He fell asleep after an hour, slept through and has had no settling issues or night waking in the week since.

See our article on 'Verbal Reassurance Sleep Training' here.

If you are approaching sleep training for the first time or have been previously offering your baby lots of support in the forms of feeding or rocking to sleep, you might find that you feel more comfortable with a gentler approach. Gradual methods will work if you persevere and can be consistent in implementing them although they don't necessarily always mean your baby won't cry. Babies of this age are becoming far more vocal and are able to resist changes more vigorously by yelling, pulling up to standing in their cot and so on but you will be there to offer them comfort and reassurance if you feel this is a more suitable approach for you and your family.


So, yes, the phase between 9-18 months can be a really challenging period for baby's sleep! So much is going on and even the best sleepers can suddenly seem impossible to get to settle. We hope the information above will help you work out why your baby is waking. Then once you develop a consistent plan and stick to it, you and your baby will soon be enjoying a full night's sleep.

To help you put your plan in place, complete our 'Night Waking Quiz' and download a copy of our 'Sleep Plan' resource.

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