My 7 month old is screaming a few hours after going to bed
by Jane - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD
(Niagara Falls, ON, Canada)
Hi, I have a 7 month old daughter who has been a wonderful sleeper. Even now we can put her to bed or down for her naps and she falls asleep on her own without a fuss. She now goes to bed between 8:30 and 9 p.m., but lately she has been screaming around 11:30 and midnight. When we go into her room her eyes are closed as though she is sleeping but she is screaming. The only thing that seems to get her to stop is if we hold her or worse yet bring her to bed with us. Holding her works sometimes but if you put her down too soon she starts screaming again. We don't know what to do anymore as these episodes have gotten worse and more frequent. Out of the past 10 nights she has woken us up screaming 8 nights.
There is a very good chance your daughter is having night terrors. Although less frequent at this age, night terrors in babies under 1 year do occur.
Remember that night terrors are not the same as nightmares. A night terror is what one has when awaking from a deep sleep. Your baby is then not really awake but actually moves and screams in her sleep.
What you describe: the screaming, it occurring in the first part of the night, her eyes being closed as if she is sleeping, … are all quite typical of a night terror.
The best you can do when she is having a terror is go into her room and make sure she is alright and safe. If necessary hold her until she calms down and sleeps again but interact as little as possible. Do not talk to her or try to wake her up. I would definitely stay in her room so as not to break with her good habit of sleeping well in her room.
What you can do to try and prevent the night terrors. The next nights, wake her gently at around 11.15pm. Keep things quiet and lights dim, talk softly. You want her to awaken slightly, without getting her wide awake and all active. You might pick her up and walk around her room, or change her diaper for instance.
Then put her back to sleep. Do this for a couple of nights in a row, and then pause to see what happens. This usually works well to break the cycle and stop the night terrors. If they keep occurring, continue waking her up for a couple of nights again, and then pause to see if they stop, or occur less.
Let me know (simply post a comment below) if nothing changes at all, then we will see further.