Baby head bonking
June 29, 2017 10:25 AM   Subscribe

We've gotten into a bad baby bedtime routine and I need help! Can anyone advise me on how to get baby to sleep without head-bonking?

Baby is eight months old and was a unicorn baby who went to sleep with no fuss until about two months ago. He has some obvious tells for when he's tired (an awful squawking noise, rubbing his head and face, falling over when he's on his tummy) so what I was doing was simply putting him to bed when I saw those.

Now, he won't go peacefully. I put him in with a pacifier and lovey toy, pat his back for a few minutes and then leave when I see his eyes close. And then a few minutes later, I hear a loud smacking noise which signifies that he's gotten onto his hands and knees and either accidentally or on purpose is banging his head on the side of the crib.

Sometimes he cries from it, sometimes he doesn't. I've read that the debs are not made of strong enough wood that he can really harm himself. But the noise of it for some reason produces a really strong adrenaline response in me. I go in, right him, soothe and try again. If it happens three times in a row, I conclude he is not tired enough and bring him out for some more playtime. When I see the tired tells, I try again.

Often the cycle repeats itself several times. It can go up to an hour, at the end of which he's too tired to go on, and I'm in tears and too spent by the whole thing to actually enjoy my evening. The noise it makes when he smacks his head is just really awful for me and really winds me up.

I don't understand what's going on here. He's clearly tired when I put him down. I know babies fight it sometimes but I don't think the problem is he is not tired. I'm okay if he cries, needs extra comfort, whatever. I just can't stand the head banging. I need to develop a better bedtime plan to head this off!

He goes about two hours between naps during the day but he's a bad napper and seldom goes more than half an hour at a time. I aim for four hours of awake time between last nap and down for the night. Once he's down, he stays down until about 6 in the morning.
posted by ficbot to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is super, super normal. Mention it to his pediatrician of course, but it's very common and not damaging. I know it's distressing, but he's ok and there's no problem to solve on the baby side. The solutions should be on ways to make it not freak you out, rather than ways to make it stop. Pull the crib away from the wall, practice relaxation or meditation, whatever helps you so that you can handle it without going in and soothing/stopping him when it happens.
posted by brainmouse at 10:30 AM on June 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds more like he is overtired. You might try putting him down about 15-20 mins before the regular time. It's totally okay if he plays for a few minutes or babbles to himself for a little while, that doesn't mean that he's not tired, it just means that he's winding himself down and processing his day.

Don't discount the idea that he is also getting some gratification by you coming in multiple times to soothe and pay attention to him. He's old enough to understand words, even if he cannot respond. Remind him not to bonk his head, and tell him that if he needs you, you will come and check on him, but that it's bedtime now, and so you will not be taking him out of bed again until morning.
posted by vignettist at 10:34 AM on June 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Two months ago = 6 months = average age of learning object permanence.

Also known as, he now realizes when you leave the room you are STILL IN THE HOUSE. So he tries to get your attention.

Also seconding the he may be overtired and that talking to him about it oddly can help a bit.
posted by typecloud at 10:43 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

8 month sleep regression. Is he pulling up to stand yet? If not, he might be working on that (now is a good time to lower the crib mattress) or working on some other large gross motor skill. In my experience, it takes about a week to go back to normal, not much longer. Just keep doing what you normally do, if you can.

I don't agree that he's intentionally trying to get your attention, but nearly certain that it's motor skills related. I think it's ok to go in and do your sleep routine again and again. I don't think there will be too much of a positive reinforcement if you keep settling him, but try not to be too entertaining.
posted by vunder at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, if he's napping badly, he might need a new nap schedule with a slightly longer duration between naps. Try the 2-3-4 schedule?

And really, 8-10 months are pretty tough for sleeping. If it was easy before, it might be tough now, but should get easier again.
posted by vunder at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2017

Sorry, I just re-read and realized that you've been having this happen for a while now, and have already extended the last part of the nap, so I apologize for giving advise you've already considered.

I still think it's probably motorskills: is he getting a lot of time to practice his gross motorskill during the day? Does he need a new toy to climb on or more space to crawl?

Babies, man. They are a mystery.
posted by vunder at 11:18 AM on June 29, 2017

You could add the mesh crib bumpers, could dampen the sound and be a bit softer on his head. They add just a bit of padding (more than I expected) and are breathable for baby. Our daughter wasn't head-banging, but she did roll around and hit the sides of her crib while asleep.
posted by mirabelle at 11:22 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Something you might want to experiment with: instead of leaving soon after his eyes close, stick around for at least as long as it usually takes him to get into the head bonking thing. That way, when he wakes up and goes for it, you're right there to nip it in the bud. Also, you'll be informing yourself about his actual going-to-sleep process by direct observation, which can only help you formulate responses to it that work better for both of you.

Take in a book to read, if you like, so you can be there without specifically attending to him.

If he settles and sleeps while you're in the room but the bonking starts up again as soon as you leave, try to work out exactly what his little sleepy brain is interpreting as the Mum Gone Now signal. Is it the sound of the door closing? Brief draught caused by door swing? Sudden lack of breathing sounds? Guess as many things as possible and test them systematically. The right time to work out appropriate counter-measures is after figuring out how he's actually managing to perceive your absence even after shutting his eyes.
posted by flabdablet at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

He might even be doing the first bonk while actually asleep, if his developing brain hasn't quite sorted out the whole Shut Down These Shiny New Motor Resources First thing, and waking himself up that way. Extra padding would certainly be an appropriate thing to try for that.

It feels extremely weird to treat a tiny human being like some kind of science project, but a parent's gotta do what a parent's gotta do.
posted by flabdablet at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know it sounds counterproductive, but I too would recommend putting him in bed earlier. He may be getting overstimulated and overtired. Try getting him ready for bed 15-20 minutes BEFORE you start seeing the tells.
posted by yawper at 12:56 PM on June 29, 2017

Highly recommend the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Marc Weissbluth. Has lots of useful information in it about baby sleep but one of them is this:

Watch for sleep cues in your child, but the cues of getting fussy, falling over, rubbing eyes, eyes closing - those cues mean you are too late! (Hence the advice above to put him down earlier). Weissbluth recommends looking for the *earlier* cues signaling being ready for bed, such as glossy eyes and decreased activity. Put down immediately when you see the early cues.

(if you asked Weissbluth he'd probably also say you need to go someplace that you can't hear the head banging, because you are training him to bang his head when he wants your attention)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2017

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