I had an amazing conversation with one of the world's foremost infant researchers last week, Dr. Joseph Campos. He's at Berkeley, where he's churned out tons of scientifically rigorous studies about the developmental changes in infancy. He's come up with some transformative ideas about babies, the upshot of one being that crawling causes your baby to become your little social partner, for the first time. No longer just a passive lump in the social world, now she's able to start to understand some of what's going on inside your mind. She understands how important you are to her, and seeks your emotional support, presence and encouragement as she starts to scoot out into the world under her own power. She now gets reassurance from your presence and your emotions -- your facial expressions and body language -- not just from physically holding her.
The flip side of this is that it also causes clinginess, fussiness, and sleep problems -- some of the major complaints of parents at this stage. Turns out, crawling out into the wide world is fascinating -- and terrifying. Your little adventurer gets it now -- that as much as she wants to venture out on her own, she desperately needs you, and is panicked that she'll lose you somewhere along the way. As Dr. Campos said to me, the baby's drive for independence is equally matched by her fear of it.
So to you fellow parents of 9 to 12-month-old babies out there: I know it can be a challenging, difficult stage. Your little bug seems content to scramble around the house one minute, then wails in panic the next. What used to be stable sleep habits are now in a shambles. Feeding --and nursing -- has become an unpredictable struggle -- and separations are exceptionally difficult. And forget diaper changes! What a wrestling match! Immmobility is the enemy to her now -- being restrained in any way is bound to be a fight. High chairs, strollers and car seats are demon baby torture devices. They keep her from exploring her brave new world.
What to do? Re-think your daily tasks with this knowledge in mind. Everything will take a little longer, as your baby goes through this unpredictable (but temporary) stage. Some days she may need you constantly. But don't worry -- when you've finally reached the end of your rope with your little Clingon, she'll start to feel "refueled", and venture out again -- allowing you to catch up on that laundry and email. And make sure you get some help with nighttime wakenings -- you'll need extra rest too, since you're up again with a fussy baby -- but don't forget to reinforce the sleep routines that have worked well in the past. She'll eventually remember what her job is, at night -- and now that her memory is better, she can hold on to her internal image of you a bit longer, giving her some comfort, despite being away from you to sleep. Feel some reassurance knowing that the earlier -- and stronger -- your baby shows separation anxiety, the sooner it resolves. Lots of parental support and understanding help her get through this challenging -- but remarkable -- stage.
Dr. Campos was generous and encouraging in my BabyShrink book-writing project, and I had a blast geeking out with him, picking his brain about the amazing new developmental capacities in normal 9-month-old babies. What a great experience! Now, please excuse me -- I've got a 9-month-old baby clinging to my leg.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert