Developmental milestones do affect sleep

I hear this a lot, sleep is going great, baby sleeps through the night, goes to sleep independently… life is good. THEN, all of a sudden something changes. Baby is now fighting the sleep routine, or starts to cry once you lay him down, or maybe he is now waking again in the middle of the night. A sudden change that is very unsettling to parents. 

It is what happens next that makes all the difference in the world. Mom and dad start to go in and rock him to get him back to sleep or maybe (depending on the age) a feeding now gets introduced again. Basically, a step back is taken, because no one knows why this is happening and what to do.

I want to caution you on taking that step back.

There are many things that can cause a child to have a rough night. Heck, my perfectly sleeping 19 month old was up for two hours last night… so it happens. (If you’re wondering why… pretty sure it was her tummy, poor kiddo). But like many things in life as a parent, I will never truly know. I just do my best to figure out what I can.

It could be illness, a tooth coming in, upset tummy, constipation or gas, cold or hot… many factors that you are now the task master of figuring out. If it still is a mystery as to why your child is now struggling with sleep then keep reading and see if this sounds right to you.

I want you to think, how old is your child?

What are they doing that’s new?

What is your child developmentally about to do?

THIS could be the reason.

Let’s say your child is about to walk, they may not even be doing it yet but they are about to and that right there is what is affecting sleep. Crazy right! Not even a single step but it’s now reeking havoc in their sleep.

Think of it like this, rolling, walking, talking are all huge milestones in your child’s development. It takes a lot of energy for their body and mind to master these tasks. Therefore, that is all their mind can think about. It’s on overdrive and cannot settle down. If their mind can’t settle, they can’t sleep.

In a 2015 study published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, researchers looked at the sleep patterns of before they started crawling, while they were learning to crawl, and a few months after learning to crawl. The results stated that, “Along with the overall improvement in sleep consolidation, periods of increased long wake episodes were also manifested; the rise in sleep disruption was temporally linked to crawling onset. The results of the study highlight the dynamic interrelations between domains of development, indicate that emerging motor skills may involve periods of disrupted sleep, and point to the moderating effect of age.”

Let’s take a look at these milestones and the general ages they can occur. Disclaimer: I’m going to give you an age range, you may have an early walker or talker or a child who takes their time.

Rolling both ways – 4 to 6 months

At this age, babies are very active during their rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. Because of this, your baby could perform a new skill like rolling and then feel “stuck” because they wake uncomfortable and uncertain of how they got there. Now, once your baby begins to roll and feels comfortable doing it, they may prefer to sleep on their tummies, just not yet. 

Remember the American Academy of Pediatrics does suggest laying your baby down to sleep on their backs. Even if you know your baby prefers or even knows how to roll to their tummies, lie them down on their back and then they can move themselves. This is also the time where you STOP swaddling your baby. It is no longer safe when they are at this age and show signs of rolling. 

So what are you supposed to do? Practice! As you know, practice makes perfect. Practice the skill of rolling with your kiddo. I suggest to lay them on a blanket and gently pull them over so they begin to learn the sensation of switching into that position. 

If your baby rolls in the middle of the night, and they cannot yet roll both ways on their own, then you need to go in and roll them back over. Do this gently and quietly so they can easily go back to sleep.

When your baby shows you they can roll both ways independently, then you no longer need to roll them back over in the middle of the night. I know you’ll be on edge until you all get used to this but it will happen. Plus, this is the benefit of a video monitor!

Sitting up and crawling – 6 to 12 months

First and foremost, when your baby is sitting up, it’s time to lower that crib mattress. The top bar should be above their head when they are sitting up. 

When this happens you may start to see your baby moving a lot more after putting them down to sleep. They may even bump into the side of the crib. There’s not much you can do about this, buying products to soften the blow are just unsafe and are not recommended in their crib. 

At this age, your baby is at a perfect age to develop independent sleep skills. If they have them, you may not see this regression very much, but if they don’t, prepare for it. Remember not to change much in their routine but also begin to teach them independent sleep skills and lay them down awake. 

Supported standing 9 to 10 months

If you thought your baby was on the move when they started to crawl, well now they will be all over that crib and vertical while doing it. The biggest thing to remember is to let your baby explore. Soon standing for them will be normal but until then they need to figure out how their legs work.

Make sure that the crib mattress is on its lowest level. The last thing you want to see is a leg being lifted over the top of the crib rail. 

Okay so there is the one thing to let you know about when your baby can stand. They need to practice bending their legs, and laying down and going to sleep themselves. If you have been rocking your baby to sleep and laying them down in the crib then when they wake in the middle of the night they won’t know how to get themselves back to sleep. They literally won’t understand that they need to bend their legs to lay down to go back to sleep because it has been done for them for so long. 

Walking – 11 to 15 months

This tends to be a big one and why not because walking is such a big milestone. Your baby is officially on the move so grab your running shoes! 

Lastly, increase in verbal – 18 to 24 months

These are the popular developmental milestones. It doesn’t mean your child will be sensitive to all of these, maybe just one, but it’s possible for all to affect them as well.

So what to do about it… like I said, I caution you to change bedtimes, routines, start a new habit of rocking or feeding the baby to sleep. The BEST thing to do, hold steady. You will need to soothe them more than usual, help get them out of an uncomfortable position if they wiggled themselves into one, tell them it’s bedtime and allow them to self-soothe to go back to sleep.

It may seem tough now, but I can promise the quick fixes won’t last long and will just cause more angst for you and baby in the long run. Hang in there, the whole time your baby is working through this they are also learning how to consolidate nighttime sleep and soon this will pass. 

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