Developmental Milestones and Sleep Regressions

Does every developmental milestone cause a sleep regression?

A baby with great sleep habits, which includes regular naps and bedtimes will have a much easier time adjusting to developmental milestones. In fact, your baby may not have an all-out sleep regression around that time, and you may not even be aware that your baby is adjusting to a developmental milestone during the night if you have a great sleeper.

Nonetheless, developmental milestones can cause sleep regressions for some babies, so here’s how to handle regressions if they do happen.

As your baby grows into his toddler years, he’ll start developing motor skills. This is super cute to behold, but it can create a little havoc with baby’s sleep. This is because your baby may be eager to practice these milestones, somewhat unconsciously, at bedtime and nighttime.

In the night, babies can get themselves into some uncomfortable positions. You may be called upon to return your baby to a comfortable sleeping position. If your baby has started rolling from back to front, he may cry out because he is unable to roll from front to back again. You would need to go in and roll him back over. You’d need to do this, somewhat methodically, until he has mastered this developmental milestone and is rolling around his crib freely.

If your baby is starting to crawl, he may end up “practicing” on all fours just as he is going to bed, and you would need to assist him in lying down. A baby who has started to sit up or pull up may get stuck in a sitting or standing position and not be able to sit or lie down on her own yet, so you would need to help her do so until she stays lying down and goes to sleep.

If your child tends to fall asleep in a sitting or standing position, I find it is best if you lie him down instead of letting him fall over or fall down. Falling over can startle him and/or he could get hurt. He may wake again when you lie him down and you may have to start the process over again, but it is better than baby hurting himself.

 Typically, if your baby is stuck in one of these stages, it can require a lot of repetition, and I wish I could offer you a quick solution, but this is just one of those exercises that needs patience, consistency, and a sense of humor.

 For babies who are sleeping well through the night, you may not have to go in during the night to help them, but occasionally you might. How long will you need to do it? Only until baby has mastered the skill and can return himself to a comfortable position on his own. It takes about a week on average, but some babies get there in a few days, and some need up to two weeks.

Once they are able to roll from front to back and back to front easily, I find that it is best to let them be. If you keep going in and adjusting your happy sleeper, you could have an angry awake baby on your hands. SIDs guidelines recommend that you put baby down on her back to go to sleep, but once your baby is mobile, and moving around freely, you may find that your baby keeps choosing to sleep on her stomach. Some babies, like some adults, are going to be stomach sleepers once they are able to move around freely.

If you find that a developmental milestone is particularly troublesome and you want to stay with your baby until she falls asleep that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t do anything that could create a new sleep prop, and certainly don’t bring in an old sleep prop, such as rocking to sleep, when you do stay with your baby. Over the course of a week or two, move yourself gradually away from her so she’s comfortable and used to sleeping on her own again.

Often when a baby has a bit of  a sleep regression, it only takes a nudge in the right direction to get right back on track. If your baby has the ability to fall asleep without a sleep prop from Mom or Dad, and if she is able to roll from one sleep cycle to the next on her own, she’ll become more accepting of going to sleep on her own again in just a few nights. She has that skill already, and after she is over the initial learning curve of her new milestone, bedtime will once again become smooth for her.

As your infant grows into toddlerhood, he’ll start spending more of his day awake. While infants need somewhere between 16 and 20 hours of sleep per day, toddlers, on average, need about 10 or 11 hours at night, and one nice afternoon nap lasting anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. These are ballpark estimates, of course, and are in no way intended to suggest that there’s anything abnormal about your child if he falls outside these figures.

As you’re either aware, or soon to be aware, the one-year mark is also when babies start to master the art of the meltdown or tantrum. This is where a lot of people start to give up on putting their babies to bed at bedtime and naptime, because obviously, the biggest issue parents have with remaining consistent in practicing healthy sleep habits is sticking with the process when their baby pitches a fit.

To add to that, it can be a very confusing time (and actually a very difficult time on your baby’s mind and body) because this is around the time when your little one may transition from 2 naps a day to 1 nap a day. All babies are different, but I most often see babies transitioning anywhere from 12-16 months. The confusing part of all of it is that one of the signs that baby is about to drop the 2nd nap is that baby will start refusing naps. A baby who is ready to drop a nap may either lie in his crib at naptime and play or babble or have an all-out tantrum or meltdown. If you would like support through transitioning to one nap a day, or if you need help through any other milestone or regression, I offer mini consults and additional support to get you and your baby on track and sleeping well again.

As your child becomes a toddler, it’s just common practice to test boundaries. For toddlers, a boundary yesterday does not necessarily mean it’s the same boundary today. Your child will test you periodically to make sure that the boundary is still the same, and that their world is going to remain consistent.

Consistency in a toddlers world and especially around boundaries is very reassuring to your child. It’s when boundaries shift and slide around that a toddler begins to lose his sense of security. Their once solid surface turns to shaky ground and they begin to feel insecure. They’re testing you everywhere you turn to make sure their boundaries are still the same.

So really, when these little regressions come along it’s better to remain very consistent and they often resolve themselves within a few nights. Keep an eye on what you’re doing and your response so that you don’t give your child mixed messages.

One side-note: Many parents think that if their child is having sleep difficulties in a crib that maybe a solution would be to move them to a toddler bed. I can guarantee you that nine times out of ten it just makes the situation worse. So keep baby in a crib for sure.

Often sickness can cause a regression. This is another time for maintaining consistency around sleep and your child’s sleep schedule and environment. Be sure to allow your child extra sleep if needed, and increase cuddle time during the day. You will most likely find yourself with more night wake-ups, and having to tend to your child in the night, but that is to be expected. Take care of yourself and your baby, give baby lots of hugs before putting baby back to bed. If necessary, sleep on a mattress in your child’s room to monitor your child more closely. You can always gradually transition yourself out of your child’s room over a period of days if you need to.