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, 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. Your baby may be eager to practice these milestones, somewhat unconsciously, at bedtime and nighttime.

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. If he can’t roll to the other direction, and he is miserable when he wakes, you would need to go in, turn him over, and leave the room. Do this, somewhat methodically and without any other interaction, until he can roll around freely in his crib. Mastering this milestone should take no more than two weeks. If he wakes and cries out in the night after two weeks, and he already knows how to roll both directions during the day, give him time to figure it out on his own in the night.

If your baby is starting to crawl, he may end up getting into a crawl position on all fours just as he is going to bed. You may need to assist him in lying down. Again, it is best to wait, watch and give him time to lie down on his own, but if he seems stuck, go in and help him. 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. Watch to see if he is able to lie down from these positions during daytime play and encourage lots of daytime mobility and practice. If he is able to lie down on his own during the day, it is best to allow him to get comfortable on his own at night.

If your child tends to fall asleep in a standing position, I find it is best if you lie him down instead of letting him fall. Falling over can startle him 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. If he falls asleep in a sitting position, it is best to allow him to lie down on his own.

 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.

AAP guidelines state that if your baby can roll from front to back and back to front easily, he can be left to sleep on his stomach if he rolls there. It is still recommended to put baby down on his back to go to sleep, but once he is mobile and can roll both directions, it is best to let him be. You may find that your baby keeps choosing to sleep on his stomach, and that he is happy there and sleeps longer stretches. Some babies, like adults, are destined to be happy stomach sleepers. If you keep going in to flip him on his back after he’s reached this rolling milestone, you may end up with a very awake baby on your hands.

If you find that a developmental milestone is particularly challenging, 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 can fall asleep without a sleep prop, 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 advent of toddlerhood 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 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 many babies transition to one nap between 12 and 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.

As your child becomes a toddler, it is normal and healthy for them to test boundaries. 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 toddler’s world and especially around boundaries is very reassuring to your child. When boundaries shift and consistency wains, a toddler begins to lose his sense of security. Their once solid ground turns shaky, and they begin to feel insecure.

So, when regressions come along it’s better to remain very consistent. The regression will often resolve within a few nights if you remain consistent. 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 a solution would be to move them to a toddler bed. However, most of the time, this makes the situation worse. It causes the toddler feel anxiety over the change in room environment, which can lead to more nigh waking and getting out of bed in the night. Parents have more success when they keep a child in a crib until after their child’s 3rd birthday.

Lastly, sickness is not a developmental milestone, but it 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 waking 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.