Why Babies Do It
Quite simply, because they can! As babies learn new skills, their bodies instinctively need to practice their moves. When given plenty of space and a place to roam (like their crib at night!) babies can’t help but move around as nature intended.
Is It Even OK For My Baby?
Sitting up at night can become a problem if your child is stuck, or at risk of falling over and becoming hurt. There are times when you may need to help your baby lie down.
Here’s what you can do to make sure this milestone doesn’t entirely derail your baby’s sleep.
When Should I Help My Baby Lie Down?
If your baby sits up at bedtime or after a night waking, I suggest going in to lay him down. If he was previously sleeping through the night with no interaction from you in the night, then lay him down and leave the room. Don’t linger with patting, shushing or comforting back to sleep. If he already has great sleep skills, extra touch in the night can stimulate and confuse him to a point of being wide awake.
I recommend doing this every few minutes until he stays lying down on his own. You would have to be somewhat methodical about it, and go in and out without a lot of interaction or stimulus to him. After a night waking, I recommend doing the same thing.
If he is extremely upset, or you sense that he needs more comfort, lay him down every few minutes and comfort him with touch, patting, or shushing until he is lying down on his own. But if you’ve already gotten to a point where he was sleeping all night without interruption, and he isn’t extremely upset, then I suggest laying him down and leaving the room.
Daytime Practice: Sitting Up And Lying Down
Allow him plenty of time to practice on the floor during the day. Let him go from sitting up to lying down on his own. If you are concerned that he might startle or hurt himself when he topples over, I suggest putting a thick blanket or pad on the floor while you watch him. I don’t recommend putting fluffy pillows all around to soften a baby’s toppling. Pillows can keep him from knowing how it feels to go all the way from sitting to lying down on his own.
Babies are naturally inclined to practice moving as much as they can. I think it is best to allow them that opportunity. So while I don’t like rushing babies through milestones, I understand that fragmented sleep causes everyone to suffer. What helps is baby’s eagerness to practice and learn. With practice, comes faster learning. Sleep can get back on track sooner.
When given plenty of floor space to move on, babies can get used to their bodies and move as nature intended. This is a big reason why I am not a fan of Bumbo seats, bouncy seats, jumpers, swings and strollers for daytime sitting. These items are confining, and in the end, may inhibit a child’s ability to get comfortable in his body.
What If Baby Falls Asleep Sitting Up?
At this point, you have two choices. You can go in and gently lay him down on his side, or you can wait for him to lie down own his own when he rouses from a sleep cycle.
If he falls over on his own, he could wake and cry. We can’t assume that he will always wake and cry if he falls over after rousing from a sleep cycle. Going in to lay him down could wake him too. But we can’t assume that it will wake him every time. If he is in a deeper stage of sleep, he will be less likely to wake.
In my experience, either choice is as good as the other, and I understand that both choices can be scary for any parent. No one wants their baby to wake and startle from falling over after sitting up. No one wants to risk waking their baby who’s fallen asleep in a sitting position.
One thing I recommend that can make that decision easier, is to put him in a pack n play, instead of a crib until he’s mastered sitting up and lying down. If he does fall over after sleeping sitting up, he won’t fall against hard crib rails. Falling onto the mattress of the pack n play might startle him, but it won’t hurt him, and he can go back to sleep. It might feel as if he can’t but he can.
The good thing is that he can’t get hurt if he falls over from a sitting position in a pack n play. More good news is that even if he falls asleep sitting and you decide to lay him down and he wakes up, he will go back to sleep. Even better, this milestone (like all of them) only lasts a week or two. If your child was a good sleeper before, you can have a good sleeper again. The above recommendations will help you stay on track. If your child has struggled with sleep for a long time, I help babies and toddlers by learning what will work especially for them as unique individuals.
Did Your Baby Sleep Sitting Up? How Did You Find A Way Through This Time?
I’m always interested in hearing what works for families. I love to help in any way I can. I’m here for questions, or if you’re struggling with a baby who sits up in the night, reach out for a call. I’d love to talk about your child’s unique situation.
Kim Rogers, M.A., is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. She has additional training in infant mental health from the hospital for sick children and maternal mental health from postpartum support international. Kim works with families in a one-on-one, highly supportive way to help them get the sleep they need.