As your baby changes and grows, she’ll start developing motor skills. While every milestone is cause for celebration, it can create chaos with your 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, she may cry out because she is unable to roll from front to back again. You may need to go to her and flip her back over, somewhat methodically, without lingering, for a week or two, until she can roll both directions on her own.
If your baby is starting to crawl, she may end up “practicing” on all fours just as she is going to bed. For this one, I suggest waiting to see if she will settle on her own. After 10-20 minutes, if she hasn’t settled, you may want to go to her and guide her to the mattress. I suggest doing this only for a week though, and after that, allowing her to lie down on her own.
If your child has fallen asleep in a standing position, I find it is best if you lie her down instead of letting her fall. She may wake again when you lie her down and you may have to start the process over again, but it is better than your baby hurting herself.
If your child has fallen asleep in a sitting position, you may want to lie her down just as you would if she were in a standing position.
Typically, if your baby is stuck in one of these stages, it can require a lot of repetition. You may find yourself going to your child several times in a week or two, but after that, don’t go in anymore. Your child should be able navigate the developmental milestone on her own by then.
Only go in until your baby has mastered the skill and can return herself to a comfortable position on her own. It takes about a week on average. Some babies get there in a few days, and some need up to two weeks.
If at any time you notice that your child has mastered the milestone during the day, don’t go in at night anymore. Once they are able to move easily during the day, I find that it is best to let them be. If you keep going in and adjusting your child, you could have an angry awake baby on your hands.
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.
So when these 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 a solution would be to move them to a toddler bed. This is a dangerous situation if baby is too young, and it can create more night waking from a child who suddenly feels insecure in a different bed.
Instead, there are many solutions. If your baby is standing and trying to climb out of the crib, I recommend lowering the crib mattress to the floor by taking out the springs. You can also put baby in a sleep sack (backwards and inside out) to prevent baby from trying to put a leg over the crib rails. These strategies can prevent accidents for a year or two, that otherwise might happen if a baby is in a toddler or big kid bed too soon.
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.