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Baby milestones: How baby development milestones affect sleep

Baby milestones: How baby development milestones affect sleep

Seeing your baby reach new milestones is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of being a parent. Whether you're watching them lift their head for the first time or tentatively walk across the hall, it's incredible just how fast they learn how to navigate the big new world around them!

But among all this excitement, regular nighttime sleep might be neglected, with nighttime wakeups and evening fussiness becoming more of a problem.

Don't worry - we're here to go over how different milestones can affect your baby's sleep, and what you can do to get them snoozing happily again:

  • Rolling Over

  • Starting to crawl

  • Sitting Up

  • Standing Up

  • Sleep during leaps

How baby milestones affect sleep

Your baby is going through small changes every single day, and when all of these new changes combine to make a new skill they're called developmental milestones. As you can imagine, these milestones take some processing - for both you and your baby.

Not all of these developmental milestones will have the same impact on your baby's habits, but they're all likely to have some effect on their sleep. Don't worry though - for every sleep problem, there's a simple solution you can try!

It's worth bearing in mind that the ages we give here for each milestone are just a rough guide, and that it's perfectly normal for your little one to learn these new skills a little earlier or later than this.

Baby Milestones: Rolling Over

Babies will typically be able to roll over independently from front to back and vice versa by the time they're 3 or 4 months old, though it's not unusual for them to achieve this at around 2 months.

They're able to do this when muscles in their neck, chest, arms and shoulders are developed enough, and may sometimes do it accidentally in their sleep before they do it in the daytime!

Reaching this milestone can disrupt sleep in a couple of different ways. Firstly, your baby might fight sleep if they want to practice this skill in the night. Secondly, they might wake themselves up in the night by rolling over in their sleep, then become confused and upset.

To solve this, you can make sure to have tummy time every day so that they get the practice they need and feel satisfied enough to sleep in their crib.

For tummy sleepers, you can even try using our Zen Sack backward - its gently weighted cuddle pad provides a little bit of pressure to mimic your touch and soothe your baby to sleep.

Baby Millstones: Starting to Crawl

Crawling is one of the most exciting - and nerve-wracking - milestones for many parents, as it's the first time your baby is truly mobile! Babies will start to be able to crawl at around 6 months having spent some time shuffling on their tummy and developing their arm and shoulder muscles. They'll be properly moving at 9 or 10 months, and crawling with confidence by their first birthday.

Similar to rolling, crawling can disrupt sleep if your baby wants to practice it at night - though unlike rolling, this can sometimes lead to nighttime breakouts if you have a Houdini baby on your hands! To handle this, you should make sure your baby has plenty of time to play during the day, and that there are no objects inside or near the crib that could aid your little one's escape. You should also make sure to babyproof doors, cupboards, and windows.

Baby Millstones: Sitting Up

Your baby will typically start getting into a sitting position on their own at around the same time as they start to crawl - beginning at 6 months, and confidently sitting between 7 and 9 months.

Your baby will likely start with a 'tripod' sit a little earlier at 4 or 5 months before they gain the balance and strength required to sit up without the aid of their arms.

As you can imagine, your baby being able to sit up can prove tricky at bedtime. When you could previously just lay them down on their back in a sleeping position and know they'd stay that way, they can now sit right back up again if they feel inclined! This is where understanding your baby's sleep cues can come in handy - try putting them to bed when they're showing signs like blinking, yawning, or stretching, as they'll be more likely to drift off to sleep in their crib.

Baby Millstones: Standing Up

Watching your baby stand unaided for the first time can be bittersweet - how did they go from lying in your arms to standing on their own two feet in what feels like a few short months? Most babies will be able to stand with some supervision and support from 7 or 8 months, with a goal of standing independently around their first birthday. 

You can expect some trial and error here, with plenty of toppling and tumbling as they learn how to balance and shift their weight!

The problems standing up can cause when it comes to sleep are similar to that of sitting, but amplified - not only can your little one get out of their sleeping position now, but they may even be able to walk right out of their room if you aren't careful! Fortunately, this is usually only a short phase - your baby will learn quickly that they can't sleep standing up! There's only so much you can do here, and many experts actually recommend giving your baby space to work it out on their own.

Baby Millstones: Talking

Talking is a little different from the other milestones, as it's more to do with mental development than physical development.

However, as any parent will tell you, starting to talk is a huge milestone that can have some unexpected effects on every aspect of your child's life, including sleep.

Your baby will start babbling and mimicking speech as early as the newborn phase, and might have their first proper words at around 9 months before being able to make simple verbal requests and three to four-word sentences by their second birthday.

Many families find that once their baby starts talking - or even just starts to babble more frequently - they love to chat to themselves when they should be sleeping! If this is the case, you can try talking to your baby more often throughout the day, and playing with them using toys that promote mental stimulation.

Help baby sleep during big learning leaps

Your baby is always growing and changing, and as your child's development changes their habits and behaviors, you'll need to make some adjustments along the way.

Once your baby is able to roll over independently, for instance, you may find that they prefer tummy sleeping. While you should always place your baby on their back to sleep, they may roll over in the night for comfort - just like an adult!

Whether your baby is newly tummy sleeping or sitting up in bed when they should be snoozing, certain milestones can prove tricky when it comes to sleep. Here are just a few quick tips you can try if your little one's new skills are keeping them (and you) up at night:

Stay consistent

When your baby is going through changes and struggling to snooze, it can be tempting to want to completely overhaul your routine in response - but this can actually do more harm than good.

More than anything, your baby needs stability and consistency during times of change so that they can continue to have positive sleep associations and understand when it's time to rest through cues like their bedtime rituals.

Sleep sack

If your baby is rolling, you won't be able to swaddle them anymore for safety reasons - however, this doesn't mean that sleepwear can't still be a great tool in your soothing sleep arsenal! Our Zen Sack classic is safe once your baby starts rolling and features a gently weighted pad to mimic your calming touch and help promote self-soothing.

Plus, for tummy sleepers, you can even put the Zen Sack on backward so that the pad rests on your baby's back for extra comfort!

Try a pacifiera

For lots of babies, there's nothing quite like a pacifier to keep them calm through the night. Satisfying your baby's natural instinct to suck, a pacifier can keep your little one occupied if they're feeling antsy and wanting to play when you want them to snooze.

Keep a clear crib

Though you may want to soothe your little one at night with familiar objects like a favorite toy or blanket, this is only considered safe after their first birthday - prior to then, it's best that you keep the crib clear of loose bedding and other items to avoid posing a suffocation risk, especially if your baby is a tummy sleeper or rolling over frequently at night.

Create a soothing space

If you're struggling with a baby who treats bedtime like playtime after reaching a new milestone, changing the atmosphere of their sleep space can make a big impact.

By introducing things like blackout curtains to block out light and a baby-safe white noise machine to drown out loud sounds in and out of your home, you can make your baby feel calmer and less overstimulated at bedtime.

Daytime practice

The best way to stop your baby's milestones from interfering with their sleep is by giving them enough of an opportunity during the day to practice their new abilities. If they're starting to roll, aim for a little more tummy time - if they're taking their first steps, hold their hands and try walking a few laps around the living room with them.

Not only is this a great bonding opportunity, but it also differentiates playtime from sleep time, and encourages your little one to associate their sleep space with sleep rather than exercise.

Watch for sleep cues

Putting your baby to bed wide awake will likely lead to them practicing milestone skills in their crib, while putting them to bed after they've fallen asleep can be detrimental to teaching them how to self soothe.

The best time to put baby to bed is when they're drowsy, and you can work this out by keeping an eye on their sleep cues.

For example, if your baby starts blinking more frequently, stretching out their arms, or making certain facial expressions when they're tired, this could be a sign that it's a good time to put them to bed. Hopefully, they're then sleepy enough to fall asleep without too much fuss!

Baby Milestones and Sleep: Key takeaways

All baby milestones bring both excitement and nerves in equal measure, and if you're both losing out on sleep you're bound to be more stressed! The most important thing to remember is that sleep disruption from milestones is typically temporary, lasting only a few days or weeks at most, and that there's plenty you can do to help your baby rest in the meantime. To summarise what we've covered together in this blog:

  • Major milestones like rolling over, sitting, and standing can impact your baby's sleep

  • Reaching these milestones a little earlier or later than the guidelines say is perfectly normal - every baby goes at their own pace

  • Practicing new skills during the day can prevent your baby from fighting sleep at night

  • The Zen Sack worn backward is perfect for soothing tummy sleepers who might experience nighttime wakeups

  • Disrupted sleep is temporary, and your baby will be sleeping soundly again soon - you've got this!

Baby not sleeping?

Do you have a little one who's fighting sleep and wiggling out of their swaddle at night? Nested Bean’s Zen One classic takes all the guesswork out of swaddling your baby - and it's designed with removable sleeves for babies beginning to roll over. Learn more about Zen One here!

Commonly asked questions about baby milestones and sleep

When can my baby tummy sleep?

Your baby will be able to tummy sleep safely when they're able to independently roll over onto their front from their back and vice versa. This milestone is usually reached at around 3 or 4 months, but it's important to note that you should continue to place your baby on their back to sleep until they're at least a year old, even if they still roll to their front in their sleep.

If you have a tummy sleeping baby who needs a little extra comfort at night, you can try our Zen Sack classic! Designed with a gently weighted pad to mimic your touch and promote self-soothing, this sleepwear can help your baby fall asleep even without your touch or the sound of your voice, and it can even be put on backward for front sleepers!

When do most babies crawl?

Generally speaking, your baby will start crawling at around the 6 month mark, after spending some time wiggling on their tummy to build up their upper body muscles. By 9 or 10 months, your baby will likely be crawling with confidence (and you'll need to babyproof your doors and windows if you haven't already!)

Don't worry though - if your baby starts crawling a little later than this, it's unlikely to be any kind of serious developmental delay. Every baby is unique, and they'll reach their milestones at their own pace, though if you're concerned you can contact your pediatrician and keep them up to date on your child's progress.

Can my baby's development milestones impact sleep?

Unfortunately, many parents find that their baby's development has an impact on their sleep, and that certain milestones can lead to their baby fighting sleep or waking more frequently through the night. This can often be because many babies want to spend more time practicing this skill when they should be sleeping!

To prevent this, you can spend more time during the day working on these skills with your baby, whether that means a little more tummy time or a quick toddling lap around the room while you hold their hands. Using sleep aids like blackout curtains, a pacifier, and our gently weighted Zen Sack can also help soothe an excited baby to sleep.

Do developmental milestones cause sleep regressions?

Sleep regressions are periods of disrupted sleep that your baby experiences after a stretch of quality, uninterrupted sleep. These regressions usually come at specific windows, such as 6 months, 8 months, and 10 months, and can be brought on for a range of reasons, from teething pains to feeling separation anxiety when not around familiar people as they sleep.

Developmental milestones are a common reason for sleep regressions, and fortunately are one of the simplest to resolve! Generally speaking, disrupted sleep from a milestone will only last for a few days a most before your baby settles down again, and by keeping your sleep routine consistent, they'll likely be snoozing through the night again in no time.

Athena S.

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