Five milestones that might affect your baby's sleep

Watching our children experience the “firsts” in life, is one of the most magical parts of parenting. From their first smile to their first step, our children are discovering so many new things in those first years that we get to be a part of.

But even though these are the moments we live for; each new developmental stage can also bring challenges and new normals to navigate. We know that when our baby starts rolling over, it’s probably time to transition out of the swaddle. And when our child starts walking, baby proofing the house is a must. But did you know that many of these milestones can also cause a shift in your child’s sleep patterns?

This is why you’ve heard about so many of the different “regressions” your child might experience those first two years. But don’t worry Mama, there are several ways you can prepare for these changes without losing any sleep at all!

Here are the most common milestones that affect your baby’s sleep and how to handle them like a pro…

1)     Rolling over (3-5 months). One of the best things about the newborn stage (in my opinion) is being able to plop your baby down and know they aren’t going anywhere…that is, until they start rolling over! Not only do you have to be more cautious with where your baby is lying, this stage also means it’s time to transition out of the swaddle. And if your baby loves to be swaddled this might bring on some anxiety and panic.

What to do: Once you start noticing your baby is trying to roll over, start practicing the swaddle transition by swaddling one arm out and one arm in for a few nights. They might not like it at first but taking a proactive and gradual approach will likely help them adjust better to a new way of sleeping. Some babies prefer a sleep sac like this one from Nested Bean. You may need to try several different options until you find one your baby takes to which is completely normal! Also remember that even when your baby is able to roll from back to tummy, you still want to place your baby on their back for sleep.

2)     Introduction to Solids (5-7 months). Some parents will start fairly early with solids and some prefer to wait a bit longer. This is a milestone you have a bit more control over and is an exciting time for all of you. I believe that a full baby is a happy baby, and a happy baby sleeps better, so nutrition and sleep go hand in hand! While the introduction of solids itself might not necessarily affect sleep, there are a few areas you want to be mindful of as you take on this stage.

What to do: Introduce new foods throughout the day first.  We don’t quite know how our babies will respond to certain foods so letting them try new things during the day, as opposed to the evening is my general recommendation. That way they have more time to digest and if there are any signs of tummy problems or allergic reactions of any kind, it isn’t disrupting night-time sleep. You also want to steer clear of any sugary foods at night (this includes fruit) which could cause your baby to have a harder time falling asleep at night.

Some parents also find that it becomes more challenging to balance breastmilk/formula with ounces of food, and determining how much your baby should be getting of each; so check with your pediatrician to get their recommendation based on your child’s age and weight.

3)     Cutting Teeth (6 months-18 months). Your baby will probably get their first tooth around 6 months and can continue teething off and on up to 18 months. This can be quite uncomfortable for many babies and often will replicate symptoms of sickness, throwing off sleep entirely.

What to do: If your baby is clearly in pain, you want to provide extra TLC and also discuss pain remedies with your pediatrician. Baby Tylenol or teething rings can bring comfort to many babies which will ultimately help them sleep better. And while you want your goal to help your child be more comfortable, remember that many sleep habits can form during this time so try to still stick with your child’s normal routine as much as possible. This is not the time to let your baby cry for extended periods of time, but you also don’t need to start co-sleeping or making other major changes. It might mean something as subtle as rocking them to sleep or nursing a little longer for comfort.

4)     Crawling and Walking (7-10 months & 11-14 months). Once your baby is on the move everything seems to change! You might suddenly find yourself following them around making sure they stay safe while simultaneously clapping and cheering at their efforts. More movement means more physical and mental stimulation, and while this can help your baby sleep better, it can also cause your baby to become less interested in a confined space like their crib or bassinet.  

What to do:   Continue using a sleep sac and make sure your baby has enough space in their crib. While their sleep space should still feel cozy, you want to make sure it isn’t too tight of a space for your baby and it is still safe. Remember too that your baby is working harder and can become overtired easily, so make sure you’re watching the clock and their sleepy cues!

5)     Crib to bed transition (18 months +). This one seems a bit obvious, but for many parents it happens more quickly than they anticipated. Many Toddlers will start jumping or climbing out of their crib as early as 18 months, while others might be perfectly content in their crib until age three. This milestone usually triggers the realization that our baby is no longer a baby and many parents resist this transition more than their little one!

What to do: There are many ways to transition to a toddler bed, and the first step is making sure it really is the right time. This transition is probably the longest of any of the other milestones and usually requires a gradual approach, but many Toddlers do just fine with it. 

While it might seem like your child is constantly experiencing a new developmental leap or milestone, it doesn’t mean sleep will be disrupted continuously. Many of these transitions are short and you’ll be moving on to the next one before you know it; longing and wishing for those days when you worried about sleep!