Developmental Milestones and Sleep
Updated: Jul 11
It is so exciting (and somewhat bittersweet) to watch our babies grow, develop, and become more mobile. We are always looking toward that next milestone!
It is so fun to watch them start to explore the world in new and exciting positions, like sitting, crawling, and walking.
But it’s not so fun when it leads to sleep regressions and an overtired baby (and parents). In this blog, we will cover some of the major developmental milestones that often interrupt sleep and how to handle it when it does!
From birth, babies would benefit from short periods of tummy time, a handful of times a day. One to two minutes at a time can really add up at the end of the day!
This is important because it allows them to explore and get used to being in a lot of different positions.
But what if your baby hates tummy time? Tummy time counts in a lot of different ways and does not have to be just belly down on the floor.
When you have a newborn, you can do tummy time while skin to skin on you or your partner’s chest. This is great for bonding as well!
Baby wearing also counts as tummy time, because they are off of their back (which is for safe sleep) and they may have to work on head control while being worn. If you are not familiar with safe baby wearing, you can get a quick refresher for what TICKS is!
You could place them over a boppy pillow, over a towel/blanket that is rolled up, across your lap, or with your arms under their chest, supporting them.
You may also place some gentle pressure on their bottom down and toward their feet to shift some of their weight backward, making it easier for them to lift their head. This can alleviate a lot of frustration for them!
You can always get down on the floor and interact with them (or enlist the help of older siblings if they have them/are available). You can make funny faces, sing songs, and play with their favorite toys.
They may cry or get upset during tummy time. Try to not pick them up automatically, but rather soothe and comfort while they are in this position like rubbing their back or speaking in soothing voices.
This trick will come in handy when your child figures out rolling while they are supposed to be sleeping!
Which is why I recommend it as a regular practice throughout the day whenever you’re present with them because it’ll become something they accept in all scenarios (even in their crib).
MOST BABIES WILL LEARN TO LOVE SLEEPING ON THEIR STOMACH WHEN THEY FIGURE OUT ROLLING, BUT NOT ALWAYS RIGHT AWAY. I RECOMMEND:
Not immediately rolling them over, instead soothing them first like you would during the day
Guiding them out of the position so they become used to that
Not rolling them back every single time
Giving them some space to work through their frustration
After your baby has mastered rolling, they will start to work on sitting unassisted when placed in that position.
Your baby may have the skills to sit independently (meaning unsupported, not touching them) for 30-60 seconds (or longer) when placed in a sitting position around 6 months of age.
Getting in and out of a sitting position independently (meaning from the floor into sitting and sitting back down onto their side/stomach/back) is more of a 7-9 month milestone.
While the first 3-4 months of life are focused on tummy time activities (because this is the foundation for strengthening those extensor muscles/muscles along their back), the months that follow that are for positions like sitting, standing, and crawling.
In utero, your baby is in a flexed position, meaning they are curled in the “fetal position.” This elongates the muscles along their back, stretching them.
That means those muscles are fairly weak and need a lot of work (tummy time) in order to get stronger and support their bodies in other developmental positions.
Can help to prevent flat spots
Strengthens neck and shoulder muscles for sitting, crawling, and walking
Improves your baby’s motor skills (using muscles to move and complete an action- this is important for neurological development)
So when do you know that you can start to place your baby in a sitting position? You will probably have them sitting supported in your lap while playing with them.
Once you feel like baby is needing less of your help and is becoming more coordinated/stronger with their movements, you can experiment with sitting them up, staying right next to them with a hand ready to give extra support.
Over time, they will become stronger and sit for longer periods of time without you having to intervene!
According to Cando Kiddo, wobbling is very important! “Every movement – every wobble – sends new sensory information to your child’s brain from her visual sense, her movement (vestibular), her pressure & stretch (proprioceptive) sense and her touch (tactile) sense.
This wobbling info elicits actions from your baby – tiny adjustments of her head position or body position to slightly shift her weight and try to bring her back to center.
If a wobble is too big, it might elicit a reflexive action like a sudden reach of the arms to stop a fall or an ab crunch to slow a backwards tumble (and, quite often, it will result in a tumble so make sure your little one is sitting on a soft surface).”
OTHER SIGNS THAT BABY MAY BE READY TO START SITTING UP ON THEIR OWN:
Pushing up onto their hands when doing tummy time
Rolling in both directions
Some may be scooting on their belly
Might be pushing into a tripod position (meaning one or both hands support themselves on the floor)
Having a baby that can sit independently opens up a whole new world for parents! You can sit them on the floor for a quick second instead of trying to find some place you can lay them down. Woo hoo!
BUT WHAT DO WE DO WHEN ROLLING DISRUPTS SLEEP?
Practice getting in/out of the position in their crib during awake time
Make sure to use something fun (like a remote or your phone) for motivation
Help them when they cannot do it themselves and they’re frustrated
Continue to offer soothing if they’re in a position without always moving them out of it
Give them space to figure it out
Don’t intervene every time
And yes, it’s okay if they fall asleep sitting up! They’ll move and get comfy!
Crawling may start once your baby can push up onto all fours. But instead of moving forward, they actually sort of launch themselves backwards!
They may look like a little inchworm in reverse for a short period of time. In order to move forward, they have to figure out coordinating the opposite arm and leg.
This is important for a whole host of reasons neurologically, and is why babies should not actually skip crawling. According to CogniKids, crawling is the most important milestone.
They list reasons such as:
Physical development/strengthening for all the major muscles in their body
Brain development (encourages crossing midline which indicates that both sides of their brain is working together)
Vision develops both near and far
Coordination and balance
Builds confidence as it encourages them to interact more with their environment and fosters their curiosity
This milestone happens somewhere around 7-10 months give or take. It takes a little bit of time to figure out that coordination!
SOME SIGNS THAT YOUR LITTLE ONE IS STARTING TO FIGURE OUT CRAWLING INCLUDE:
Getting in and out of a sitting position
Transitions from sitting to all fours
Rocking on all fours
Propping up on their forearms when on their belly
Maintaining their balance while reaching on all fours
Crossing midline by rotating their trunk
Pivoting on their belly by pushing up on their arms and turning
Some babies will learn to crawl in other ways outside of traditional crawling, however you should still encourage your little one to crawl on hands and knees!
They may do an army crawl (pulling themselves with their arms while staying on their belly), crab crawl (bends one knee and pulls with one arm), or only rolling where they want to go!
Supporting their chest so they maintain an all fours position
Letting them play in front of a mirror
Use their favorite toy to entice them
Give them plenty of free time (meaning no containers like bouncers, jumpers, exersaucers)
Allow your baby to play in different positions (sitting, on their sides, etc)
Crawl with your baby (so hold their belly up while they move their arms and legs)
IF YOU NEED TO ENCOURAGE YOUR LITTLE ONE TO CRAWL ON HANDS AND KNEES, SOME FUN ACTIVITIES INCLUDE:
Fun fact: crawling can be the most disruptive milestone for sleep!
But what do you do when it’s happening:
Try not to panic (I know)
So so so much practice during the day
Remind yourself that it’s a short term phase and won’t last forever
Remember that if you start habits you don’t intend to keep, you’ll need to sleep train a bit later on again!
Standing/Pulling to Stand Milestone:
Around 3-5 months old, you will be able to hold your baby upright and they will be able to support weight on their feet for short periods of time. You are still supporting most of their weight for them.
They may bounce up and down a little bit too! This movement allows for them to get used to weight bearing positions, strengthen their legs and stretch out their hips (remember all that flexed time they spent in the womb?).
So when do babies stand with support? Very early on, and it builds from there!
Their leg muscles will continue to get much stronger as they become more proficient at standing and bearing weight in their legs. That means they will be able to support their weight in standing.
Around 5-6 months, their legs can start to support most of their weight (meaning you won’t be supporting them as much). They start to bounce around 6-7 months old.
Next up, pulling up to stand!
Between 8-12 months, your baby is becoming super mobile! Remember that each skill builds on the last and each one is just as important.
They will start to crawl to surfaces of varying heights and pull themselves up. They may start with a low surface and work their way up to a higher surface. In order to practice this skill, you may remove the cushion from a couch and let them pull up on that low of a surface first.
This is also the time you want to make sure your crib mattress is on it’s lowest setting before they start to practice their skills in the crib.
What about standing without support?
Briefly (like three to five seconds) standing without support can happen between 9-11+ months. They are experimenting with balance at this age.
Stay ready and close by to catch them in case they lose their balance!
As they become more confident and develop their balance, they will be able to stand for longer periods of time without assistance.
Between 11-14+ months, they will be able to stand for 10+ seconds with a normal posture and balance. They will appear more relaxed and confident in this position.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN ALL THEY DO IS POP UP LIKE TOAST WHEN YOU PUT THEM IN THEIR CRIB?
Practice a lot of stand to sitting in the day in their crib (again, super motivating toys like a remote or phone)
Help them back down when you know they can’t do it on their own
Give them time and space to practice before intervening
Guide them out of the position and/or soothe them in the position first
This milestone has a very wide range for “normal.” You child may begin walking/taking steps as early as 9 months or as late as 17 months!
If your baby skipped traditional crawling, they may take a little longer to start walking without help.
But what do you do when they just want to walk?
Usually, with this milestone, we see more of a disruption in sleep overall and not really just from walking around their crib. They may become more tired from all the physical activity and need an earlier bedtime or a little bit longer naps.
As always, if you are ever concerned about your child’s development, please speak with your physician. In most, if not all states, an evaluation with early childhood intervention is free and can help you get the resources you need if it is warranted, or peace of mind if it is not.