The first year of your baby’s life is beautiful, challenging, exciting, and in all honesty, exhausting. Your baby is growing and changing so fast that as soon as you think you’ve got the hang of things, they change.
The same is true for their sleep. You get into a good pattern and then all of a sudden they’re not sleeping so well anymore (and that’s if they were sleeping well in the first place)!
This can be frustrating and leave parents feeling like they don’t know what they’re doing. The good news is that you’re not doing anything wrong. Your baby is just developing and changing at a rapid rate and these developments affect how they sleep.
The best way to get past these changes as smoothly as possible is to know what’s happening and how to respond to it. This is why I wanted to share six milestones that can impact your little one’s sleep in that precious first year of their life.
Milestone #1: Day/night confusion ends at 6 to 8 weeks of age
This is a good one. The title of this post is “6 Milestones That Can Mess With Your Baby’s Sleep” but, in this case, it should improve their nighttime sleep.
What happens? When you have a newborn, they typically sleep more during the day than they do at night. Hello, sleepless nights. Once your baby reaches the six to eight-week milestone, this begins to change.
Before this shift, babies’ bodies don’t respond to darkness and light as ours do. This is called day/night confusion. Once this ends, they begin producing serotonin in response to sunlight and melatonin in response to darkness and trust me, this is a good thing.
What should you do? If you provide them with a dark environment to sleep in when they are napping, and during the night, this will encourage more restorative naps and longer stretches of sleep overnight. So your baby will begin to sleep more during the hours when you want to be snoozing as well!
Other signs your little one has hit this milestone is an increased interest in their surroundings and (my favourite) you’ll see their first smiles.
Milestone #2: Rolling over begins at 3 to 6 months of age
What happens? This one can be rough. You put your little one down to sleep on their back and a short time later you hear them crying. You look at the monitor and they are on their tummy and aren’t able to return to their back. Are you supposed to leave them? Should you turn them over? If you do go and turn them back over, they’re likely to roll right back onto their tummy and this can happen over and over and over again. So what should you do?
What should you do? Until your baby can roll from their back to their tummy and their tummy to their back on their own, you should roll them over to return them to their back if they’ve moved onto their tummy.
Having to do this repeatedly can disrupt their sleep, however, it’s the best way to prevent SIDS and should only last for one to three weeks. The most effective method to get past this as quickly as possible is to offer lots of tummy time during the day and encourage them to roll back and forth. Once you know they can do this on their own, you can leave them to sleep however they end up without any worry.
One other thing to note is that swaddling is no longer safe once your baby starts rolling. Removing the swaddle can also throw things off for a night or two (or three) while your little one figures out what to do with their arms but I promise you they will get used to it very quickly.
Milestone #3: Sitting up at 4 to 7 months of age
What happens? This one is usually more of a concern for parents than it is for their new little sitters. Once your son or daughter has learned to sit up on their own, they’ll be excited about this new skill. If you put your baby down to sleep and then notice on the monitor that they’re just sitting in their crib, you may have the urge to go and lay them down. If they’re sitting happily, however, the best thing to do is let them feel out this new skill of theirs. Many babies will sit up in their crib happily and may even fall asleep upright. Not to worry; this behaviour doesn’t last.
What should you do? If your little one sits up and is struggling to lie back down, they may need some help. If this is the case, then go and help them down to a lying position. If this turns into a game where they are constantly sitting up until you come and “rescue” them, playing with them during the day, having them sit up and lay back down, will take care of that. Once they are able to do this easily, you can feel secure knowing that they can be left in their crib to lay back down on their own.
Milestone #4: Rocking and crawling at 6 to 10 months of age
What happens? The most challenging part of this milestone is the delayed onset of sleep. A lot of parents will tell me they are worried because their baby is rocking or crawling around their crib for a lengthy period of time before falling asleep. Prior to this, their little one would go to sleep quickly. Another big concern is babies bumping their heads while crawling around.
What should you do? It is perfectly normal for a baby who is learning to crawl (or has just learned to crawl) to stay awake longer than usual practicing this newfound mobility of theirs. They are often very active in their cribs. This is nothing for you to worry about. They may bump into the side of the crib once or twice but most babies learn quickly to move around “bump-free”. Once the excitement of trying to crawl (or being able to crawl) wears off, your little one will go back to falling asleep in a reasonable amount of time.
Milestone #5: Pulling to standing at 7 to 11 months of age
The first thing to do once your little one is pulling themselves to standing is to drop the crib if you haven’t already.
What happens? Pulling to standing presents the same challenges as sitting up. It can delay the onset of sleep but is otherwise harmless. Also like sitting, if your baby is standing and happy, you can leave them be. If, however, they’re upset because they can’t get back down, you can go and help them lay down. This can also become a habit so be careful about continuing this behaviour for too long.
What should you do? A good strategy for teaching your tiny stander to lay back down is to kneel next to the crib so that your face is level with the crib mattress. Tell your little one to come down to you and they may simply kneel down to get to you. From there, they can lay down, and just like that, you’ve taught them how to go from standing to lying! Once you’ve seen them get back down a couple of times on their own, you know they can do it and can safely leave them to lay down whenever they’re ready.
Milestone #6: Separation anxiety at 8 to 10 months of age
What happens? Not every baby suffers from separation anxiety but those who do will suddenly seem more clingy and will become upset when left on their own. This is because they now understand that objects and people exist even when out of sight. So when you put your baby down in their crib and leave the room, they know that you’re out there and want you back in their room pronto.
What should you do? Leaving a little one who is crying for you is heartbreaking. As a parent, I GET that. That’s why I always advise parents to give their babe lots of cuddles and soothing during the day and especially before naps or bedtime. Then, when it comes to putting them down and leaving them, maintain a calm and confident demeanour. This helps to assure your little one that everything is okay and that you’ll be back to see them soon. If you seem anxious, that will only increase any anxiety they may be feeling.
Even though we want to make our children feel loved and secure, we also want to show them that they’re capable of sleeping on their own to build up their self-esteem and confidence. And, after they’ve woken up, go back to giving lots of love and affection to show them how proud you are of them.
Honourable Mention: Teething
Teething gets blamed for lots of sleep trouble but, if you’re experiencing an ongoing issue with your little one’s sleep, it’s probably not the culprit.
Teething can begin as early as three months of age. Once it starts, you’ll periodically see your little one’s sleep disrupted when a new tooth is coming in. Pain associated with teething will be acute enough to affect sleep during the day or two that the new tooth is erupting through the gums. That’s when your baby will be in the most discomfort. If you’re wondering if teething is the problem, a good way to judge is by observing their behaviour during the day. Teething will not only affect your baby when they’re sleeping. If they’re only struggling during sleep-time, then something else is going on. If they’re excessively drooling, have red cheeks, are rejecting their food, trying to bite, chew, or suck on anything and everything, or are generally more irritable, then you can blame those teeth.
For those couple of days that your son or daughter is struggling with a new tooth (or teeth), try extra soothing, frozen, wet washcloths for them to suck on, chilled teething rings, and possibly infant pain reliever. Once that tooth is through you can go back to your regular routine.
If you have a new baby, don’t feel overwhelmed by all of these milestones.
So much development happens in a baby’s first year of life. Year one is a crazy ride but it’s a lot of fun and there aren’t nearly as many changes affecting sleep after you’re through it. So hang in there and enjoy every second because before you can believe it, you’ll be into year two.