Motor Skill Milestone Specific Sleep Regressions: Rolling, Crawling, Standing.


We get a lot of questions on this topic! Chances are, if you started to follow us back in January and your baby was very young, you’ve experienced at least one regression since then. If you haven’t already, be sure to read our popular blog on the 4 month regression (which doesn’t necessarily occur right at the four month mark). This can help you evaluate if your child is having a sleep regression that is actually due to a sleep association rather than physical milestone. If it’s pretty clear a new milestone is the cause, we hope you find the following information helpful. We’ve indicated some potential response patterns for you to implement as you navigate a milestone, but we want to be very clear that though common, these are NOT the only options! The age and temperament of your baby and the realities of your daily life will have significant impact on the type of interaction that may be the best fit for your family.


Rolling:

The Science: For some babies rolling starts as early as 3-4 months and for others is not until more like 6 months. The problems pop up when your baby learns to flip onto her tummy and she’s NOT comfortable – she’s stuck and she can’t sleep! This can be magnified during the early morning hours or naps when REM sleep is dominating yet your young baby does not have REM sleep paralysis. This can cause her to perform new skills in her sleep (like rolling) which then wakes her if she’s uncomfortable or feels stuck.

The Sleep: Rolling causes sheer panic in many parents who are aware of the AAP recommendation that sleeping your baby on her back is safer. First things first –if your baby is learning to roll and it seems she may be able to roll while swaddled, you’ll need to stop swaddling her now. Take a look at our swaddle and swaddle transition blogs for information on how to do this. You may wish to transition into a Merlin Sleep Suit to help keep your baby positioned on her back for longer if she’s rolling very young. If you had been, you’ll want to stop using a mobile at this time too in anticipation of the next milestone of pulling up and reaching/grabbing. Next, familiarize yourself with current AAP safety recommendations. At time of publication of this blog the recommendation is to place your infant on her back to sleep for all sleep episodes during the first year. If she rolls herself into a preferred sleeping position independently, she’s “allowed” to sleep there! Your job is to make her crib as safe as you can – no swaddles or suits, no blankets, pillows, bumpers, strings, ties, toys, wedges or positioners, soft mattresses, etc – and continue to practice tummy time during the day!

The Real Life Challenges: If your baby rolled over happily and snuggled in for sleep on her tummy in a safe crib (as she probably will when she’s 9-12 months, maybe sooner) things would be great! The problem is when young babies roll over and then become stuck or uncomfortable OR their parents have some anxiety which prevents them from sleeping when their baby it learning to roll. If your baby is stuck on her tummy – please rescue her! Sure, this might mean repositioning her every 60-90 minutes (or even more) during some parts of the night, especially the last part of the night but we don’t want your baby stuck on her tummy. As you reposition your baby try to coach/guide/half assist her back onto her back for more comfortable sleeping and practice the skill of rolling tummy to back during tummy time in the daytime. As she masters the skill, coach and assist less and let her take over! For many babies, once the new skill is mastered, the novelty of flipping over wears off quickly and in just a few nights of disruption and assistance from their parents things go back to normal. If they don’t AND your baby is old enough to start some sleep training, it may be necessary now. As you begin the sleep training method that feels right to YOU and YOUR family, incorporate rescue rolls and assistance at each time you offer soothing to your baby if she is still unable to reposition herself. For example, if she flips over and starts to fuss, you may respond and lean over her crib and “shhhh”, rub her back, and murmur some coaching words to help her reposition. If she cannot on her own, you can assist her to roll and then fade away your response (perhaps leave the room, perhaps sit in a chair close by, perhaps resume soothing at the side of the crib). If she drifts off to sleep, that’s great! Continue to assist her less and less each night as she masters her skill. If she flips again right away, return to the cribside to FIRST try to coach/cue her to do it on her own. If she cannot, help her. There are many different algorithms to how the ins and outs of a response like this might play out in your family and for your baby, and that would be best discussed in a personalized sleep consult but the general premise is underlying: help your baby if she’s stuck, practice during the day, as she masters the skill reduce your response!

Sitting, Up On All Fours, Crawling:

The Science: Typically, over the span of 6-12 months at least one of these three milestones will disrupt your child’s sleep. Some babies seem to be very sensitive to all three! As described in the rolling section, naps and the second half of the night are notoriously more difficult due to REM sleep, but falling asleep times (bedtime, naptime) are often affected as well. Low sleep pressure and sleep pressure/circadian rhythm mismatch and schedule irregularities at this age can exacerbate the problem so be sure your baby is going to sleep at age appropriate times, and staying awake for age appropriate lengths of time.

The Sleep: Now is the time to lower the mattress if you haven’t already and prepare for the next stage of sleep! Although these milestones can be disruptive, the great news is your baby is most likely old enough now to be “sleep mature” which will make it easier for you to assess your expectations in the night. Swaddles and sleep suits should definitely be removed at this point, though we recommend continuing to use a sleep sack throughout early toddlerhood so loose blankets are not needed and to help reduce crib climbing at an early age. As your baby begins to move around her crib she may bump and roll into the sides. She may also pick up some more unusual, though rarely concerning, soothing habits like rocking, rubbing, b