How to keep baby safe and maintain healthy sleep foundations when baby reaches new development milestones.

So your baby’s on the move and you are eager to keep their sleep as routine as regular as possible.

Their newfound skills may include rolling, sitting, crawling and pulling to stand. All of these achievements are wonderful and we want to celebrate our baby’s development! But, we want to do this whilst maintaining healthy sleep foundations too.

With each new skill development it can feel both exciting and exhausting!

The exciting part? Your baby is coming into a new stage of gross motor development and they have some mad new skills to show off!

The exhausting part? Their sleep may be temporarily impacted, which in turn impacts both your little one and maybe even the whole household too.

This blog takes a look at sleep and settling tips for new stages of physical development, ensuring your baby remains safe, supported and well rested during this time.

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you would know there’s always a solution and this blog is no different. Your baby’s new found ability to sit, crawl or pull to stand doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end of healthy sleep foundations.

Sure, you’ll need a little extra patience and consistency as you allow your baby time to return to their healthy sleep foundations, but you will get through this. There’s always hope Mumma, hang in there with me.

Each time your baby reaches a new physical milestone there are three key phases. Knowing this can help you prepare for each of the milestones with patience and understanding.

 Three Key Phases of a New Stage of Development:

  1. Prior To Skill Development – Before your baby reaches a new milestone you will probably know it’s coming. You may know about it from books or apps or from other mum’s and babies in your circle of friends and family. Alternatively, if this isn’t your first child, you might remember when your older children reached physical milestones so know it’s on the way.

Knowing a new skill milestone is coming can help you mentally prepare for the transition and feel less caught off guard and less frustrated by the change when it arrives.

  1. During The Skill Development –When your little one first begins displaying their new gross motor skills, this is the time for action and physically implementing settling tips (outlined further in this blog) to assist your baby with a smooth transition.
  1. The Aftermath – Once your baby has settled down from the excitement of discovering their new party trick and is also settling to sleep better, you can reassess if there is anything you need to do i.e if you changed your response to settling or introduced some new sleep props, you will now want to look at weaning them off.

Now before we dive into each of the new development stages and how you can best assist your baby with maintaining healthy sleep foundations, I want you to know that you can of course (and should) respond if and when your baby is struggling to settle to sleep.

The key to your approach is not to PANIC or OVERPLAY the role of helping your baby fall or return to sleep. During new development stages it’s easy for us to fear our babies will become overtired in the process or to assume they’re too stubborn to fall asleep/ settle by themselves (even though they may have been doing this perfectly just last week). Resist the urge to take things into your own hands to speed things up and try some of the below tips first.

Rolling – 4-8 months

Once your baby is rolling (in particular back to tummy) it’s time to unswaddle them as they begin the journey of learning to sleep arms free. If you haven’t already, check out my unswaddling blog with everything you need to know to transition smoothly from swaddle to arms free.

  • Ensure bub is in an arms-free TOG rated sleeping bag appropriate for the room conditions.
  • Remove any loose bedding in the cot – blankets are no longer safe once your baby is on the move.
  • Remember no cot bumpers (even mesh), blankets, pillows, lamb’s wools or sleep positioners are recommended under Red Nose Guidelines for safe sleep practices.
  • Continue to put your little one on their back in the cot initially.

Expert Insight: Whilst it’s safe to use a firmly tucked blanket in the cot when your baby is stationary, it is important to remove this once they are rolling as they can rotate and become tangled. You can download my FREE Safe Sleep Checklist.

As you continue to put your little one on their back in the cot initially, if you notice your little one rolls onto their tummy, they are safe to sleep in this position as they now have sufficient head and neck control.

Your baby now also has access to both their arms to move and push up if they felt that their airways are obstructed in any way and the cot is bare from any loose objects.

What do you do if your baby rolls onto their tummy in their cot?

Babies are clever so you don’t need to automatically flip them back. Give them a moment or two to try settling on their tummy. You can also soothe them by patting their bottom, rubbing their back or just gently and calmly talking to your little one as they settle to sleep.

If your baby is still struggling after 1-2 minutes, rather than “flipping” them over, try using their arm to assist the process of gently rolling them back onto their back. This will show them how to roll back over time rather than taking over and rescuing them.

You can repeat this process both during awake times and at sleep times.

During the day this will help to build muscle memory and give them the skills to do it at night. Just remember to give them an opportunity so that you are not rolling them back every 30 seconds.  This will take patience.

At night time, remember to be patient and not panic. If you are really concerned about their position, try gently moving their head to the side, rather than repositioning them completely. You may wake them and will regret it (speaking from personal experience on this one!)

Expert Insight: It typically takes babies 5-7 days to master either sleeping in this position or to stop rolling onto their tummy as frequently and find their new favourite sleeping position.

Sitting – 4-9 months

Sitting can occur anywhere between 4-9 months and once your baby learns to sit, my first tip is to drop the cot to base level. The important reason for this is sitting is the precursor to pulling to stand and we want to keep our babies safe.

With babies being top heavy, if they unexpectedly pull to stand earlier than anticipated they can topple out of the cot and cause serious injury.

As above with rolling, we need to practice lots during the day to build muscle memory. Practice going from laying down to sitting and back down again.

Expert Tip: There are some great Paediatric Physios who teach these skills through play. Check out Alana from @my.strong.little.body or Nicole from @nicole_kidsphysio on Instagram.

Crawling – 5-13 months

Crawling can also disrupt your baby’s sleep as they feel the need to MOVE. My top recommendation here is to stick with a sleeping bag style as the sleeping bag makes things more challenging for them when attempting to move their legs.

I don’t recommend the brands with “drop crotch” individual legs as this can make it easier for bub to move around, which can also mean they find themselves stuck in a tricky spot in their cot or legs straddled between cot bars. We want to keep the cot boring and don’t want them to associate their sleeping bag or sleep space with playtime. Think hot laps when they are supposed to be sleeping.

This being said, you cannot force your baby to sleep and our role as parents isn’t to make our babies sleep rather “bore” them to sleep with minimal interaction. This is where we need to focus on up-levelling our patience and consistency during this milestone. If bub wants to crawl, don’t attempt to pin them down. Let them move about and tire themselves out and ensure there’s plenty of opportunities throughout the day to practice their new skills outside of the cot.

Standing – 8-12 months

When your baby learns to stand it can be a little tricky as they lock in those little legs and it feels like they’ll stand FOREVER. I promise they won’t, but it will take all of your patience to not panic and take over. We want our baby to recognise it’s bed time and go off to sleep. This is where your self control will be tested mama.

During this phase we need to resist the urge or temptation to constantly lay our baby back down. The reason for this is it can result in sore arms and both mum and bub feeling frustrated with the repeated lay downs. Mum gets sick of repeating the same thing over and over and baby just wants to get back to standing up in the cot. No one wins.

So what do you do when your baby insists on standing up in their cot at bedtime?

  1. Firstly we need to give them an opportunity to return to sitting/laying down. Let them use their skills and allow them time to get tired or bored of it.
  2. If they don’t sit or lay down, after a period of time you can lay them down in intervals– ie return them to a laying down position every 5 minutes. You can also choose whether you stay in the room or leave the room (especially if bub previously self-settled).

As with the other milestones, it will take a few days for the novelty to wear off. Providing lots of time throughout the day to practice building muscle memory of getting up and down from different surface heights is a great way to settle things down.

Quick takeaway reminders:

  1. No matter what stage of development your baby is at, know that new development is short-term.
  2. Remember not to panic or overplay the role of settling, especially if your baby was previously self-settling to sleep.
  3. If your little one was previously self-settling, they haven’t lost the skill, just temporarily misplaced it. Think about riding a bike, you may be rusty but you can still do it!
  4. You can stay close by and support, but resist the urge to speed up the process with props that you may have previously weaned out such as feeding, rocking or holding.

If you do introduce these extra sleep props back in temporarily to assist your baby, just remember to have an exit strategy to reduce and wean these back out.  Babies learn through patterns of repetition of events, so can easily pick up new associations over a short period of time and come to expect this as the new “normal” again, so we need to take the lead if this isn’t something that isn’t sustainable long-term.

Want some extra help?

If your little one is already being assisted to sleep, but now resisting your attempts with back arching, taking longer to settle and generally feeling frustrated, this is often a good time to look to lay healthy sleep foundations and work with cot settling. Check out how we can work 1-1 together or join my Baby Sleep Foundations course.

Did you know there are 5 stages of sleep regressions in the first 2 years of life? They can also cause temporary disruption to sleep.

With Love,

P.S. Want to know the ins and out of the sleep routines that I recommend? Download my comprehensive nap routine guide. This is a 35 page guide, from 6 weeks to 4 years which breaks down each age and stage not only in awake times, but also gives you total day sleep requirements and provides detailed explanation of different sleep routines for each age group for you to learn and understand more about daily sleep needs for your little one.