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Sleep and Developmental Milestones


If you're a parent of a baby who is learning to crawl, is starting to talk, or has just figured out how to roll over, it might not surprise you that these developmental milestones are wreaking havoc on your baby’s sleep.


I want to assure you that this is completely normal. And I’m not just basing my statement off anecdotal evidence or even my personal experience (although my view is the same):


  • This study focusing on crawling noted that babies did wake more frequently in the night when they started to crawl (as a matter of interest: Crawling here didn’t just refer to the traditional hands and knees sort of crawling. As long as there were at least 2 deliberate movements forward, that would qualify, e.g. proning forward).

  • The same study noted other researchers’ findings that the emergence of new abilities in infants, e.g. manual reaching, vocal production, and language acquisition also coincided with disrupted sleep. The conclusion reached was that their findings on the correlation between sleep and the onset and crawling gelled with the existing body of evidence.


What then is a parent to do?


Infants, like the rest of us, get enthusiastic when they begin to grasp something new. Learning to crawl, roll over, and talk generates a big reaction in your kid. They are ecstatic about their newfound talent, and they will practice it over and over again, sometimes in the middle of the night. And they may not want to go back to sleep after all that excitement.


In your sleep-addled state, you might be tempted to source for a "solution", anything that might prevent the wake-ups. You might try moving bedtime, you might even try adding the odd prop here and there (a bedtime bottle, patting your baby to sleep in the middle of the night).


However, the best thing you can do for your baby during this time is to keep calm and stick with what you've always done.


So you may need to go in and soothe your baby a little more during these nights. Provide him some comfort if he’s frustrated, remind him it's still bedtime, and assist him in getting back into a comfortable position if he’s pushed up against the crib's side, or rolling him onto his back if he’s flipped tummy down and can’t get back on his back. But always, always make sure he goes back to sleep on his own.


I’ll be honest, you'll probably have some terrible nights where your baby’s wake-ups are driving you crazy. But generally, developmental milestones pass in 2-3 weeks. Once the storm is over, and your baby has mastered the new skill, sleep will go back to normal.


Just remember: adopting a slew of quick fixes to get your baby back to sleep when they wake up at night might work in the short term but they’re also likely to create dependencies that will continue long after your baby’s mastered his new skill. So resist the urge to fix what ain’t broke.


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