When rolling, crawling, standing and other developmental changes cause sleep disruptions, what is parent to do?
Do you ever wonder where did your great sleeper go? Thinking you must have done something wrong, why are they waking at night now, why are they taking forever to fall asleep. We instantly panic and want help, we need help! Bring back our sleeper!
Our children are constantly learning and growing and understanding how to use their bodies in new ways. A newborn is born not even understanding that their two hands are hands (no wonder that startle reflex is so annoying), yet before the middle of the first year our children can use those hands to grab a toy and shove it in their mouth, wave bye bye and blow that perfect kiss! As the time goes on we watch our children throw a ball, learn cartwheels and print their name. These skills are often referred to as gross or fine motor skills.
If you’ve ever watched your baby startle awake while rolling in their crib or your toddler standing and crying while hanging on the rail, you know that the process of learning these skills can really interfere with healthy sleep habits. When healthy sleep habits are interrupted by the learning of a new gross motor skill, it can be frustrating to say the least. The reason for this is because your baby is practicing this new great skill in their sleep!!! Once our children master it, they don’t seem to need the practice at night anymore.
So the obvious thing here is well how do we help them master these new skills? How do we make it not interrupt sleep! There is no sure-fire way to prevent gross motor skill development from causing some interruption to our child’s sleep. However, having a solid foundation, and healthy sleep habits can ensure it doesn’t last long!!
As you all know I do not believe in any form of sleep regression. Even the strongest sleeper may be impacted by our growing brain and every changing skills. But some babies and children seem to be impacted more than others. I find that babies who have strong self-soothing skills and the ability to fall asleep on their own and during night wakings, seem to be less impacted by their new skills. They may still be woken up by practicing their new skills just as much as their fellow baby-friends, but they are able to go back to sleep independently and quickly, without calling on the parents for help.
If you know your baby is learning something new, it’s time to play and practice!! Make sure you are giving them lots of opportunities to practice during the day. For example the dreaded tummy time is actually great for learning to roll, while climbing and pulling up on furniture helps us learn to cruise and can help with walking. Or maybe we are passed all the early milestones and we now have a toddler standing in the crib, during the day make a fun game of learning to fall back on to their bum. It will Help your newly toddling toddler practice the standing to sitting position so he won’t get stuck in the night. It’s crazy how a little muscle memory can go a long way! Practicing a new skill in their sleep can be disruptive to your babies sleep and exhausting to you (as we the parent are now also awake), especially when they wake and find themselves sitting up or even standing up and can’t figure out how or why...it’s a lot to take in, so now cue the cry out for help!
As the parent it is now important to be aware of our actions. Of course we want to help but we need to help soothe, not solve. Comfort, but not create new bad or repetitive habits. Your job is to show up with empathy and respect, but you need to be sure not to do so much helping that you take away the learning from your baby. A baby learning to roll and a toddler learning to stand may be more then eager to accept being fed or rocked or even held back to sleep, but you are not actually helping them get over the hump of learning this new skill and may create a new sleep prop or night time habit.
This is where the new life skill becomes slightly problematic. It’s not the skill, but the development of the new “bad” habit, that makes the sleep disruptions unbearable and long-lasting. The healthy development of your baby’s gross motor skills doesn’t have to mean being up all night. What is important is to have a plan to deal with it, one with empathy, respect, and guidance when it happens.
It’s all about consistency, security, and confidence. Your baby, like all other babies in the world, will figure out how to sit back down and go to sleep. You just need to remain calm, respond consistently, and have a little confidence in him so that you don’t get in the way!
Starting today I will be posting some great helpful videos in my instagram and facebook story on the startle reflex (one of the first things to interrupt or child’s sleep), then moving onto rolling, sitting, and standing, and how we should address these new skills.
Paediatric Sleep Consultant