There are two different types of milestones: physical (like those mentioned in the title) and cognitive. I will focus today on physical milestones, mostly because those tend to disrupt sleep in a very obvious way. As a reminder, this post is about how to protect sleep during milestones. This implies that your child is already sleep trained, or at least well on their way to being sleep trained. Much of the advice will not apply if you are still helping your child fall asleep for naps, bedtime, and/or throughout the night.

baby in crib grayscale

Photo credit: Monika Rams

Babies usually progress through their milestones in the following order: rolling, sitting, rocking on knees/crawling, standing, and walking.

What to Do When Baby Starts Rolling Over

Ahhh, the one that started it all. I remember when my son first started rolling in his crib, I’d try to “pin” him down by securing a blanket tightly around his body and tucking it into the sides of his crib (this is before I was more conscientious about sleep safety). That bought me, oh, about 18 hours of no rolling, then he broke through it.

Since most parents start their babies sleeping on their backs (AS THEY ALWAYS SHOULD), this means baby is rolling from back to stomach. Sometimes families decide to put their child to sleep on their stomach. While this is always unadvisable, parents make this choice because when their baby is very young they have not yet developed the ability to flip over. So, they’re able to sleep soundly on their stomach. However, with time all babies learn to roll, so the rolling milestone is disruptive no matter what position baby starts sleep in.

This is why a baby isn’t truly falling asleep unassisted if they have to start out their sleep on their stomach. I always advise my clients to chat with their pediatricians on what to do when baby starts rolling. Many pediatricians seem to suggest that if your child flips on their own, you’re okay to leave them that way to sleep, but you’ll want to follow exactly what your doctor says to do for your baby.

A few peds will suggest rolling them back to their backs until a certain age…and that often causes a jack-in-the-box effect; you roll baby, baby rolls back, and on and on for hours. Yet, if that’s what the doctor advises, that’s what you should do.

Thinking about sleep training?

Concerned About Stomach Sleeping?

If you’re concerned about stomach sleeping, as I was, there are now several products on the market. For example, Owlet monitors your baby’s chest movements or breathing while they sleep. These haven’t been proven or approved by the FDA to work, but you may choose to use one anyway.

One thing I would suggest all new parents remember, is that your baby is not the first baby in the history of the world to roll! It is never a wise choice to physically restrict your child from moving the way they’d like to in the crib.

If you find your child is rolling and is very unhappy about it, I would recommend employing whatever sleep training method you used the first time you helped your child learn to fall asleep on their own. You can check-in, you can cry-it-out, or anything in between. However, my recommendation is to (with the pediatrician’s consent) leave them be and let them sleep on their stomachs.

As an aside, I find that children tend to sleep more soundly once they’ve learned to roll and flip – the more freedom they have to move (around the 4-month mark and beyond), the happier they are. Do you like being stuck sleeping in just one position all night?

How to Protect Sleep When Baby Starts Sitting, Rocking on Knees/Crawling

I also vividly remember the first time I caught my daughter sitting in her crib! I didn’t own a video monitor (ah to be poor and married while your husband attends law school), so it was quite a shock to walk in and see a sitting child where I’d left a prone one!

These milestones really trip parents up because they feel they need to “knock” their littles one over in order to try to compel them to go to sleep. Often with sitting babies don’t cry – they just don’t sleep! They either take forever to fall asleep because they get stuck sitting up, or they end their nap early and just sit around, haha.

Baby is Learning New Skills

What you want to keep in mind is that the crib is often your child’s only place to truly be free! They will love to practice all their skills there. So my advice is the same as above. Especially if your child does not seem sad or upset about their state. When protecting your child’s sleep during milestones, it’s better to just leave them be.

Set a minimum amount of time for their nap (usually 60-90 minutes), and allow them to stay in their crib for that amount of time. Even if they wake early. If you find that sitting/rocking/crawling keeps them awake, give them about the same amount of time to fall to sleep for a nap. Then retry your nap again later. The less you interfere, the faster they’ll “get it.”

Also, try to teach/show them how to fall over/lay down during their waking hours. It may just help them figure out how to get out of the sitting position in their crib.

Babies will often want to “try out” a new skill over and over and over again lasting about a 3-5 day window. Then sort of be “over it” once they’ve mastered it. All the more reason to stay out of their way. The faster they master the skill, the faster they’ll get back to lengthier sleep periods.

How to Protect Sleep When Baby Starts Standing and Walking

Next to rolling, I think standing is the hardest milestone for parents to deal with. This is because most babies legitimately get stuck in the standing position and can’t figure out how to get down. But, guess what happens when Mom comes in to lay the standing baby down? That’s right, just like that jack-in-the-box that baby jumps right back up again!

I would also suggest standing your baby in their crib and showing them how to slide down during their waking hours. Again, like all of these milestones, if you just keep out of it to the extent possible, and do not help your baby fall back to sleep, it will pass within just a few days. If you worry your child may hurt or bump themselves while going from standing to sitting, put them in a Pack n’ Play instead of a crib (soft sides as opposed to wood). And ask your pediatrician if it’s safe to allow your child all the time they need to learn to go from standing to laying unassisted in the crib.

It’s only when you start to introduce new sleep associations that you run into problems. If your pediatrician says it’s okay, leave your child be, and allow them to learn how to sit back down on their own.

What to Do When Baby Gets Caught in the Corner of Their Crib

I don’t consider this a milestone, but it is a physical issue that seems to frustrate a lot of parents. My clients are often asking if they can/should “reposition” their baby if they appear to be scrunched up in the corner of the crib, or if they simply appear to be in what looks like an uncomfortable position.

If you don’t have anything in your child’s crib, you shouldn’t necessarily need to reposition your baby, as long as you’re able to verify that they’re breathing. If they appear unsafe in anyway, reposition them immediately.

The only things that should be in the crib are: a mattress, the fitted sheet, and the baby. Nothing more. Do not use mesh or padded bumpers to cushion your child’s movement.

When struggling with physical milestones remember that:

  1. All babies progress from rolling to sitting to standing.
  2. Given time and space, babies learn to readjust on their own.
  3. Don’t leave your child on their stomach unless your pediatrician approves.
  4. Safety and ability to breathe freely should be your number one priority.
  5. Intervene immediately if you think your child is unsafe for any reason.

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