How Developmental Leaps Can Affect Sleep

by natalie fitzgerald

Developmental leaps happen throughout the first year, and it’s natural that sleep can be interrupted, also known as “sleep regressions.” Don’t let sleep regressions put a damper on the excitement you can feel for your baby who is learning about her new world outside the womb.

Do you find your 4 month old rolling around in her crib for an hour at 4am? Maybe your 10 month old sings and talks while intermittently standing up when she’s supposed to be napping? Or you might be pregnant and your mom friends keep talking about “sleep regressions” - over countless cups of coffee! These can be frustrating times for moms, but the good news is that your baby is reaching some major milestones (or on her way there!). And, you might be doing everything you can to optimize sleep, but your baby might still find a way around it because practicing these new skills is way more fun than napping - for baby, anyway!

Mental leaps happen frequently throughout the first year of a baby’s life, and these developmental progressions can definitely lead to some sleep regressions. After all, your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, and her brain (and body) is rapidly growing! Read on for my tips to help with any sleep regressions you might experience as your baby is learning and mastering new skills.

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1. ESTABLISH CONSISTENT ROUTINES

How can you know if your baby is going through a sleep regression if she doesn’t have any consistent pattern by which to compare? Set your baby up for success by giving her a consistent schedule and routine so she knows what to expect, especially when it comes to sleep. You’ll have an easier time knowing what the underlying sleep problem is if you have a foundation with which to work.

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2. MAKE ADJUSTMENTS TO SCHEDULE

Sometimes a simple schedule adjustment can help. Is your baby overtired, and therefore has a hard time falling asleep? Overtired babies can easily become “wired” and have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Or maybe your baby rolls around in her crib for 30 minutes before falling asleep. She might need a little bit more awake time to get the wiggles out before her nap.

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3. PRACTICE ,PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

There are lots of ways to appropriately stimulate your baby both physically and mentally when they are going through a leap. Age-appropriate stimulation can give them an opportunity to practice their new skills so they are tired enough to fall and stay asleep. Of course there is a fine line between overtiring your baby and stimulating them enough, so follow your baby’s cues and try to be aware of an age-appropriate wake window too.

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4. RELAX AND KNOW IT’S A PHASE

Try to remember your baby is learning something new and it can take time for her to get comfortable with her new movement or thoughts. Repeating behaviors is how we learn to master them, and these life skills like rolling, sitting, standing, talking, and walking are all part of your little one becoming more acclimated to life outside the womb. Learn more about what your baby is experiencing, and find ways to foster and encourage the development through each phase. It’s remarkable what changes occur within the first year!


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Natalie Fitzgerald is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Postpartum Doula. Natalie’s approach to sleep training is tailored to each family she works with, meeting them exactly where they are and developing a customized plan to help them reach their sleep goals, based on their unique baby’s needs and their parenting style. Natalie walks alongside families during the time they need the most support, encouraging parents and helping them find a rhythm that works best with their baby and lifestyle. Before consulting with families, Natalie taught high school English and Campus Ministry. Natalie and her husband Danny live in San Diego with their three children Connor (6yrs), Kate (3.5yrs), and Makenna (10mo).

You can follow Natalie or reach out to her with questions on Instagram and Facebook.