Firstly, it is important to understand that although the technical term is sleep regression, it is really a progression. Your baby is now developmentally progressing out of the newborn stage, and hitting developmental milestones which contribute to the regression, as they should. However, this regression is always the hardest for parents to survive, so let's take a deeper look at understanding the 4-month sleep regression.
I always overheard the whisper of the other mums about the 4-month sleep regression, but like so many others, I didn’t actually understand what this meant. Why was this happening? What is the true indication of this regression?
Now that I am all that much wiser, I look back and realise that I wish I had had someone who could have explained this to me better so that I felt more equipped to handle it. So, here I am, giving you some top advice when it comes to overcoming the dreaded sleep regression…
So what exactly is it?
The 4-month sleep regression is a stage in the baby's life that can happen anywhere between 3.5 and 6-months old. Not all babies necessarily go through it, and not all babies experience the same level of intensity as other babies do. The 4-month sleep regression is due to many mental and physiological developmental milestones, as this is about the time your little one begins to roll, notice objects, tries to touch their toys, and is generally more aware of what is happening around them.
With all this development going on, coupled with a permanent change in your baby's sleep cycles as the sleep cycles begin to mature, it is only natural to notice how nighttime sleep, and day time naps, can be affected. For night time, where they previously were able to go from 4-6 hourly stretches, they now are doing 2-4 hourly stretches, which is largely due to the second boost of melatonin they experience around this age.
As mentioned, these are permanent changes to your baby's sleep, so don’t think of this as a phase that they will get over at some point, but rather understand that how we respond to our babies during this regression, will lead to how long this regression lasts.
As for naps, if your baby was a serial catnapper as a newborn, the catnapping will become very apparent at this stage.This happens because day time sleep cycles are usually 45 minutes long, so your baby will often fully wake at the 45-minute mark when they have no self-settling skills.
Common signs of this sleep regression?
Sometimes parents think their baby is going through a sleep regression as they experience one or two days where things went a little south, but really, that’s just normal and not part of a sleep regression. The true determining factor is when your baby's sleep consistently gets worse. You may have had a really good napper on your hands before the regression, and then all of a sudden, you find yourself having to “force” your baby to either go to sleep, or go back to sleep, and it all becomes very exhausting and draining.
Signs to look out for include:
Your baby is waking at every 2 to 4-hour mark overnight and needs to be resettled back to sleep
They become overtired due to poor naps and excessive night waking
Day time naps become shorter as your baby consistently wakes at the 45-minute mark
A lot of fussiness and crying may occur
They no longer able to easily go back to sleep
Myths of this sleep regression
Parents often create ideas for themselves as they scramble to cope with the changes and feeling of sleep deprivation. In amidst the scramble, parents will begin to feed at every 2-hour wake overnight, or think it’s time to introduce solids, as my baby must be hungry and the milk is no longer enough?
A breastfeeding mother might think her milk supply is low due to all their fussiness. Due to this perceived “hunger”, the baby is slowly becoming a snack feeder, whereby they take small frequent feeds during the day. This often leads to reverse cycling, where the baby now takes most of their calories at night, and they are not as hungry during the day, so they don’t drink as much.
A breastfeeding mother begins to think her milk supply is low due to all the fussiness
Parents think it's time to introduce solids which might fill baby enough and in turn help them sleep longer
This is just and phase and it will pass
This is the same as a growth spurt
How long does the sleep regression last for?
Well, I know this can feel like an eternity, but this regression can last anything from 2-4 weeks. However, the changes in a baby's sleep cycles during this regression are permanent, which means that parents often bring in sleep associations that they feel will help their baby sleep longer. Unfortunately, until your baby is able to fully self-settle and resettle, those sleep associations will always need to be present to help your baby go back to sleep.
How do I survive?
This is the million-dollar question every parent wants to know as they go through this sleep regression, so I’ll give you some top tips to make the process a little easier for you:
1. Take time for yourself, you cannot pour from an empty cup
2. Don’t bring in any sleep associations you don’t want hanging around after the regression has passed
3. Don’t start feeding your baby solids (unless medically advised to do so) this will only disrupt their sleep further as their little bodies learn to digest food when they have only been used to their milk
4. This is the perfect opportunity to teach your baby some self-settling skills
5. Stick to your routine as much as possible
6. Encourage good sleep habits from early on to minimize the impact of sleep regressions
7. Reach out for help, if you are totally exhausted and feel like you can no longer cope then speak to your partner or family and friends and see how they can help out, you are not alone and therefore you do not need to suffer alone.
Will this be the last sleep regression I have to face?
I would love to say yes, and say hold tight because this is the only sleep regression your baby will go ever go through, but unfortunately not. Your baby will experience many sleep regression over the next 2 years, however, it is important to keep in mind that the longer you wait to work on your little ones' sleep, the more sleep regressions you will likely have to endure.
It is important to remember that sleep regressions are absolutely normal, and developmentally necessary, so there is nothing wrong with your baby. All you need to remember is that not all babies go through this at the exact 4-month mark. Each baby develops at their own pace and that is normal and to be expected. The 4-month sleep regression is only the hardest because it is the first and most significant one that you will face, but it will leave you better equipped to handle all other regressions in the future.
So there you go. I hope you feel better informed around this topic, which should help you brace yourself when it does come round, but if you're reading this and in the hot sticky mess of it all, reach out, I am always happy to help you bring in some healthy sleep habits that can transform your baby's sleep for the better.
Love and sleepy hugs