The 4 Month Sleep Regression
Your baby’s sleeping well at night and for naps, you have a dependable rhythm - you really feel like you have this parenting thing down and have hit your stride. All is going well until about four months and suddenly you’re up every two hours again with a fussy baby.
The the dreaded 4 month sleep regression has reared its cranky head! Unfortunately, it's pretty much an inevitable part of infancy -- every baby hits this stage and every parent wants to crawl into a cave when it happens. The good news is that a) it's a sign of normal, healthy development and b) it's a phase that doesn't last forever.
Your baby is becoming increasingly aware and increasingly social. Their heart-melting smiles, giggles, and coos are proof. Your baby knows to look for you and can sense your presence. She wants to be with you all the time now... so when the bedtime routine is starting, she starts to wail because she doesn't want to be left alone.
Your 4 month old is developing more mature sleep cycles. They no longer go swiftly from awake to deep sleep, now they go through light sleep before they hit deep REM sleep. This makes falling asleep more challenging -- both for baby and for you. Transitioning from light sleep into deep sleep is a skill and it comes with time. Right now, it's totally new to your little one, and they’re not very good at it. You baby might start to doze off but they’re not completely asleep, and they will start to wail if they get interrupted going from light sleep to deep sleep.
Social butterfly + new sleep cycle + possible teething = SO HARD!
Here’s Chicago Birth & Baby’s best tips to get through it:
a) Sleep Routine & Environment: If you’ve already set up a great sleep routine and sleep environment - stay consistent-- it will pay off. Keep the room dark, the sounds machine on, and the sleep sack on for nighttime.
b) Bedtime: Is your little one starting to transition from 4 naps per day to 3 naps per day? This can be a big factor in dealing with sleep regression. As babies transition from 4 to 3 naps per day, they can become more tired. Moving to an earlier bedtime often helps to ensure they get enough sleep... and it means you'll start the bedtime routine before she's overtired.
c) Sleepiness Cues: Respond to sleep cues quickly, even if it's not the time when your child "usually" naps. When you see sleepy cues, act quickly and help get baby to sleep so that baby doesn’t become overtired, which will make falling asleep harder on both of you.
d) Be Flexible: Stay flexible and do what works! In terms of development, so much is changing for your baby on a weekly basis. While routine is wonderful for babies, it's also important to stay flexible in order to meet their needs in the moment. What worked yesterday may not work well today, so be prepared to try a few different options. At this age, it's still fine to rock, feed, or sway your little one to sleep. You aren't going to create any negative sleep associations. Your goal is simply sleep. This can sound confusing because tip a) was about consistency, but here we’re talking flexibility. This means keep your sleep routine and environment consistent, but be flexible on timing and techniques. If rocking is working on Monday, do that. If singing and swaying is working the next day, do that!
Lastly, don't panic! Sleep regression is a good sign of appropriate development and it won't last forever! This is one of the hardest phases -- you've gotten used to sleeping most of the night, or at least 1-2 solid stretches, so this change can feel really really challenging. Our postpartum doulas are here for you if you need a night off or extra hands on deck through this difficult developmental phase.
Hang in there, parents -- you are doing an amazing job!
Kate Ritter is a labor & postpartum doula and placenta encapsulator with Chicago Birth & Baby.