Parents of newborns or small children everywhere will probably deal with the 4-month sleep regression at some point in time. It’s almost inevitable. If you’re wondering whether or not sleep regression is something you’re currently dealing with, ask yourself if baby is extra fussy, not napping, waking a lot during the night, and has a change in appetite. If your answer is yes to some or all of these then you’re probably dealing with the dreaded 4-month sleep regression.
Let’s Break It Down For You
Any type of sleep regression in children, or even adults, is just awful. But when it’s with a 4-month-old baby, it’s hard to tell who has it worse; the parent or the baby.
What is Sleep Regression Anyway?
So, in general, it’s when someone is experiencing a disruption in their sleep for longer than a few days. It’s when your nice, normal sleeping schedule gets turned upside down and your life becomes frustrating because all you want to do is sleep but you can’t.
It’s more common in children, but in adults it’s more commonly referred to as insomnia. That’s a whole other monster. So, let’s keep the focus on kids, especially since that’s probably why you’re reading this article.
It’s a horrible sleep disruption that starts at about 3 or 4 months of age and then reoccurs around 8 months, 12 months, and then again at 18 months. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Parents of 4-month-old kids are probably reading this and shedding a tear. Sorry, it’s not over, not even close.
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What is the 4 Month Sleep Regression?
So, what is the 4-month sleep regression definition? Let’s focus on that one since that’s most likely the one you’re dealing with. Most parents think the sudden change in their baby’s sleep routine is due to an illness or teething or growing pains. Those can all be small factors, but the nitty gritty is that they’re just simply growing.
Before the age of 3 or 4 months, babies sleep almost all day. And it’s a nice, deep sleep, too. Hardly anything can wake them. But this is because it’s not exactly a rejuvenating sleep, it’s more of a restorative one where they are recovering from the trauma of being born.
Once this is over, babies begin to sleep a little lighter. They become more aware of their surroundings and even realize that they can manipulate their environments. This creates an active, curious brain and one that has vivid dreams. These factors can disrupt sleep because baby is eager to get up and experience the world.
Clear Signs of 4 Month Sleep Regression
There are so many causes and signals to look for, and they’ve probably been there for a while, you just didn’t put the pieces together.
— Increased Fussiness
Babies are fussier anyway. That’s just something that comes with the territory. They don’t have any other way of expressing themselves at this point and there are tons of simple ways to calm a fussy baby. But when that level of fussiness increases for no apparent reason, and it’s affecting their bedtime, then you’re mostly likely entering regression.
— Napping Longer
There must be balance. If baby isn’t sleeping at night, then they’re going to be tired during the day. They’ll either start taking more frequent naps or just one, big long one. Increased napping could mean simple growth spurts, but if that’s’ the case, then they should still be sleeping at night.
— Frequent Nighttime Waking
This sign is sort of a no brainer. Sleep regression is frequent nighttime waking and the inability to easily go back to sleep. At this stage in life, they wake during the night anyway, for feeding or a diaper change, but if you find it’s too often (more than twice) then it’s probably regression.
— Change in Appetite
At 4 months, it’s hard to really have a significant change in appetite because babies are usually on a strict diet of breastmilk or formula. But signs to look for are refusing to drink, difficulty latching, spitting out the formula, or a major increase in eating.
— Inconsolable for No Reason
Like I said before, crying and fussing are a 4-month old’s only real way of communicating or expressing themselves. So, it’s expected. But when it gets to the point where Mom’s snuggles and soothing remedies don’t console the baby, then it’s most likely some level of regression. So, don’t let it get you down. Mommy’s snuggles are still needed and very much appreciated.
— Restless When They’re Finally Sleeping
Finally! It’s 4am and baby has decided that enough is enough, they’re going to sleep for a bit. But you notice that even now, they’re restless. They don’t rest in the same position or fall into that deep sleep that you wish you could at that very moment. That’s because the rest they are getting is light and their bodies are restless.
What to Expect
- Loss of Sleep — Obviously, but some parents still seem surprised by the loss of sleep. This goes for both you and baby. Neither will get any worthy rest during a regression, so accept it and find time to nap when you can.
- Increased Impatience — Impatience comes through in babies via fussiness. But you, as the parent, will experience it yourself, too. You’re not getting adequate rest and you’re tired of dealing with a child you can’t seem to console. Yes, impatience is expected.
- Emotional — As a new parent, emotions run high on a good day. But when dealing with a regression, emotions are all over the place. You’re tired, you feel just awful that your sweet baby is going through something and nothing you do seems to work. You feel like a failure, to put it simply. So, expect that you’ll be emotional during this time. It’s totally normal.
- Significant Growth — Growth spurts and just normal, expected growth are two different things but both can attribute to sleep regression. After it’s passed, you can expect a significant difference in your baby’s height and weight.
- More Time with Baby — Expect to be with them even more than usual. There will be nights that you spend laying in bed with them just so you can both catch an hour of sleep. You’ll be rocking them in the chair, walking around in the middle of the night with them in your arms. It’s a hard time, but also a bonding time, too.
Does Every Baby Experience It?
No, not every baby has experiences with sleep regression. My son never had it, but my three-year-old daughter still wakes every night. She hasn’t slept through the night once in her life. It’s something you come to live with and work around.
If your child has reached a substantial age (above 5 years old) and still deals with regression, then it may be a good idea to pay a visit to the doctor. There could be underlying issues like anemia or reflux problems.
How Is It Different Than Other Regressions?
It’s different because this is the very first one your baby is likely to experience. After this one has passed, and the next comes along at around 8 months, both you and baby are familiar with the process.
It’s always hard dealing with loss of sleep, but trust me, it gets easier each time. Easier than the last, anyway. You find your groove, figure out a routine, and learn what works for both of you.
If baby wants to nap during the day, let them. One of the main things about sleep regression is that sleep is still required. You can establish a routine later, just make sure they’re getting rest now.
Small, frequent naps are better. If they want to nap for long periods of time, you’ll have to wake them up and keep them awake for a while before letting them fall back asleep. This helps to keep their “nights and days” on track. If baby sleeps all day, then they can easily switch their perception of the two.
So, aim for short, frequent naps of about 60 minutes each and trying to have periods of being awake in between for at least 30 minutes.
How to Avoid or At Least Manage It
Every parent wants to know how to avoid sleep regression, but the truth is that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It’s just a part of growing and developing. Even though, there are babies who don’t experience it. With that being said, there are solutions and ways to manage it.
— Early Bedtime
If they normally go to bed at 7pm and spend hours awake and crying, then try setting back their bedtime to give them more room to get it out of their system. Try making bedtime at 6pm and establish a nice routine of bath, massage, songs, and then sleep.
— More Frequent Feedings
Don’t be scared to feed them more often. If that’s’ what they keep waking for and it’s the only way to get them back to sleep, then go with it. You can use feeding as a crutch, you just must learn how to break it later after the regression has passed.
Tip: If you use feeding as a sleep crutch (a way to get baby to sleep) then don’t add any others such as rocking, lying with them, etc. One crutch is hard enough to break later down the road.
— Increasing Amount of Food
A big part of regression is that baby is going to grow. So, increasing the amount of food they eat isn’t a bad idea. During the day, feed them until they’re satisfied instead of stopping at the suggested amount.
During the night, frequent feedings are expected but don’t cut them short. Let baby eat as much as they want and then let them go back to sleep. Their bodies are crying out for something; more sleep, more food, more…everything.
— Lots of Soothing
Even though it may feel pointless when you’re dealing with it, regression requires tons and tons of soothing. Hold baby, rock them, sing to them, play more during the day, give lots of hugs and snuggles.
Although they’re probably flailing arms and screaming at you, and it’s so very tempting to just give up, DON’T! This is one of the things that will help baby get through it faster and easier. At this stage, they are still realizing their world and need constant reassurance and comfort from parents.
— Adjust Bedroom
Try making the sleeping environment a little cozier for baby. Adjust the temperature of the room a degree or two cooler, make sure the sheets are nice and soft but still light and breathable, and block out any intrusive light with black-out drapes/blinds. Create the perfect place to sleep and they may get through this easier and faster.
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Tips to Cope
Sometimes the smallest things help us get through a hard experience, but it’s often difficult to realize them in the moment. So, here’s a little reminder.
- Stay Calm — Babies feed off our energy. If you’re calm, they’re calm (somewhat). But if you’re erratic and stressed, baby will pick up on that and assume the situation calls for it. It’s hard, but stay calm. Learn some breathing techniques to help keep your cool.
- Be Patient — This kind of goes hand in hand with staying calm, but patience is a must when dealing with regression at any stage. Just remember that baby can’t help it, they don’t mean to keep you up all night and they’re having just as much of a hard time as you are.
- Ask for Help — This one, believe it or not, is sometimes the hardest tip to remember. Especially as a mother. It’s tough to give in and ask for help, it makes us feel like we failed a little bit. But the total opposite is true. Asking for help is one of the best things you can do, and can sometimes fix the whole situation.You’re not good to baby when stressed, sleep deprived, and low on patience. But try and avoid letting it get that far. If there’s another parent, ask them to take over while you grab some Zs. Call up your own parents and ask them for a little bit of help. Even a close friend.
How Long Does It Last?
It may feel like it’s never going to end. This is your life now. Zero sleep and a baby that seems to hate you. But I promise, it passes…for a while. Then the next stage of regression sets in at about 8 months.
For now, depending on the environment and your baby’s individual temperament, it should only last a few weeks. Just try to use the coping tips and help baby deal with the situation as best as you can. It’ll go by much faster if you just “go with it”.
Are You Ready to Start Sleep Coaching?
Like I previously mentioned, expect this stage to last a few weeks, but as you near the 3 or 4-week mark you can look for signs that it’s time for sleep coaching to begin. This is when you slowly start to coach baby back into a nice, nighttime routine.
Is Baby Less Fussy?
Sometimes we just become so used to them being fussy that it’s hard to tell if it’s lessened. But after a few weeks it should, so pay attention and if you find that you’re both getting a bit more sleep and temperaments are calming down, it could mean that baby is getting over the regression and is open to sleep coaching.
Are They Waking Less Frequently?
Huzzah! It’s 4am and baby slept through the night! You slept for more than an hour at a time. This is a clear indication that baby is getting passed this stage and will be on board for sleep coaching.
Are They Eating Well?
If baby seems to be leveling out with eating habits and eating well, then that’s a sign that their bodies have adjusted enough to be comfortable. Now they should be ready to start a decent sleep routine.
How to Re-establish a Routine
So, you’ve made it. Both you and baby have come out the other end of the dreaded 4-month sleep regression and now you can both rest. Well, not exactly. Now you should jump on the opportunity to instill a nice routine. Help your child get on track and understand what it means to go to bed.
— Pick a Bedtime
This means, choose a time in the evening and stick to that each night. For this age, anywhere between 6-8pm is perfect so choose a time within that. This shall be known as bedtime for the next foreseeable future. (which isn’t long with babies).
— Start with a Warm Bath
After the day is done and dinnertime is over, run a nice warm bath for baby. Use some soothing scents like lavender or chamomile in the form of essential oils in the bath water. These scents are proven to help aid sleep.
After bath time, move into a calming massage with a soothing lotion to relax baby’s muscles and get them in the mood for sleep. By doing this every night, it tells them you’re getting ready for bed.
— Read a Book
Part of establishing a good bedtime routine is habits. Reading a short book each night is a great way to set that regular pattern. Reading is also an important factor in your child’s brain development. Bonus!
— Sing Songs
End the routine with tucking baby into bed and singing a few songs to lull them into that nice, comfortable sleep. It may take a few nights for the new routine to kick in, but don’t give up. The worst thing you can do is stop after a couple of nights, it’ll restart the whole thing.
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And that about wraps things up. Did you enjoy this detailed breakdown of 4-month sleep regression, what to do, and how to get through it? Was it helpful? If you’ve experience, or area currently experiencing, this stage of your child’s development, feel free to comment share below with your own story.