Category Archives: Sleep regressions

Your baby’s 4 month sleep regression: Why it happens and how to survive it

Just as you were starting to feel like you were getting a handle on this sleeping baby situation, your sweet newborn decides to change thing up on you right as you approach the 4 month mark. This is fondly (or dreadfully) referred to as the 4 month sleep regression. While some have heard of it before it afflicts their family, others are in denial that it will happen to their already sleeping champ of a baby, and other families are caught completely off guard and can’t figure out what they have done wrong. Regardless of the many emotions that surface when your baby enters this phase, it is normal and survivable although undeniably painful at the time.

What is the 4 month sleep regression?

This time period is often a rocky one due to a variety of events that seem to happen simultaneously. Most importantly, this is the moment of time when your baby has a significant “burst” of developmental awareness. This means that some babies (although not very alert babies) for the first several months of life are not very interested in things that are going on around them other then probably the sound of their mother’s voice and whether they are being fed. Their world is rather limited to the immediate vicinity. As they move into this 4 month period, they suddenly become aware that there is an entire exciting world all around that they want to engage with and investigate. When everything around you is so stimulating, it can certainly make it hard to sleep. This means that your baby is likely to become very distractible at this point in time. Remember the days of endless cluster feeding when you could catch up on all of your Netflix marathons and your baby was none the wiser? Now, you turn on the TV as you sit down for a feeding and suddenly your baby cranes his neck to see the screen too, to the detriment of the feeding. Or you try to feed your baby in a public place or where your other children or even the dog are running around and forget it, not going to happen. Everything else is way to interesting to spend precious moments eating.

For many babies, there is also a growth spurt at this time. While growth spurts are hard to predict and there are several of them, especially in the first 6 months of life, many babies will begin eating more around this 4 month mark. This can certainly account for increased night wakings and the reluctance on your child’s part to go back to sleep without a feeding.

As your baby moves out of their 4th trimester (that initial 3 months after birth when he is adjusting to the world out of utero and you may be still helping him simulate that in utero experience with your 5 Ss –sucking, swaddling, shushing, side lying and swinging), many of the tricks you might have used in those early months may stop working. While this can be frustrating because it means that you have less ability to soothe your baby to sleep, it is a sign that your child is growing and developing and needs less intervention from you in order to soothe. This is not to say that all babies are ready to soothe independently at this stage but that this skill is starting to become more developed.

Lastly, some babies like to learn new tricks at this time such as rolling from their backs to their bellies. It is likely that if your child is doing this when they are not in their sleeping space, you will have some advance warning that they are capable of rolling back to belly and are no longer swaddling, as this can be dangerous. If your previously sleeping baby suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night and finds himself on his belly, he is likely to wake up mad and need some help getting comfortable again in order to back to sleep.

When does this regression typically happen and how long does it last?

On average, I find most parents report that they begin noticing changes in their babies around 15 weeks (for babies born prematurely, this would be 15 weeks adjusted). Not all regressions happen to all babies so it is possible to get through this period of time and not notice a significant difference in your child’s sleep. On average, I find that the regression lasts anywhere from 2-4 weeks. If it is not resolving by 4 weeks and especially if your baby is beyond 18 weeks, it may make sense to start making some changes because this is an indication that your child might be ready to be more independent with their sleeping.

How do we survive the 4 month sleep regression?

Your baby is in the midst of big changes! This is a good thing because it means that your baby is growing and developing. At this time, your baby’s brain is starting to cycle in and out of stages of sleep just like the adult brain which means that your baby is starting to notice that there may be a difference between what happens when he is falling asleep at bedtime (for example: he is held to sleep, nursed/bottle fed, rocked or bounced to sleep) and what happens when he now goes through those newly developed sleep cycles. If he went into his sleeping space asleep, he is going to be more likely to wake at when the next sleep cycle occurs.

During this time, there is going to be a fair amount of survival that needs to happen. This is a tough time for your baby too as his brain is growing rapidly and the world around him is quickly expanding. It is fine to do whatever you need to do to meet his needs. Many times a day, I tell parents that there is nothing that they are going to do regarding their baby’s sleep in the first 6 months that is going to cause a long term problem (and even then, it can all be changed, there are just varying degrees of how hard that process can be). Please keep in mind that he may be in a growth spurt so he is likely to have an increased need for nutrition so feedings may be more necessary then they might have been a few weeks ago. You may need to be a bit creative about how your are helping your baby go to sleep during this time as things that worked in the past may not work as well at this point (sadly, this is often the point when those 5 Ss stop working so well). Ensuring that your baby is not overtired will help him sleep more easily so watch for sleepy cues and try to get him down before he is overtired.   This may also be the time when you have a harder time convincing your baby to sleep when you are out and about because of all the stimulation that the outside world is now bringing in. If your baby will still sleep while you are out, it may be helpful to cover the carseat or carrier to reduce some of this stimulation.

How to we get out of this regression?

Babies are not born with the ability to soothe themselves to sleep. Some are better at this then others from younger ages, but when this happens is often based on your child’s temperament. Babies with easier temperaments can often start to soothe themselves and fall asleep independently starting at 8 weeks of age. Please note, this is not through sleep training. This refers to babies who can be put down awake in a sleeping space and, after a brief period of rocking themselves side to side, lifting their legs up and dropping them down—soothing behaviors—fall asleep on their own without needing a sleep crutch. If this is happening prior to the 4 month regression, when you get to the other side, sleep can often fall back into place as your child has the skills he needs to be a great sleeper from here on out.

If your baby goes into his sleeping space asleep at bedtime, the 4 month regression can often bring about wakings every 2 hours (or more!) throughout the night and he may be very hard to soothe at some points. I typically tell parents that if you have come through what is a usual point in time when the regression should be over (about 18 weeks) and your baby’s sleep is still very challenging, this can be the point in time when it may make sense to start to work on developing some improved sleep skills. This will likely involve some sleep training. Sleep training is not something you ever have to do if it is not in keeping with your parenting comfort zone or it may be something you feel would be better for your child if you held off until 6 months. I often find, however, that when parents are going through a circus act of tricks to convince their baby to go to sleep and none of them are really working, it can be because your child is telling you that he is ready to do some of the work himself.

Not sure if your baby is in the midst of their 4 month sleep regression, feel free to contact me for your free 15 minute phone consultation.

Common sleep regressions and how to handle them

sleep regressionsSleep regressions are every tired parents big fear.  Especially if you have completed sleep coaching your child and now things have gone off the rails, you are bound to be frustrated and discouraged if your baby begins waking again.  Parents ask me all the time, “Once my child has learned how to sleep, what regressions may happen?  What do we do when there is a sleep regression?  How do I help my child without falling back into bad habits.”

What is a sleep regression?  A sleep regression is when your baby was previously sleeping well (possibly through the night) for a long period of time and then, all of a sudden, without a known cause (such as the big sleep stealers:  illness, teething, travel), their sleep suddenly goes downhill.  Sleep regressions can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks and often coincide with cognitive or developmental milestones.  Commonly sleep regressions tend to happen at 6 weeks, 3-4 months, 6 months, 8-10 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years old.  Fear not, most children do not experience a full regression at each of these milestones.

Here’s what is likely to be going on at each regression

6 weeks:  Newborns frequently go through a series of growth spurts leading to increase hunger and fussiness.  Think about how rapidly your newborn is growing at this age!  So much happens in a relatively short span of time and this all takes lots of work on your baby’s part.

3-4 months (referred to as the 4 month sleep regression):  I often think of this as one of the hardest time periods.  In addition to a growth spurt, your baby is going through bursts of brain development increased awareness of her surroundings leading her to being more distractible in months past.  At the same time, many of the tricks (like Harvey Karp’s infamous 5 Ss) you may have used in the first several months to get your baby to sleep may stop working.  Whereas previously you may have been able to put your baby to sleep while holding her and transfer her to her sleeping spot, now the minute you put her down she wakes.  This is challenging because some babies are still really too young to soothe themselves from a wakeful state to a sleeping state so it may take several tries to get your baby into bed.  Some babies will also begin rolling at this point, which means if you are still swaddling, you will need to stop so that your baby doesn’t roll themselves in the swaddle.  Also, there are often a few days to weeks when your baby will roll from their back to front and get stuck (or vice versa) and not be happy in whatever position she is stuck in.  Lots of tummy time is essential to help your baby become proficient at rolling during the day so less practice at night is necessary.

6 months:  If your baby wasn’t an early roller, he may begin rolling more frequently by 6 months.  With rolling and increased core strength comes crawling.  Some babies will crawl as early as 5 or 6 months.  Others wait until a bit later.  Whenever it happens, it can become a big sleep stealer where you may see your baby up on all fours in his crib rocking back and forth, just practicing and getting ready for his upcoming mobility.  Some babies also go through a growth spurt at 6 months so increased hunger can occur.

8-10 months (referred to as the 9 month sleep regression):  This most often coincides with your baby’s new found ability to pull herself up to stand.  When this happens, your first job is to make sure she knows how to sit back down.  This can be practiced during play time when your baby is standing at a couch, coffee table, or ottoman height surface.  Place something on the ground that is sufficient incentive for your baby to reach down for it.  Maybe it is a favorite toy or something that is often off limits like your TV remote control or cell phone.  Guide your baby down to reach for the object, at first helping to bend her legs and then letting her do it on her own.  You can also practice this in the crib and can work on teaching your baby to walk her hands down the crib rails to a sitting position.  It is essential that you ensure that your baby can sit herself once she can stand, otherwise she will have no way of laying down to return to sleep if she wakes and stands.  You can end up in an endless game of “I lay you down, you stand up.”

12 months:  Walking!  Some babies will walk sooner then 12 months, some later.  I see 1 year olds having less regressions than younger babies but whenever your child begins walking, it can easily throw your child’s sleep for a loop.  This regression can crop up about 2 weeks before you see any significant skills emerge.  As with the earlier milestones, be sure to give your baby lots of practice time during the day so his is a bit more tuckered out when it comes time for sleep and is feeling less of a need to practice in bed.

18 months:  While many babies have been babbling away for months by now, words and direction following can really begin to emerge at this point.  Your toddler will still have difficulty communicating exactly what he wants, which can produce much frustration for both parent and child.  Remember, your child’s receptive language (what he understands) is likely to be move advanced then his expressive language (what he can articulate) so be sure to talk to him about what you are doing and when you are doing things that involve him.  Toddlerhood often brings the obsessive need for predictability to help your child have some semblance of control of their environment.  Being very consistent with your bedtime routine and in your response to any night wakings is essential to keeping any regressions short lived.

2 years old:  Some children’s verbal skills may not increase until closer to 2 leading to a later regression.  Some 2 year olds may also be potty training.  When children potty train at a young age, it can sometimes throw sleep for a loop.  Most children do not night potty train when they learn to stay dry during the day.  This typically follows later (by months to years for some).  Still, if your child potty trains early, it can lead to a few sleep troubles as she begins to master a new skill.

What to do during a regression

It may be that you don’t even realize that the regression is happening until your child masters his new skill and then you look back and think “So that is what was happening!”  If you find yourself in the midst of a sleep regression, do your best to soothe your child by being responsive but not creating any new sleep crutches or falling back into old ones.  Try to remind yourself that this is temporary, but if previously you didn’t need to step foot in your baby’s room at night, you may now need to make an appearance, even if it is just for a “parenting check.”  When you establish that your child isn’t sick and that there is nothing that you need to “do,” you can go back to a spot of increased support if you have gone through a behavioral fading method and your child was once comforted by having you close by.  Or you may need to do a few timed checks to reassure your child that you are nearby but that it is still time for sleeping.  Recognizing that your child also is tired and frustrated with whatever developmental milestone is happening is also helpful to keep in perspective.  Hopefully it will be short-lived and everyone will be back to sleeping great very soon.  If not, feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute consultation and get to the bottom of whatever is going on.