This milestone developmental change in a baby’s sleep pattern can result in a lot of fear and anxiety for many parents. You have likely heard someone’s horror story about their baby going from sleeping so well, to suddenly waking frequently throughout the night unable to be settled for what seems like no apparent reason.
Instead of living in fear of it happening, what if you decided to make the choice to plan for it? Parenting can be overwhelming so allow yourself and your baby the best chance of a smooth adjustment by increasing your understanding and putting in some preparation first.
Firstly, not every baby will experience this developmental change as a sleep regression. A sleep regression is when sleep is disrupted for more than a few weeks where you may notice:
- multiple night wakings
- less napping
- changes in appetite
This change in sleep doesn’t always happen at exactly at 4 months of age. Another reason not to sit and wait for it! It can be experienced by your baby most commonly around 3.5-4 mths but can be as late as 5 mths of age.⠀⠀
It is important to understand that it involves a permanent developmental change in sleep. Your baby has now progressed to experiencing sleep cycles that are a lot more like our own. Before this time, your baby likely fell asleep and stayed asleep much easier transitioning between 2 stages of sleep rather than 4 stages. This maturation in sleep can suddenly lead to multiple wakings at night and shorter naps because your baby now moves between lighter and deeper stages of sleep more often. They have also become really aware of their surroundings and eager to learn and absorb everything about it!⠀
If your baby has previously been assisted to sleep either in your arms, with a feed, rock or another form of settling, chances are your baby will wake fully after each sleep cycle day/night wanting and needing to repeat the same experience to get back to sleep. ⠀
This is not something to feel shame over as they were all effective settling methods for a new baby. They simply just do not know or haven’t had experience any other way. Partial wake ups are now common between sleep cycles, in fact we all have these! The trick is, if your baby has been taught the skills to settle and re-settle, they are less likely to wake up fully, finding it easier to transition independently into the next cycle. ⠀
I think it’s here already!
If you are reading this and feel that you may be experiencing this change right now, you may initially hit survival mode and continue to use any tricks you can do get your baby back to sleep. After a few weeks if you haven’t seen any improvements or you have been left with extra night wakes to work through, now can be a great time to consider what you want sleep to look like for the long term.
How to prepare for the 4 month regression.
Ask yourself these questions.
Has my baby developed a nighttime feeding pattern?
If you haven’t paid any real attention to your babies sleeping as yet, around 3 months of age is a great time to see if your baby has developed any sort of feed/sleeping pattern overnight. Do they seem to wake at around the same times each night for a feed? Knowing this information can help you to determine if your baby is waking due to hunger or an association with falling asleep.
Has your baby’s feeding needs changed?
Is your baby suddenly finishing off all their bottles of milk or spending longer feeding at the breast? Growth spurts happen frequently in the first year and at around the 3-4 month can be a big one. For more information on growth spurts check out my blog https://www.sleepthrivegrow.com/growth-spurts-affect-on-sleep/ If you haven’t seen an increase of feeding amounts during the day and you are experiencing more night waking, it is more likely a sign of the 4 month sleep regression.
Here is an example: If your baby normally wakes for a feed at around 1am and has fed well, but has then started waking again at around 2am, you can feel pretty safe that a wake up an hour later it is not due to hunger. Instead of feeding again here, you can try a re-settle instead. In the beginning it really doesn’t matter how this is done. Allowing your baby to fall asleep in a different way other than feeding helps to keep the nighttime calorie intake stable.
If your baby is getting distracted with daytime feeding and as a result is wanting to feed more at night, it may be time to dull down their environment in which they feed. Find a dimly lit, quieter space to feed so you can be sure that your baby focuses more on the task at hand and is able to gain most of their calorie needs during the daytime hours.
Has your baby had some practice falling asleep themselves?
Before your baby reaches 4 months of age, your baby will need to develop some opportunities to practice at falling asleep in the place that you are wanting them to sleep during the night. It starts to become less about surviving now and more about thinking long term about what you would like sleep to look like for you and your baby.
You certainly don’t need to force it at this age, it’s more about getting them comfortable and know that sleeping in the cot is safe and secure and a pleasant experience.
Begin with a nice wind down to allow your baby to start to feel drowsy. Place them into the cot and provide them with some reassurance and support while they are in there. If they seem frustrated by this change, you may chose to pick them up and calm them before trying again, or you can continue to get them to sleep as you normally would and save the practice for another day or sleeping time.
If your baby has never fallen asleep in the cot we cannot expect too much. Practice, consistency and patience at a pace that is right for you and your baby will allow for those stronger connections to build and your baby to learn that there is more than one way and place to fall asleep.
Have you created a sleep promoting environment?
Sleep routines and sleep environments are now very Important. Your baby is much more engaged with the world and their surroundings and maybe feeling even a little frustrated with how much physical and mental developments are going on for them.
A darkened room with some white noice can be helpful, alongside some repetitive steps prior to sleep in oder to signal to your baby that sleep is coming. Knowing how much awake time your baby can realistically tolerate can also help your baby relax and fall asleep easier without becoming overtired in the wind down process.
If the thought of this development still leaves you with nightmares, I am here to help! We can formulate together a personalised plan so that you feel knowledgable and supported in the ways to assist your baby through this change. Request a free call today to discuss your options.