Why, Oh Why Does This Happen? And How to Deal.
More often than not I hear the same story from parents – “Sleep wasn’t that bad. They were sleeping pretty good and then 4 months hit, and everything went downhill!” So why does this happen to so many families with young babies?
Newborn and Infant Sleep
In the early weeks and months of life, a newborn’s circadian rhythm is still developing. They are sleeping approximately the same number of hours in the day as they are at night. The sleep happens in 1 to 3 hour chunks (exhausting!) and usually they are waking because they are hungry.
A newborn’s sleep occurs in two stages, REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). The REM stage of sleep is referred to as active sleep. During this time their eyes are moving, they are twitching, limbs are moving, there is grunting, and baby is making other noises. They are loud! During NREM, or quiet sleep, they are still. They continuously cycle through active and quiet sleep, in shorter segments.
Around 3 months, a baby’s sleep stages begin to change. They go from 2 stages of sleep to 4 stages of sleep. These 4 stages start to mirror that of an adult but even this takes time (think à years) to fully development into the 4 stages of sleep we as adults experience.
Why, Oh Why?
If transitioning from 2 stages of sleep to 4 stages wasn’t a big enough adjustment, 3 and 4 month olds are also going through rapid cognitive development around this same age. They are becoming more mobile and can start to handle staying awake for longer periods of time. When all of this happens, any chink in the armor in regard to sleep, is amplified.
What Does This Mean?
So, what does this look like for you, parent? It may look like your baby now having a harder time falling asleep at bedtime and for naps. They may be waking more frequently in the night and fussing or crying more as you’re trying to get them back to sleep. You may also notice that your baby is getting less sleep in general than they were before the regression started. If during this time, your child is relying on an external tool to fall asleep, like a feed, rocking, holding, bouncing, etc., the regression doesn’t have much of a shot of getting better.
How Do I Fix This? Or How Can I Avoid the 4-Month Sleep Regression Altogether?
The way sleep gets easier again, is by instilling healthy sleep habits, predictable routines, and by teaching your child to sleep independently. When they learn how to fall asleep all on their own at bedtime, then when they have wakes in the night, they will be able to put themselves back to sleep all on their own too.
Is it possible to keep a feed in the night and still have an independent sleeper? Yes, of course! If your baby still needs to feed in the night because they are not quite 13 pounds, because your doctor advises keeping a feed in, or you simply don’t feel ready to eliminate all the calories, then you keep it!
What’s this you say about avoiding the 4-month sleep regression altogether? Yes, it can be done! By working on instilling heathy sleep habits when your baby is very young and teaching them how to be an independent sleeper prior to the 4-month mark, is how you achieve this.
When I work with parents of newborns, the process is all about instilling heathy sleep habits and building a foundation of healthy sleep right from the start. We instill routines, work on timing, and slowly develop healthy sleep hygiene. The other way this can be done is by doing sleep training when baby is 3 months so they learn the skill of independent sleep and can just skip right over the 4-month regression.
Once a child knows how to sleep independently, sleep regressions can be a thing of the past! Sure, your baby will continue to go through developmental leaps and milestones. They will continue to learn new skills. They will teethe (forever – or for what feels like forever!). All of these things are exciting, but they don’t have to cause a sleep regression. I know the internet says otherwise, but this doesn’t have to happen for you and your baby.
The majority of the families I work with do not experience sleep regressions, because babies and children have mastered the skill of independent sleep and parents are taught how to handle all of these wonderful stages their children go through.
If you need help surviving the 4-month sleep regression or want to avoid it altogether, schedule a FREE Discovery Call so we can chat.