The Dreaded Four-Month Sleep “Regression” Hit Us Hard!

Posted on Oct 24, 2016 |


Until a few days ago you had a miracle baby. Your little one slept like a champ, logging dreamy daytime naps and nice, long stretches at night. That newborn phase wasn’t so bad!

But what is this? We’re talking overnight change from a little angel to a fussy, unpredictable mess. Your once-amazing sleeper is suddenly wide awake for hours on end; a nap might last 20 minutes, if you’re lucky; you’re cluster-feeding your way through the evening only to have a slew of wake-ups during the night.

Naturally, you’re trying to pin this one down. Is it an ear infection? Maybe it’s separation anxiety? Could it be milk intolerance? Maybe she’s not like her cool, calm and always collected father and instead like (gasp) me!

More than likely, you’ve hit a very normal progression in your child’s development. So, you can be happy about that – if only for a second! The reality is, no matter how easy the first few weeks or months of your baby’s life were, you’re tired. You’ve taken on a lot of change – some of which you were prepared for and some of which caught you by surprise.

This is a time that tends to catch a lot of parents off-guard. During early infancy, babies sleep very deeply almost all the time. You were probably overjoyed to realize that your baby didn’t wake and cry when you dropped the frying pan on the floor next to her baby swing.

If that was the honeymoon phase, it’s now officially over. Ouch – that hurts!

As part of normal brain development around the four-month mark (plus or minus a couple of weeks for some kids), your little one will sleep less deeply all of the time and instead sleep more like humans do – in cycles of light and deep sleep. So, as your child becomes increasingly social and responds to stimuli in her environment, it not only becomes harder to fall asleep, but more difficult to stay asleep.

If you’re picking up on this sleep “regression” being more of a permanent change, you’re right. In fact, it would probably be easier to just label it a “change” to eliminate the false hope that your child will revert back to their old sleepy ways.

The good news is that you can absolutely introduce and reinforce healthy sleep habits to help teach through this fairly sudden change. No doubt, it’s tricky and requires a good bit of focus and attention, but it can definitely be done (and doesn’t typically take more than a couple of weeks). Amazing sleep is totally attainable!

At this point, most well-meaning and totally exhausted parents begin thinking about how they are going to cope with these changes. I think it’s fair to say that there is no “right” or “wrong” way, as long as it feels like the best choice for your family.

But, since I happen to be on the sleep teaching side of the spectrum, I can tell you that there are ways to help your child fall asleep independently, soothe themselves through lighter periods of sleep, follow a more predictable, consistent schedule, learn to eat efficiently at the “right” times, and do this all without the help of gimmicks and elongated routines. If making intentional forward-progress is the approach for you, then enlisting the help of a sleep trainer might be your best bet.

Certainly, a lot of parents are hugely successful working through this four-month mark with the help of a book, pointers from a great article or even a more trial-and-error approach to learning what makes their child “tick.”

In that case, as you’re collecting your thoughts and doing your research, you might consider some short-term patches like nursing your child to sleep, holding a pacifier in place or offering a dream feed. But, the sooner you can help your child fall asleep independently in a safe-to-sleep environment, the better!

If, as part of your research, you are interested in speaking with a sleep consultant, I offer free, initial calls to any interested families. It allows me to hear more about your parenting approach and the hurdles you’re concerned about or currently encountering. It gives you a chance to hear more about my approach to sleep teaching and see whether it’s a match for you and your family.

At the very least, you can rest assured that you’re not alone!

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