Congratulations! You’ve survived the fourth trimester! Now, I know that you have heard whisperings of the four-month sleep regression. This is your first official sleep regression, and for many it can be a bit of a doozy!
In general, regressions fall into three categories:
1. Skill-Based Regressions: Your baby is learning a new skill like crawling, sitting, or talking!
2. Separation Anxiety-Based Regressions: Your child is learning more about how they exist in relation to you in space! They might also be learning what is an effective way to have you come back to them!
3. Cognitive-Based Regressions: We see this often in the toddler years! Toddlers are learning a variety of skills that include power, control, and reasoning.
The four-month sleep regression is the one regression that doesn’t fall into any of these categories. It is a unique regression that is focused on a permanent change in your child’s sleep patterns!
One thing to keep in mind is that some babies will navigate this regression more smoothly than others. This is largely a temperament thing! One baby might wake up every hour once the regression hits, and another baby might glide right through it. My best advice is to be prepared for regressions, but don’t let the fear take over. We will ALWAYS work through regressions, but how your baby experiences a regression is largely out of your control. Instead of worrying about it, let’s focus on what IS in your control so that we can help your baby navigate through the regression.
Symptoms of the 4-Month Sleep Regression
· Frequent, short naps (between 30-45 minutes)
· Frequent night wakes, especially in the second half of the night
A Permanent Change in Your Child’s Sleep Patterns
Prior to this regression, your child’s sleep reflected a newborn style of sleep. They primarily moved between quiet and active stages of sleep. Their sleep cycles could range from 20 minutes to 50 minutes, and they may have had less difficulty connecting some sleep cycles by themselves.
Now that their sleep is maturing, you will notice that their sleep cycles range anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in length, and they may have much more difficulty connecting their sleep cycles.
Specifically, their night sleep might look a little like this:
Do you see all those areas on the graph with the arrows? Those are times when your baby will transfer between sleep cycles. When your baby does this, they actually wake up briefly! This brief waking plays a very important role.
1. Safety: This waking allows your child to look around and scan their environment to make sure everything is how they left it.
2. Health: This waking also allows your child to shift positions which can help regulate blood flow to different areas of the body.
You have these wakings too! Every child and adult older than 4 months wakes between their sleep cycles during the night. These wakings are so brief that unless there was a change in your environment then you likely don’t remember any of them!
For example, I rarely remember these brief night wakings unless it occurs after my husband has come to bed! My husband usually comes to bed after me and I almost always remember the transfer between sleep cycles after he has crawled into bed.
How many night wakings are normal during the 4-month sleep regression
As you can see in the graph above, your baby will be waking several times a night! How often your baby signals to you can truly vary. They may connect some sleep cycles flawlessly on their own, even without sleep training! Night wakings during the 4-month sleep regression can range from 2-6 wakings at night.
Will your baby work through the 4-month sleep regression on their own (without any sleep training)?
Yes! Eventually, but the timing of this one can greatly vary. Some babies glide flawlessly through this regression, while others will go through phases where they connect their sleep cycles better, with more fluently connecting their sleep cycles in the early toddler years. That’s not to say that they will NEVER connect a sleep cycle, but it can take some time before they consistently connect their sleep cycles on their own.
The bottom line is that with sleep training your baby will likely work through the regression anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Without sleep training you will likely notice some improvement within 4-8 weeks, while also noticing consistent improvement sometime during your child’s second year of life.
How can I help my baby connect their sleep cycles better?
If your baby is having trouble connecting their sleep cycles, then it can help to introduce them to independent sleep habits! The reason that this helps is because it ensures that your child’s sleep environment stays the same when they wake up between their sleep cycles.
For example, if you were previously rocking or feeding your baby to sleep then you may notice an uptick of wakings during the 4-month sleep regression. When they wake between their sleep cycles they will startle because their environment is different from when they fell asleep. If they had fallen asleep IN their sleep space, then they will likely connect some of their sleep cycles without needing intervention.
Putting your child down awake in their sleep space can seem daunting at first! I highly recommend having a sleep training method that you feel comfortable with. If you have not researched sleep training methods yet, then check out my blog post below:
Do I need to use our sleep training method when my baby wakes up at night too?
The most important time to use your sleep training method is at the beginning of bedtime and nap time! You can use your method during night wakings, but you can also still offer a feeding during these wakings as needed! Night weaning is not required in order to sleep train, but if you do wish to night wean then I highly encourage you to:
1. Check with your pediatrician first: They know your child’s weight gain best and may advise you wait to night wean.
2. Consider your breastfeeding goals: Eliminating night feedings can have an impact on your supply.
3. Wean gradually instead of cold turkey: Weaning gradually will allow your baby to replace those calories during the day so that they are not waking up hungry at night time!
If you are not wanting to night wean, then I would encourage you to only offer a night feed once it has been at least three hours since your child’s last feeding. You can use your sleep training method in between these times!
What if sleep training doesn’t seem to work?
Your sleep training method is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle! If sleep training is not effective then there are likely other factors working against you. Whenever I write a plan for families, we always have to look at the whole picture, which includes:
· The schedule
· The sleep environment
· Your child’s temperament
· Your consistency with the plan
If you feel stuck in a rut with sleep training then I would love to help you. Click the link below to schedule a consultation:
Edited by the Marvelous Ms. Emily Schafer