Disrupted Sleep? Evidence-Based Tips for Surviving the Four Month Regression

Baby going through four month sleep regression

Not all babies will go through the four month regression but most do – and if yours does, know that this too shall pass.

 

WHAT IS THE FOUR MONTH REGRESSION?

Your little one has just come out of the precious fourth trimester and their brain is now rapidly forming new neural pathways as they connect with the world around them. Cue the four month sleep regression.

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They’re becoming more aware of their surroundings, beginning to babble, starting to mouth things, learning to roll over, and recognising those closest to them. As a result, this major leap in their development can understandably impact their sleep and, for the more sensitive babies, make them more unsettled or more clingy than usual.

You might experience more frequent wakes at night, disrupted sleep during the day, challenges with settling, and less – or shorter – napping which can be incredibly challenging for parents who not too long ago had a sleepy newborn.

While the term ‘regression’ makes it sound like they’re going backwards, it’s helpful to know that this is actually a progression or maturation in your little one’s development and is completely normal.

For some babies, these changes to their sleep will last just a week or two and for others, it may be a couple of months. Several little ones will continue to wake this much for a few years but it will pass eventually – you don’t need to ‘fix’ anything. It’s biologically normal for an infant or toddler to wake in the night.

TIPS FOR CAREGIVERS

Instead of looking at these changes to your baby’s sleep as a problem to be fixed, we encourage you to look at any sleep regression as a normal developmental milestone.

While it can be immensely challenging and demanding, the four month sleep regression is not inherently problematic in itself and some strategies can help you get through this time. By prioritising your own mental health and wellbeing, you can continue to respond to your baby as and when they need you.

  • Focus on finding ways for you to get enough sleep as their caregiver so that you’re happier and not reaching the stage of “I can’t do this anymore”:
    • Can you go to bed earlier, when your baby goes down or even before them?
    • Can you take a nap during the day when your baby is also sleeping?
    • Can your partner take the baby in the morning when they wake so you can have a sleep in?
    • Can you safely co-sleep to more easily breastfeed and resettle your baby during the night?
    • Are there other things you can be doing to improve your mood, like getting outside for a walk each day, catching up with friends, spending some time doing an activity you enjoy, or having a date with your partner?
  • When your baby does wake at night, try to facilitate getting back to sleep as quickly as possible (that goes for you too!). If breastfeeding your pēpi back to sleep is the fastest way to settle them, that’s a great option, ideal even! Don’t feel like you’re creating a bad habit; it’s biologically normal to nurse your baby to sleep. Also, keep stimulus at a minimum – think low or dim lighting, minimal talking, and only changing their nappy when required.
  • Opt for some consistency, but don’t feel like you have to be militant. While sleep training experts would have you believe that you need a strict schedule, research indicates that’s simply not the case. In fact, evidence shows that “it is developmentally normal for babies to wake up every couple of hours in the first year of life, even into toddlerhood.” So while those night wakes are exhausting, they’re also normal. Your pēpi may, however, benefit from being woken at around the same time each morning and having a relaxing wind-down routine in the evening to help calm their nervous system before bed.
  • Try to stop counting the number of wakes or looking at the time on your phone in the middle of the night – it tends to add more stress than benefit.
  • Remember that your baby’s need for sleep decreases throughout their first year, so if they’re ‘fighting’ their nap during the day, they simply may not be tired enough yet. Throw what you’ve been told they ‘should’ be doing out the window and use your baby’s tired cues as a guide instead.
  • Know that some infants have lower sleep needs than others so try to refrain from comparing your little one to others at a similar age who may be having more or longer stretches of sleep.
Read Possums & Co’s article, Hey, baby! Why are you awake so much of the night? for more evidence-based information about night waking and what constitutes ‘excessive night waking’.

 

If you think your baby is waking excessively and you need some professional help, we recommend reaching out to New Zealand-based NDC Possums Clinic Practitioner, Cathy McCormick from HolisticBaby.

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