The first 3 months of getting to know your newborn is such a precious time. Is there anything more gorgeous than your little baby cuddling into you in a deep sleep? They sleep just about anywhere! Maybe you’re also starting to feel like you’ve found your groove. Then suddenly, your baby just isn’t acting like themselves, waking every 45 minutes and hard to even settle in the first place! You’re confused, tired and frustrated. Could this be the 4 month sleep regression?
You are probably right (although the regression can happen a bit earlier at 3 months and sometimes later at 5 months).
Common indicators that you’re experiencing the 4 month sleep regression are:
• your baby will be fussy and whingy.
• Their naps will fall apart, and they will find it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.
• Night time sleep also suffers with multiple night wakings and difficulty resettling.
• Their appetite can also change, they may eat more or less than usual.
Many parents may initially think their baby is teething, has reflux, is sick or hungry because they are so irritable and overtired. But they are in fact going through the 4 month sleep regression. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and is actually a sign that your little baby is growing and maturing. In fact it’s more of a progression than a regression.
So, what’s happening?
Before I can explain what happens with a 4 month old baby’s sleep, I need to take you back a bit and explain what happens in the newborn phase. A newborn’s biological rhythms are not yet developed, and they cycle between active or REM sleep and deep or non-REM sleep. And they spend much of their time in deep restorative sleep. Sometimes they are so sleepy that they are hard to wake to feed! They do not yet have distinctive stages of sleep like an older baby or adult.
But as they grow and approach the 4 month mark their own hormone production is developing and they are neurologically developing as well. This development becomes very evident in their sleep.
What happens with a 4 month old baby’s sleep?
Your baby has neurologically matured and their sleep cycles or phases have shortened to every 2-4 hours overnight from what was once phases that were 4-6 hours long. Instead of falling into deep sleep very quickly they now start off by entering light sleep. Then they progress through to deeper sleep in distinct stages until they come back to a light sleep again. As adults we often rouse at this stage, maybe change position or move our pillow and then fall into the next sleep cycle.
A well rested baby will just drift off into the next sleep cycle when they reach light sleep, but an overtired baby will wake fully when they reach that light sleep phase and begin to cry out.
Often parent then try to assist their babies to go back to sleep by feeding them, rocking them or holding them.
This works for a while, but then night wake ups continue, and the babies continue to need these parental interventions or associations to get back to sleep. If your baby needs help to sleep at the beginning of the night then, (especially after midnight), they will need help every 1-2 sleep cycles which is every 1-2 hours!
What can you do to help your baby?
Firstly, wait a couple of weeks to see if your baby’s sleep improves and see if they begin to fall back to sleep or re-settle themselves. If this doesn’t happen then it’s time to think about their sleep environment and weaning your baby off those sleep associations.
Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep. Create a nice dark sleep space with minimal distractions. Good sleep hygiene will also include the use of white noise and a good swaddle or sleeping bag. Consider starting to put your baby down drowsy but awake just to repeatedly give them an opportunity to practice falling asleep without your full assistance.
Finally, your baby will be very overtired during this phase so while you are going through this watch their tired signs closely in the day and get them into bed quickly for their naps. Also bring their bedtime forward significantly, by at least 30 mins. Doing this will help to combat some of the overtiredness they have developed from their poor napping and night sleep.
Remain as consistent as you can, and your baby should return to longer stretches of night sleep again, allowing the whole family to get some long overdue rest!
Help is here:
If you’re feeling stressed and exhausted you don’t have to navigate this on your own. This is one of the most common issues we deal with at After the Stork. Help is here, call Emma on 0400 919 012 for a free 15 minute sleep consultation.
After The Stork
We know from first hand experience the overwhelming exhaustion of chronic sleep deprivation. It not only effects your baby or child adversely, but has profound effects across the whole family’s wellbeing. Working on sleep doesn’t need to be a lonely and stressful experience for you and your family. We are here to help.
Meet Emma O’Callaghan
Emma founded After the Stork to provide an empathetic and understanding service that was easily accessible to all. With over 20 years working within both a hospital and community setting, Emma has extensive experience in working with infants and children in their formative years. Her background as a Midwife and IVF Reproductive Nurse Specialist compliments her Certification as an Infant and Child Sleep Consultant. As a busy mother of three, she can bring both practical and professional knowledge to find you a unique solution.
Emma’s understanding of the health, science and biology of sleep for babies and infants has led her to believe in encouraging healthy sleep habits from birth and beyond