This probably sounds familiar: your sweet little 4 month old baby, who was sleeping well at night and taking long, restorative naps during the day, has suddenly turned into a sleepless, cranky mess. Gone are the long stretches of sleep between feedings. Gone is the somewhat predictable sleep schedule. Now, you have an exhausted, fussy baby on your hands – one who won’t fall asleep (let alone stay asleep). What’s going on here? Ear infection? Early tooth? Sudden and dramatic personality change?
None of those, most likely – this is almost certainly the 4 month sleep regression.
4 Month Sleep Regression: Baby Sleep Patterns Change Permanently
The 4 month sleep regression marks a permanent change in your baby’s sleeping habits. See, before your baby hit the 4 month mark, your baby’s sleeping patterns were very…well…babyish. What do I mean by that? Simply this – babies don’t have distinct sleep stages like we adults do. While we cycle between deep and light sleep, our babies don’t – they sleep deeply pretty much all the time. (This explains why newborns and very young infants tend to sleep anywhere, through anything!)
After 4 months, though, all bets are off! As your baby’s brain matures, around the 4 month mark, her sleeping patterns change – they become more like yours. Now, she is cycling between light and deep sleep – just like you. When you look at it this way, it’s clear that the 4 month sleep regression is a very normal, very healthy developmental milestone, just like learning to walk and talk. So if your baby is currently going through the 4 month sleep regression, congratulations – her growth and development is right on track!
But also, if your baby is currently going through the 4 month sleep regression – you have my deepest sympathies ;). That’s because (as many of you well know) your baby’s new ‘grown up’ sleep patterns produce WAY more night waking and short naps. Every time your baby cycles out of deep sleep and into slight sleep, theres a good chance she will wake up – and once she’s up, she will more thank likely need your help to fall back to sleep.
4 Month Sleep Regression: How To Manage It Right Now
Here’s the thing to remember about the 4 month sleep regression: it doesn’t go away. It’s different in that sense than the other sleep regressions that happen at 8, 9, or 10 months, and the toddler seep regressions that happen at 18 months and 2 years old. Those sleep regressions ultimately pass in a few weeks, and your little one’s sleep returns to normal. Not so with this one. The changes that happen with the 4 month sleep regression are permanent.
But don’t let that thoroughly depress you! There are ways you can move past the 4 month sleep regression, and teach your baby a new way to sleep. We’ll get to those in a moment.
In the beginning, though, here’s our advice: cope as best you can. If you are in the early days of the regression, you are no doubt exhausted beyond all measure and feeling utterly frustrated. This is normal. Spend the next few days/weeks coping, while you formulate your sleep training plan.
How can you cope? Here are a few strategies you can use to encourage your baby to sleep more during the 4 month sleep regression:
- Continue helping your baby fall asleep in the way he has been falling asleep up until now. If you’ve been nursing to sleep, keep doing it. Same with rocking or holding to sleep. Yes, these are sleep associations that will ultimately hinder your baby’s sleep, and that you’ll need to wean away from later. But don’t worry about that right now – for now, do what you need to do to help your baby fall asleep.
- Swaddle and/or offer a pacifier. If you’ve been doing this (and it’s been working), keep it up. If you haven’t, try these as techniques to help soothe your fussy baby, and to promote sleep.
- Offer a dream feed. This isn’t a fool-proof strategy, but it works well for some babies. Offer a dream feed and ‘top-off’ right before you go to bed, and it may help your baby sleep a bit longer at night.
- Use the swing, if you have one. The swing can be a great way to soothe your fussy baby, and to help induce a nap that wouldn’t otherwise happen ;). Just be sure to supervise your baby while he’s sleeping in the swing – you don’t want to let him sleep there for long periods of time.
- Ask for help! This is the time to lean hard on friends and family members. Let other people hang out with the baby while you take a nap.
Remember, these should all be viewed as short-term solutions. None of these will solve your 4 month old baby’s sleep problems; what they will do is help you rest up in preparation for starting to work on teaching your 4 month old baby a new way to sleep.
4 Month Sleep Regression: How To Move Past It For Good
Once you understand the what and why behind the 4 month sleep regression, and once you’ve taken steps to cope and stay rested in the short-term, it’s time to start teaching your baby a new way to sleep. This process is called sleep training, or sleep coaching.
How does this work? Well, for starters, you look at how your baby falls asleep – those are your baby’s sleep associations. Many babies depend on mom or dad to feed, or rock, or hold them to sleep, for example. Once you’ve identified your baby’s sleep associations, you begin to slowly wean your baby away from them, in an effort to help your baby learn to fall asleep alone. There are many techniques and methods to do this – the one that you choose will depend on your family’s unique circumstances, on your baby’s temperament, and on your own unique parenting philosophy.
Once you have begun weaning your baby aware from her sleep associations, you will also want to work on teaching your baby to fall asleep alone. Typically, parents start working on this by putting their babies to bed drowsy but awake. Once your baby can fall sleep alone, without help from you, she will be able to put herself back to sleep at night when she wakes, and to eventually (when she is ready and is done with night feedings) sleep through the night.
Want more information about how to help your 4 month old sleep well? Check out our detailed case study about Nadia, Brad, and their 4 month old, Abigail.
Read how they helped Abigail learn to sleep longer stretches at night and take better naps – and how they helped to change those sleep associations that were keeping her awake! Just join our Members Area, and access the case study instantly. And that’s not all – our Members Area is packed with additional premium content and resources: e-Books, assessments, more case studies, peer support, and more. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! And best of all, members receive 20% of all consultation services – that savings alone can actually pay for the cost of the membership!
Want FREE sleep help that you can put to use right away? Download a copy of our free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night! The guide is available to download instantly, which means you can start using the techniques in it as early as tonight. So download now, and learn why your baby is waking at night – and what you can do about it.
Click here to learn more about how to get your free guide.
Help For The 4 Month Sleep Regression
Now, trust me when I say that this process is much easier said than done! Actually teaching your baby a new way to sleep involves lots of work for many families, and can take weeks to accomplish. Some families can do this on their own, with the help of books and other resources. If you feel ready to tackle your baby’s sleep challenges on your own, but want to read up on sleep training first, you might consider taking a look at our e-Book, The 3-Step System To Help Your Baby Sleep.
But while some families can go it alone, other families find themselves needing additional help. That’s precisely why we are here – to offer that additional help! Nicole created The Baby Sleep Site® in 2008 with the goal of offering personalized, individualized sleep help to exhausted families, and she’s been doing it ever since.
So, how does this system of individualized help work? It’s simple – you purchase a consultation package and connect one-on-one with a trained sleep consultant. After learning more about your family’s unique situation and sleep struggles, your consultant creates a Personalized Sleep Plan™ just for you, and then provides additional help and support along the way, as you implement the plan at home. Simple, and effective!