A great client of mine sent me this idea for an article… How to know whether your baby is going through a sleep regression or a phase. This is the same client who is a strong advocate of Attachment Parenting. She contacted me over a year ago about her then 10 month old. She is now expecting a new baby, which is very exciting! This article will consider whether your baby is going through a sleep regression, a phase, or whether your baby or toddler simply has a bad habit.
One primary benefit I have over other parents is YOUR experience. What I mean by that is that, sure, I have my own personal experience with my son who inspired this website, but now that I’ve helped countless parents and have worked with families every day for 15+ years, I see patterns that most parents don’t have the luxury of seeing. I am very analytical, so I connect things that others may not. I benefit from your experience and know the potential pitfalls to look out for, not only from my own experience, but from all of yours, too.
When Might you See Sleep Troubles?
- 4 months old – This is probably one of the biggest trouble spots for many new parents. The way your baby sleeps fundamentally changes. Sadly, it never changes back!
- 8 months old – This one is another big one, but doesn’t always happen in the eighth month. This can be around 8, 9, or 10 months. It is usually related to a lot of development going on with your baby. This usually gets better a few weeks later, though it’s easy to develop new long-term habits trying to deal with it.
- 11 months old – I hear about this one often enough to know I wasn’t alone, but not enough to say it’s a “big” problem for all families. Around 11 months old, I have found that some babies will start fighting one or both naps and then it will pass 2-3 weeks later.
- 18 months old – This is a common age to hear from parents about their toddler’s sleep. Usually, it’s related to napping, night waking, and testing limits or discipline.
- 2 years old – Around this age, I find many parents writing to me about naps and bedtime getting later.
These are all very common trouble spots. Are there other challenging times? You bet! I would say the first two years (sometimes three) are difficult, but around 7 months, your baby begins developing separation anxiety, teething, and other issues that come up. Some will simply be more sensitive to all the changes than others.
So, how do you know if you are seeing a sleep regression or a phase?
First, I should explain that a “sleep regression” has been a term that people have used to say “Sleep really messes up at this time, but don’t worry it will go back to normal.” In that regard, I would say only the “8 month sleep regression” fits the definition. 18 months is a close second, but if you aren’t careful, that strong independence-seeking stage can bleed into 2 and 3 years old and that’s a heckuva long “regression!”
At 4 months, your baby changes how he sleeps. While some will then begin to sleep better without you changing anything, he will never sleep the same. At 8 months, this is generally a “blip” due to rapid development and the simple inability to sleep with so much going on. As long as you don’t inadvertently make some new long-term habits, your baby most likely will get past this in 3 to 6 weeks and go back to how he was sleeping before. If it was bad before, though, that may not be very desirable!
Every other “blip” in your baby’s sleep, I would call a “phase.” Anytime your baby or toddler is working on a new developmental milestone (whether you can “see” it or not), it may affect his sleep. This is going to be quite a lot of “phases” in the first few years. They learn a LOT in a short amount of time! All of that development can make some babies feel unsettled, insecure, happy, tired, over-tired, excited, over-stimulated or all of the above! No wonder they can’t sleep, sometimes!
When is it a sleep habit?
There is no black and white as far as when to know that you have a sleep regression, phase, or a habit. My general rule of thumb is to give it about 1-3 weeks. If you have an abrupt sleep change, try to give your baby 1-3 weeks to see if something reveals itself. It could be a new tooth, a new developmental leap, or even an illness. There is no reason to feel alarmed that something has changed until it has “stuck.”
If your baby wasn’t sleeping well before and then starts to sleep worse, that is another reason to start working on sleep. Sleep may not become perfect until the sleep regression is over, but it could be a whole lot better if your baby WAS waking 3 times per night and is now waking 6-8 times per night. 6-8 times per night is excessive even for a sleep regression.
In the end, you know your baby best. Although you may be a new mom or on your third baby, your instincts will guide you more than you think. As soon as you start to feel resentment or that you can barely function or, worse, your baby can barely function, it’s likely time to do something about it. Although it may be your fault your baby won’t sleep doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Only some will grow out of their sleep problems. I work with parents of toddlers (and older) all the time, who are still waiting for their baby to grow out of their sleep issues.