Four Month Sleep Regression what you need to know
New Mum’s often get told that the first twelve weeks are the hardest. They are prepared to deal with twelve tough weeks. Then just as they start to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, they find out about a sneaky little phenomenon called the four month sleep regression …say WHAT?!!
Ok ok calm down, grab a cuppa (or tequila!) and let me explain…
In the first three months, also known as the fourth trimester, babies often fall asleep on the breast/bottle, due to their ‘awake period’ being so short (one hour for newborns). This can be hard to avoid every time – besides, the cuddles are so scrumptious, why would you try to? The aim of this post is to provide some practical information on the four month sleep regression and give you some insight on how to reduce the impact, so that your baby’s sleeping pattern doesn’t spiral completely out of control.
Due to their circadian rhythm (day/night body clock) being undeveloped, newborns’ sleep can be muddled: often, there is no consistency, and they are happy to snooze anywhere. At birth, baby sleep patterns aren’t cued to the natural cycle of day and night. It can take several months before babies become fully adapted to the 24-hour day.
Putting baby down awake from day one
From day one, I encourage parents to put their awake baby down in their bassinet at least once a day; often, if their baby’s needs have been met they will fall asleep unaided. This is great practise! In my many years of experience, I have found that babies that are able to self-soothe before four months show far less negative effects from the four month sleep regression and, as a result, are less likely to require external sleep associations (someone to rock, pat, feed them to sleep) once it has passed.
As babies get older, their awake period starts to lengthen and often the feeds are quicker. The benefit of this is that once their feed is finished, you have some time to ‘play’ before putting your baby down and encouraging them to self soothe.
Example of Feed Play Sleep Cycle once 3 months old
If they wake at 7am Milk feed (30 mins, give or take)
- 7.30 Burping and up time (30 mins)
- 8.00–8.15 Tummy time—practise rolling
- 8.15 Start the bedtime routine
- 8.30 Sleep time
Once your baby reaches 3–4 months they have entered what the wonder weeks describe as the ‘world of events’. Your baby has a new level of consciousness, awareness and interest in the big wide world.
They become much more curious and stimulated by their environment. If your baby is not familiar with being put down awake, they can become increasingly difficult to settle during this four month sleep regression.
Awake and aware
This is why I believe in the importance of them going into their cot, awake and aware, and being given the chance to settle from day one (starting with once a day and increasing over time). If your baby doesn’t get this opportunity, sleep can unfortunately take a gigantic downward spiral during the four month sleep regression and these issues often continue towards the one year mark, unless addressed.
What often happens as a result?
When sleep starts to become wobbly, parents often start to use dummies, feeding and rocking their babies to sleep out of desperation and sometimes even frustration, because they aren’t aware of what is going on developmentally with their bub. It’s simply that their needs are changing, as well as their routine.
Around three to four months of age, their awake time will lengthen to approximately 1.5 hours, which can result in the need to drop to three day-sleeps instead of four. Putting your baby down either too early or too late can alone prevent them from settling well.
What we can do to help them?
In order for babies and children to be able to self-soothe, they need independent associations within a predictable environment and sequence of events. Meaning that (if you want to), the three month mark is a good time to try and eliminate any sleep associations that your baby requires, like the dummy, rocking and feeding to sleep, giving your little one lots of opportunities to figure out their own soothing skills.
Babies at this age begin to recognise a pattern being repeated and as they get older, they find comfort in knowing what is coming next. Bedtime routines like the one below are so important.
- Into bedroom
- Into sleeping bag,
- Quick cuddle
- Close curtains (dark room)
- White noise
- Into bed and goodnight phrase from a confident caregiver
- Tuck them in nice and secure (unless rolling)
Did you know that grizzling and non-distressed crying for a short period before sleep can be pretty common with babies? Parents are often surprised by this and therefore feel that they need to help their little one go to sleep to prevent them crying at all. You may notice even in the carrier or pram, they have a little grizzle right before falling asleep. If you catch them at the right time then they might not cry at all, and if they get over stimulated or overtired they may cry more and for longer. This is why identifying your babys’ tired cues is really important.
There is no denying that a baby crying is not a pleasant sound, however, if we don’t give our little ones some space (you don’t need to leave them alone and we are not talking distressed crying here), this can create long-term sleep problems.
There are hands-on settling skills available to you, but it is important you use them short term and only to calm your baby as opposed to put them to sleep.
The first 1–2 sleeps are the best ones to try the self settling; as the day goes on, sleep naturally gets more difficult and for this reason I encourage all my mums to pop them in the carrier for an afternoon sleep and some lovely fresh air.
Food for thought
Babies are such clever little humans and they have this amazing ability to sense our feelings. If we put them to bed in a confident and calm manner, with smiles and encouragement, then they will feel good.
If we are anxious and hesitant, they will feel anxious and hesitant too. Sometimes we are completely unaware of our facial expressions, especially if we might be feeling anxious; however, our little humans are always looking at us. This is something I discuss with all my clients!
If you’ve experienced this four month sleep regression and have ended up with a few sleep crutches that you cant get rid of which are causing havoc in your household, don’t despair, this can be changed when you’re ready.