Baby Sleep Consultant: My Guide to The Four Month Sleep Regression
Hello, Tara here from The Gentle Sleep Specialist.
I frequently receive questions about the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, so here are my thoughts on this time in your little one’s life.
The 4 month mark is such a wonderful time. Your baby will be interacting more and more with you, and you should hopefully be seeing a settle in any wind and colic issues. However, there is also often a not-so-pleasant side to the 4 month milestone - a spike in night time waking and day time catnapping. Some parents may have blissfully drifted through the newborn period with a near perfect sleeping baby, or for others sleep may have been near extinct from day dot. Regardless of how the first few months went, it seems the four month sleep regression can get the best of us.
At 3-4 Months your baby's sleep has a developmental leap
Around the 3-4 month mark, your little one’s sleep has a developmental leap, so instead of sleep being a constant state, it becomes dynamic. This means your baby will begin to have sleep stages, essentially they will cycle between light and deep phases of sleep. Most sleep cycles in the evening last between 60-120 minutes and at the end of these cycles they have a brief wake period. Their day sleep also becomes organised into sleep cycles and these tend to be around 45 minutes in length. Then we pair that with a greater awareness they’re developing and sleep becomes a much more conscious activity.
So here’s the deal. Some little ones are able to adjust to this change and settle back into good sleep patterns. Though for many it’s not the case. If your little one is being put to sleep by external measures such as a dummy, rocking or feeding, this reliance may be highlighted now that they are waking more often. So instead of your little one waking and having the ability to self-settle back into the next cycle, they may wake and realise something is missing, something has changed, or they aren’t in the same spot they were when they fell asleep. As a result, you will promptly get a call out to come and fix the situation. I always say to my clients: if your little one doesn’t have the ability to self-settle at the beginning of their sleep cycle how can we possibly expect them to re-settle throughout the night?
Contribute to great sleeping before and after the 4 month age mark
Do not despair! There are many things that contribute to great sleep during, before and after the 4 month mark, and here they are.
What does your little one believe they need in order to get to sleep?
The way your little one settles off to sleep is essential in their ability to sleep well. If you are required in any way to get your babe off to sleep even by replacing the dummy in between cycles or rocking, feeding etc, then this can be exacerbated at the 4 month mark. Have you ever noticed your baby seems to sleep lightly? You wouldn’t dare try and transfer them, stop rocking, or god forbid that dummy falls out. It isn’t just about the quantity of sleep your little one is getting it’s about the quality.
Changing what they associate with getting off to sleep and encouraging them to use their own abilities (the ones they are born with) means they will get into better, deeper sleep and have a far easier time drifting between cycles. Creating healthy sleep habits that include your little one self-settling (without the dummy) will allow you to breeze through the four month mark.
At four months your babe should really only have awake periods of around 1.5 hours. This may vary from child to child however regular opportunities to sleep are still essential for successful settles and great sleep. The more over-tired your little one is, the harder time they will have getting into a good sleep pattern.
"your little one will teeth for up to 2 ½ years, so it’s a long road to go down should you associate it with sleeping poorly"
To swaddle or not to swaddle?
Around the four month mark, your little one will be ready to start transitioning out of a swaddle. I recommend taking one arm out for a few days and then the other arm out after that. It may take a few days of flailing and uncoordinated arm movements but this will mature and settle down with a few days practice.
Nearly every client I have ever worked with has at some point blamed or been told their little one’s sleep issues are due to teething... but then went on to get sleep sorted and realise it had nothing to do with it. Teething can be the cause of a bad night here and there, but it should be very seldom and it doesn’t normally last more than a couple of nights. Around the 3-4 month mark your little one will begin to put everything in his/her mouth. This is how they learn, they aren’t yet adept to using their fingers well enough so when they grab things and want to investigate further they will put that object into their mouth to learn more. Baby’s mouths have more nerve endings per square millimetre than any other part of their body, so if they want to learn more about an object they will place them in their mouth. Around the 4 month mark, people often see little ones dribbling more, putting everything into their mouth, and at the same time see a spike in waking, and mistakenly contribute it all to teething. Just remember your little one will teeth for up to 2 ½ years, so it’s a long road to go down should you associate it with sleeping poorly.
No matter the stage your little one is at, it’s very easy to get into a blame game - teething, leaps, regressions, rainy weeks and so on. It doesn’t have to be the case. Good sleep is still achievable for a significant majority of the time.
Happy sleeping x
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Author: Tara Mitchell is The Gentle Sleep Specialist - Baby Sleep Consultant on Four Month Sleep Regression in Babies