The 4 month ‘sleep regression’ is one of the top things I get asked about in my weekly Q&A. It often comes at a time when your baby has just started to settle into a natural routine and can go longer stretches at night between feeds. It can hit parents like a ton of bricks and make them feel like they are having a major setback. So what is this regression and how can I overcome it?
Firstly, I promise you it isn’t a setback. It’s actually a major progression in your baby’s sleep maturity. Before now they have been sleeping as a newborn; but around 4 months they start to sleep in cycles just like we do as adults. We all transition between light and deep sleep through the night, typically in cycles of about 45 minutes for children and 1.5-2 hours for adults. The reason little ones’ sleep is more unsettled and they may wake more frequently is because they start to wake more fully between these cycles and don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep.
It’s important to note that the disruption in their sleep is caused by a biological change so please don’t think you have done anything wrong as a parent. Please don’t be hard on yourself. The key is how you react to the change to help your baby through it as smoothly as you can.
How do I know if my baby is going through the 4 months ‘sleep regression’?
Babies can become really fussy at night, and often it’s completely out of the blue. They often go down at night ok, but can wake reasonably quickly again within the first 2 hours and need help settling back to seep. There are often multiple night wakings when your little one needs more support than normal to get back to sleep.
4 months is also a time when babies experience increased social awareness and a growth spurt. It can feel like everything is happening at once!
What can I do as a parent?
Firstly I just want to set out from the beginning that it’s absolutely ok to offer your baby extra support at this time. They will be unsettled as they are going through a significant change and do need comfort.
You may find they need to feed more as they are more hungry from the growth spurt, though they should settle back to their normal feeding schedule as this tricky patch passes.
As I said, absolutely provide extra support but do try and get them back off to sleep in their own crib. When they wake unsettled they are looking for your help to show them how to get back to sleep. It’s tempting to pick them up and rock or pat them back to sleep (it’s late at night and you’re tired… we have all been there!) but be conscious that this is a critical time in their sleep development. They are like sponges at this age and learn very quickly. You want to help them learn how to settle themselves back to sleep rather than teach them that they need to be picked up and rocked each time. This can quickly become what they expect and need each time they wake in the night. And remember I said above that could be every 45 minutes!
It can be a really tough time for families but it’s important to remember that it’s only for a short period of time. Although it can sometimes last longer, you are usually through the worst of it within 1-2 weeks.
How do I know if I will need sleep training after it?
I don’t sleep train until babies are over 5 months old. It’s not just that I think they are too young before then, but getting past the 4 month sleep regression is a big hurdle. Some little ones who have had problems with sleep find they are much more content once they have taken this progressive leap.
However, if your baby sleep continues to be unsettled or gets worse around the 5 month mark, then you may want to think about introducing some settling techniques to help your little one become a more content and independent sleeper. Sleep is not just important for your child’s development, it’s also critical for parents’ mental and physical wellbeing. Never be worried to reach out for help.
I’m a baby and toddler sleep consultant specialising in designing gentle sleep training programmes for babies and toddlers. I work with clients on a one to one basis and I also have a series of age-specific online courses for you to implement at your own pace.