By Tara Mitchell from The Gentle Sleep Specialist
The four-month mark is such a wonderful time. Your baby will be interacting more and more with you and you should hopefully be resolving any wind and colic issues. However, there is also a not-so-pleasant side to the 4-month milestone that you may or may not experience: a spike in nighttime waking and daytime catnapping.
Some may have blissfully drifted through the first few months with a near-perfect sleeping baby. For others, sleep may have been just ok and for the rest, sleep has been near extinct from day one. But regardless of how the first few months went, it seems the four-month sleep regression can get the best of us.
I frequently receive questions about the dreaded four-month sleep regression, so here are my thoughts on this stage in your little one’s life.
What is the Four-Month Sleep Regression?
Despite the scary-sounding name, sleep regressions are normal events in your child’s development where they wake up more often throughout the night or have a harder time napping. These sleep regressions are completely normal and often occur at predictable times, such as the 4 month period, which can actually take place between three and four months of age.
One of the most significant studies in this area was an evaluation of 15 mother-infant pairs to identify periods where children could be described as ‘difficult’ and confirmed that babies seem to cycle through 10 “timed regressions”.
As your baby’s brain grows, and they start to adopt new skills, their sleeping patterns can considerably change. At four months, your little one has a shift in sleep cycle length - they become shorter, much shorter.
Additionally, they are also developing new skills and increased awareness of the things going on around them, including who and what plays a role in them getting to sleep. Pair these things together, and voilà! - it’s the perfect storm for poor sleep.
Despite the scary-sounding name, sleep regressions are normal events in your child’s development where they wake up more often throughout the night.
Is My Baby Not Sleeping Because of Sleep Regression?
While sleep can be a constant battle for parents, you’ll probably have accustomed yourself to a certain amount of predictability in the first three to four months of their life. However, a sudden, unexplained worsening of sleep patterns is the usual sign that your baby could be going through a regression. Common signs to look out for are:
*Your baby regularly wakes up more than usual, with no clear reason for why they are doing so
*You can see that your baby is practicing new skills, like rolling or flipping over
*Your baby is becoming more aware (and interested) in their surroundings and becomes distracted by things happening in their immediate environment when trying to sleep
Could It Be the Moro Reflex?
If you find your baby not sleeping, there can be many potential causes, including illnesses, teething, hunger, or even the Moro Reflex, also known as startling. The Moro Reflex is a common reflex where your baby will suddenly wake up in a startle due to slight changes in their environment.
A good way to reduce the frequency of this happening is to ensure your little one has the right amount of comfort, support, and flexibility in their baby clothing. For instance, babies can feel startled when they wake up and don’t feel the same sensation of being in the womb. While swaddles are a great remedy to this, your child might have matured past the swaddle stage by four months. And here enters the benefit of swaddle transition products, such as the Zipadee-Zip, which have been designed to provide babies with the freedom to roll and use their arms, while still offering womb-like comfort.
Tips for Handling the Four-Month Sleep Regression
While there is an element of simply “riding it out” involved in helping your little one sleep during this stage, there are a few strategies you can use to promote better sleep at night.
The way your little one settles off to sleep is essential to their ability to sleep well. If you are involved in any way in getting your baby off to sleep (even replacing the dummy or pacifier in between sleep cycles), then this involvement can be exacerbated at the four-month mark.
A number of studies also suggest that creating healthy sleep habits that include your little one self-settling will allow children to achieve healthy sleep-wake patterns throughout their ongoing sleep journey.
At four months your baby should really only be awake for periods of around 1.5 hours in length. This may vary from child to child, however, regular opportunities to sleep are still essential for successful settling and great sleep.
3. 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 the Zipadee-Zip swaddle for those who are finding that their little one is no longer comfortable in a swaddle. This is a perfect transition for babes above three months of age that will take them from a swaddle to a full range of movement, whilst still providing a cozy enclosed feel.
4. Skills Practice
As mentioned, seeing your baby rolling over is a sign that they’re trying to master new skills. And practicing this at night could be the reason they’re finding it harder to sleep. The best way to get around this is to give them plenty of time to expend their energy during daytime skills training, allowing your little one to fall asleep easier and quicker at night.
Simply place your baby in a safe environment and encourage them to roll over, support themselves and even sit up, if they’re showing signs of strong neck and core muscle development.
5. Establish a Bedtime Routine
One of the most important things you can do for your little one’s sleep health is to create the right environment to help them gradually settle down and relax before bed. Also, by regulating your baby’s sleep patterns and naps you can start to establish a bedtime routine that will set them up well for many years to come!
Baby Not Sleeping After Four-Month Regression?
It’s not just at the four-month mark that a sleep regression can take place. If you also find your baby not sleeping for no apparent reason for one to two weeks when they’re six, ten, or 12 months old, this could also be caused by normal sleep regression that takes place in every baby’s life.
Again, the trigger of this could be that your little one is working on some new skills that disrupt their normally smooth sleeping activities, such as learning how to crawl for the first time or pulling themselves up using their own strength for the first time. You may experience a number of sleep regressions in your child’s life, so don’t be disheartened when it seems like all your good work has gone down the drain — it’s only temporary!
You may experience a number of sleep regressions in your child’s life, so don’t be disheartened when it seems like all your good work has gone down the drain — it’s only temporary!
Adjusting to the four-month sleep regression can take anywhere from one to three weeks. It might be tough, but try to be patient and encourage your little one to get as much rest as they can (when they can) so they don’t build up too much sleep debt!
Finally, if your concerns are actually that your child hasn’t experienced any sleep regressions as we’ve described, don’t worry. While research has identified predictable periods of regression within the first 14 months of life, there are still valid doubts as to whether these regressions actually happen for each and every child, or what they should look like exactly.
The important thing is you do your best to encourage strong sleeping habits and make sure your little one has everything they need for a peaceful sleep.
Tara Mitchell is a pediatric nurse, mother and qualified infant and toddler sleep consultant. She works with families to create healthy sleep habits in a program that provides all of the support and
guidance needed to see the end of sleep issues.