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4 month sleep regression: tough, but temporary!

Babies often need more comfort in the 4 month sleep regression - It's okay to cuddle and comfort your baby as much as they need during this time. Here are a few tips to help!

Ahhh… the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. Just when you think your baby’s sleep is finally coming right, you notice a sudden change for the worse. There are more night wake-ups, difficulty settling and a whole lot less sleep for everyone.

You wonder – is it teething?

Is baby over-tired?

Are they ready to drop naps?

Are they testing me?

Is your baby around the 3-4 month mark by chance? If so, they’re likely at the beginning of the first (and most dreaded) 4 month sleep regression.

As a mama to three and with over ten years combined experience as a Registered Nurse, IBCLC Lactation Consultant and Baby Sleep Consultant, I’m here to help you understand what your baby is going through during the 4 month sleep regression – plus some expert sleep tips to help you all get through it!

What is the 4 month sleep regression?

A sleep regression is a time when your baby’s sleeping pattern changes temporarily. Your baby may have previously been sleeping well, and now they’re starting to be more wakeful in the night – or having difficulty with their naps. 

Sleep regressions are often due to developmental changes, which is a huge progression for your baby. These changes are things like learning to crawl, babble/talk or walk. All of these have an impact on your little one’s brain. The most well-known sleep regressions are at 4 months, 8 months, 12-15 months, 18 months and 24 months.

Sleep regressions can also sometimes occur when your baby needs to drop a nap, at peak periods of separation anxiety and during big life changes like moving into a cot or proper bed, or getting a new baby sibling.

The 4 month sleep regression is a big one. In fact, this is the most significant change that your baby will ever experience with sleep.  This is because your baby is now starting to mature their sleep patterns to become more like ours. It is challenging – but it’s also a good thing! It means your baby’s circadian rhythm is becoming more synced and will (very soon) lead to longer night sleeps.

It’s important as well to consider the new skills your baby is working towards at 4 months. They’re mastering rolling and the grasping reflex – two massive developmental milestones. They’re also working towards longer awake windows to expend all of that new-found energy! This all feeds into the 4 month sleep regression – so it’s easy to understand why this is such a big deal for your baby.

4 Month Sleep Regression Signs

The 4 month sleep regression starts around 3-4 months.  It’s important to acknowledge that all babies react differently and some parents notice very little change, while others notice significant sleep disturbances.

Some of the common signs your baby may be in the 4 month sleep regression are:

Fighting their naps

Frequent wake-ups

Difficulty re-settling

Fussier than usual

Seeming restless

Wanting to feed more than usual

Shorter naps

Overall more irritable

Upset when you leave the room at bedtime

Six Expert 4 Month Sleep Regression Tips:

If you’re managing fine, and haven’t noticed much in the way of sleep disturbances, then there’s no need to change anything. However, if your baby has been waking every 1-2 hours for more than a week, try some of these tips to help:

1. Wean off parent-controlled sleep associations:

How your baby goes to sleep is how they expect to go back to sleep. So if you are rocking, feeding or patting your baby to sleep, the four month sleep regression could be the time to start tweaking things:

  • Instead of feeding to sleep, try feeding 15 minutes before bedtime.
  • If you’re patting, just pat until baby is settled then slow down and stop just before baby falls asleep. If baby gets worked up when you stop, then start again.
  • If you’re rocking to sleep, this can be a bit harder to wean from. You’ll need to start getting them to fall asleep in their bed so I recommend trying the patting method mentioned above.
  • If your baby is using a dummy, this can become problematic if you’re constantly having to replace it throughout the night. To wean from the dummy, you can start pulling it out just as your baby is on the verge of falling asleep. The idea is to let them use it to become sleepy – you don’t want it to be something they need in order to be able to fall asleep. If baby is able to fall asleep without the dummy, they are less likely to panic when they wake and it isn’t in their mouth.

Bear in mind that for the first few nights, implementing these changes may add an extra hour to bedtime. Be consistent and give it time – this will all be much easier and the new normal within a few weeks.

2. Introduce baby-controlled sleep associations:

These are things that your baby can control easily and that don’t require you to wake and do in order for your baby to be able to fall back asleep.

  • Swaddle/Sleeping Bag – you’ll want to transition to a Sleeping Bag around this stage. Like a swaddle, it helps baby to feel secure. It also helps to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the night.
  • Red night light –helps baby feel safe and comfortable throughout the night. It also allows you to be able to see them without needing a bright harsh light, which can disrupt the circadian rhythm. 
  • Sound machine – this helps to drown out any background noise or disturbances. It also creates an environment reminiscent of the womb that babies find naturally calming, helping them to stay in a deeper sleep for longer. I recommend ocean sound at this age.

3. Start a bedtime ritual:

Building a positive bedtime ritual can help your baby to understand that it’s now time for sleep. If you’ve previously been feeding to sleep, you can now replace this with a bedtime routine by feeding 15 minutes beforehand so that your baby isn’t relying on the feed to fall asleep. The bedtime ritual can be personalised to you and your baby – but a small book and/or song are great, and a consistent goodnight phrase, for example:

“goodnight my darling – sleep tight! I’ll see you in the morning.”

4. Build adequate sleep pressure

It’s not as simple as just putting your baby to bed at a certain time. Your baby actually needs to build the need to sleep (sleep pressure). Young babies are often used to being held or put in infant chairs for hours of the day, but this isn’t helping them to really expend the energy they need for sleep. As your baby gets older, their awake windows are going to get longer – so the need for sleep pressure increases. At 4 months, your baby needs to be on the floor, doing mini push-ups and practicing their rolling and they need to be out on the grass exploring different colours and textures. Having time out in the sun is also really important – so the more time spent outside, the better. Sunlight actually plays a huge role in sleep regulation. Ensuring your baby is building enough sleep pressure will go a long way towards ensuring better quality sleep which is vital when you’ve got the 4 month sleep regression thrown into the mix!

5. Optimize sleep environment

The 4 month sleep regression is a good time to do an evaluation of your baby’s sleep space to make sure everything is optimised for excellent sleep. You want it nice and dark at night (black out blinds can help) and lighter during the day (to help keep their circadian rhythm in sync), with a comfortable temperature and no loud disturbances.

6. Implement a routine

The 4 month sleep regression is the perfect time to implement a routine. I always recommend my WEPS routine. This acronym stands for Wake, Eat, Play, Sleep and it is as simple as it sounds. (Please note: for babies younger than 5 months you may find there is another Eat before sleep to help with their caloric needs to fill them up! This is WEPES). Following the WEPS order, awake windows and tired cues allows for a flexible routine with less stress and worries about set routines and times. Don’t get me wrong, you will naturally find baby has set times they like to nap, give or take 30 minutes. But having a routine like this gives our babies structure to their day and predictability. This helps with their circadian rhythm and setting up good sleep foundations.

Surviving The 8 Month Sleep Regression

How long does the 4 month sleep regression last?

The progressions made during the 4 month sleep regression – with development of mature sleep cycles and a circadian rhythm, are here to stay! But the regressive behaviours will generally last a few weeks (up to 6). You can lessen this by trying some of my strategies listed above.

Make sure you check out our post on ‘Thriving Through Sleep Regressions” . This explains more about regressions and why they happen.

If you and your little one are looking for more sleep help check out our Free 7 Day Trial in our app. It offers a sneak peek into the 3-12 month Sleeping Basics program, which offers more tips and tricks. Like how to help set up a good sleep routine, conquer sleep issues that will arise and get baby sleeping independently. Check it out for free in our app below:

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It’s important to note that your baby’s sleep should be discussed with a healthcare provider to ensure safety and suitability for individual circumstances. This blog is general education only. For any personal based advice regarding you or your baby please seek advice from your own healthcare professional.

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