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As much as you may look forward to certain milestones in your baby’s first year — like the first time they roll over or sit up on their own — there may also be some phases you’re dreading. A four-month-old baby’s sleep regression is a perfect example. Your friends who’ve had kids may have warned you about this, or you could be caught off-guard by your baby’s decision to stop sleeping through the night and taking their naps on their regular schedule. Or maybe your baby is now four or five months old and hasn’t gone through anything that resembles sleep regression, and you’re wondering whether they’re OK. Chances are, they’re fine, but here’s some background on the four-month sleep regression, including some tips for how exhausted parents can deal with it and get to the other side.
What is sleep regression?
Generally speaking, sleep regression involves periods of time (usually between two and six weeks), when a baby or toddler who had previously been sleeping on a (semi) regular schedule goes rogue. This could involve waking up frequently during the night (and having difficulty getting them back to sleep), as well as taking much shorter naps than usual, or flat-out refusing to nap. In other words, it’s extremely frustrating for exhausted parents who thought that they’d finally get back on some type of normal sleep schedule themselves.
Starting in the 1940s, the idea of babies experiencing sleep regression has been studied by those working in developmental psychology. But after more than 70 years, although scientists know that sleep regression does happen, they still don’t know why or precisely when it happens, the New York Times reports. And despite the lack of hard data pointing to a precise sleep regression timeline, there is no shortage of books and websites that present specific “stages” of sleep regression as established milestones experienced by most (if not all) infants.
On the one hand, this can be really helpful for parents who are experiencing these stages with their own child — reassuring them that their child’s sleep regression is not unusual. But on the other hand, it can also give parents something else to worry about, in terms of whether their child is developing “normally” or not. Ultimately, parents should understand that sleep regression and development looks different in every baby, so if yours isn’t following the timeline precisely (or at all), it’s usually not cause for concern. And as always, ask your pediatrician if you have any questions about this.
Your baby hasn’t been sleeping and it can literally feel like years. (Our deepest condolences) But don’t worry mama! There is a light at the end of this tunnel. The great part about sleep regression is that it doesn’t last forever. It usually lasts between two to four weeks.
What happens during a baby’s 4-month sleep regression?
A baby’s first period of sleep regression typically occurs between when they’re three and five months old, and is most commonly referred to as the “four-month sleep regression.” In addition to disrupted sleep patterns, other signs of the four-month sleep regression may include fussiness, waking up multiple times during the night, napping less, and changes in appetite. Generally speaking, the four-month sleep regression is thought to happen when a baby transitions away from their newborn sleep schedule — though again, this is a theory, and we still don’t know exactly what causes sleep regressions.
But apart from creating new bags under your eyes, during this sleepless period your baby’s body is actually going through an amazing developmental process. During this time, their brains are growing, they’re going through growth spurts and learning new skills like how to sit up or roll over.
What to do during a baby’s 4-month sleep regression
Though it can be easy to get frustrated when your baby stops sleeping on their normal schedule, it’s important to remember that this is temporary and that there are things you can do to help. And when your baby starts showing some of the signs we mentioned above, it’s also a good idea to check their temperature and see if there are any other indications that they might be sick — something that can also impact their sleep schedule. If they do have a fever or appear to be unwell, call your pediatrician for instructions on what to do next.
Per Healthline, here are some of the other ways to manage your baby’s four-month sleep regression:
- Make sure the baby is fully fed before putting them to bed for the night.
- Keep the baby’s room dark, so that they’re able to fall asleep during naps, and fall back asleep if they wake up too early in the morning.
- If you haven’t done so already, create a bedtime routine and schedule. This could involve things like changing their clothes before putting them down for a nap or to bed at night.
- Wait a few minutes before checking on your baby if they start to cry in the middle of the night. They very well may go back to sleep on their own, but if that doesn’t happen after a few minutes, go ahead and do your usual soothing routine.
- Pay attention to signs of sleepiness. Your baby may be on a sleep strike, but this doesn’t mean they won’t ever sleep. So, when you see the first inkling of drowsiness, make a note of what it looks like so you can recognize those signs in the future and get straight to rocking and lullabies.
This is part of becoming a parent that takes more patience than other aspects of the job, but going in knowing what to expect — and that it doesn’t last forever — may help.
What does a 4-month-old baby’s sleep schedule look like?
One way to combat sleep regression is to implement a sleep schedule for your baby. Here’s a sample nap schedule you can tweak according to your nugget.
- 8:00 a.m. Wake up
- 9:45 a.m. Nap
- 11:45 a.m. Playtime
- 1:30 p.m. Nap
- 3:30 p.m. Playtime and tummy time
- 5:30 p.m. Nap
- 6:00 p.m. Baby exercise
- 7:30 p.m. Begin bedtime routine
- 8:00 p.m. Bed