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4-month regression or progression?

There is so much talk and fear about the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. I was at postnatal pilates a few weeks ago (don’t eye roll until you’ve tried it!) and overheard a Mum say, ‘Oh I HATE 4 months, worst age ever!’. I couldn’t help but be shocked and a bit saddened by this.

Firstly, that she clearly had such a hard time with her first baby that the fear from it has carried over to her second. Secondly, that women can pass on the fear to other mothers, especially unsuspecting pregnant ones. And thirdly, that this is actually a sign of development in your child that is a testament to their health and growth, rather than a ‘regression’.

It is, however, a time that highlights alllllll the little sleep crutches that were cute and easy and fine when your baby was a newborn but are no longer sustainable now that they’re going through this adjustment.

Let’s look at this from an evidence-based perspective. Babies and humans are made to sleep. Sleep isn’t a milestone. Sure, some have a much easier time at it than others, but it is a fundamental need for all humans, regardless of age.

You may notice that as your baby approaches 4 months they are becoming increasingly alert, chatty, sensorial – sucking on hands and maybe even toes. They’re wanting to roll, they recognise you and are starting to figure out that strangers can be over stimulating and cause a bit of anxiety.

I can vouch for ALL of this. My baby, at 3.5 months old, coos and babbles at me all day. She has learnt to blow raspberries too, which is now her favourite pastime (even at 4am). She squeals with delight, often at herself. She is watching and learning and growing. Her gorgeous but teeny tiny brain is computing everything and trying to make sense of it all. She is completely in the moment.

Ugh, I’m exhausted from just writing about all of that. Wouldn’t you find it hard to switch off if your brain was going through all of that too?

We WANT our babies to meet these milestone. We get worried when they don’t! So instead of talking about this stage as a ‘regression’, look at it as a ‘progression’ and reflect on how you can help your baby navigate this time.

First and foremost, do not beat yourself up about the fact that your baby has needed you to rock them to sleep or the idea that you’ve created bad habits. As parents, we’re so good at finding things to blame on ourselves – don’t let this be one of them. Accept the challenge of this new hurdle and move on.

Now that you’ve rid yourself of any guilt or shame, have a think about how your baby is falling asleep. Are they being rocked, fed, walked, bounced etc… to sleep? These are all sooooooooooo normal. Like, so ridiculously normal that they make you the majority. See?

You’re never alone in this parenting thing. What’s happening now though, is that as your clever little babe is progressing, they’ve moved on from the newborn ability to just pass out for hours at a time. Their brains are working on sleep cycles, which we all go through. At this age sleep cycles are roughly 45 minutes. Babies start to come out of a deeper sleep at the end of this cycle, and if they were rocked to sleep in the first place they’ll want to be rocked back to sleep. They don’t know how to do it on their own. Here is the opportunity for you to teach your baby a new skill.

Ensure that all foundations are in place so that you know your baby doesn’t actually need anything. Environment, clothing, awake windows, hunger, play… these are all things that need to be in place to set your baby up for sleep. Now have a look at how you can gently wean your current settling style in a way that allows your baby to have a go at settling on their own, whilst staying supportive, present and with realistic expectations.

Four months old is the most common time people reach out to me as a sleep consultant, which is another reminder that you’re not alone in this. Parents all over are trying their best. If it’s not working for you, or you’re not sure where to start send through an email and I’ll see which piece/s of the ever-changing sleep puzzle are missing.

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