The 4 month regression seems to have become a beast of its own in recent years. Before we’ve even had children, we’re warned of the doom and gloom and disastrous sleep that occurs when our babies are 4 months old.
Is there a sleep change that occurs around the 4 month mark? Absolutely, yes. Can it cause sleep to seem like it’s regressed and you can go from enjoying 7hr stretches of sleep to 2hrly wakings? Absolutely, yes. Can your baby go through this sleep maturation and you never even knew it happened? ABSOLUTELY, YES!!!
Here’s the deal. Babies, just like adults, sleep in sleep cycles. As an adult, our sleep cycles are usually around 90 minutes in length. Whilst we don’t usually recall it, at around the 90 minute mark we check our surroundings and if we find them unremarkable we go back to sleep.
Newborns have slightly different sleep cycles to older babies. Unlike older babies and adults who go through four stages of sleep, newborns drift between only two states – REM sleep (active sleep) and Non-REM sleep (quiet sleep). In fact, newborns spend the first 3-4 months of their life in REM (active) sleep. Naps can go anywhere from 20 minutes – 4 hours, and the patterns of these may change daily.
By 3-4 months, your baby is mostly likely giving you more consistent patterns and longer stretches of sleep overnight. This is the normal development of sleep. Nights generally fall into place first, because we are hormonally driven to sleep at night, and pressure is much greater come bedtime. So you may be enjoying up to 7+ hours of sleep overnight between feeds and naps may or may not still be a bit wobbly and inconsistent. This is normal.
And then all of a sudden your baby hits 4 months and you’re warned by every mother you come across that you can kiss that long stretch of sleep goodbye and wave a big ol’ unwelcome hello to the four month regression.
This is because sleep challenges tend to arise when your baby’s sleep cycles begin to mature. At this age, they are beginning to hardwire their expectations of how they get to sleep. If your baby doesn’t know how to put themselves to sleep without assistance, then it is unreasonable to expect them to do so between sleep cycles. Waking and crying for assistance will be completely understandable.
So, now that you know how normal this all is, let me tell you what you can do to actively help your baby at sleep time.
Firstly, I need you to recognise that this is a permanent change in your baby’s sleep cycles – it’s here to stay! It is a fantastic time to review your sleep foundations:
- Room set up including white noise and blackout blinds
- Awake windows (how long baby is awake for between naps)
- How you are dressing/swaddling your baby for sleep
- How your baby falls asleep
The key to this stage is encouraging your baby to fall asleep independently so that they know how to fall back to sleep in between sleep cycles. This doesn’t mean you can’t be hands-on. They’re only 4 months old, so hands-on settling is absolutely encouraged.
When you put your baby down to sleep or when you hear them wake between sleep cycles, take a breath and wait. The French call this Le Pause and it provides a buffer to allow your baby a chance to fall asleep on their own without you interrupting the process. Set a limit of how long you’re comfortable with, wait, and then go in and assist if they need you.
An example of hands on settling at this stage could be: Layer on the hands on assistance, and then as the weeks progress you can wean it out. So, you might rock your baby to sleep whilst patting them. Then you’ll hold them and pat them to sleep. Then you’ll pat them in the cot to sleep. Then you’ll pat them for a few seconds at the beginning of the sleep and then leave them for a little while to see if they’ll fall asleep on their own. See? Simples!
If you’ve worked with me before, you know how much I dislike the fear mongering that is out there about babies and sleep. Somehow we seem to no longer be able to simply take each thing as it comes.
I want to empower you to enjoy your baby, help them sleep however feels right and intuitive for you, to take each milestone as it comes, and to celebrate the wins. And guess what? I’ve had two babies and not once has sleep regressed at the 4 month mark. Both babies knew how to fall asleep on their own prior to this developmental milestone. No doom and gloom here.
If you are struggling with sleep at any stage and it all feels unsustainable for you, then please do not hesitate to reach out and ask for support.
I have downloadable sleep guides as well as 1:1 personalised support options. I am here to guide you through these rough patches. So, ignore the fear mongers and tune into your baby.