The Great Regression. 4 month sleep regression that is. I know most of you moms shudder at the mention. Let me set the scene: your sweet little baby starts sleeping through the night at 6 weeks. Yes, that’s right, finally a glorious full nights sleep. The first few nights you wake in a panic wondering why your baby isn’t crying, then a peek at the monitor reveals that little babe is blissfully sleeping. You then have to get up and remedy your giant engorged boobs. Insert handy hand pump! A few months go by, you’re used to sleeping through the night and smiling smuggly when people say “Oh! You’re so lucky, what a great sleeper!” Until all of a sudden that “great sleeper” suddenly isn’t. Out of the blue your champion sleeping baby whom you’ve been bragging about starts waking up every 2 hours at night and will not go back to sleep. Party time at 2am. No thanks. At first you think it’s a growth spurt or a mental leap, but then you remember the pediatrician warning you about the 4 month sleep regression. It’s happening.
So what is it? Around 3-4 months a babys sleep habits change. As her brain matures so does her sleep pattern. She is beginning to sleep more like an adult v.s a snuggly newborn which means she will be cycling in and out of very distinct sleep stages: deep sleep and active sleep. Previous to 4 months, when baby would fall asleep she would enter a deep non-REM sleep state. This is why tiny babes can sleep anywhere. Now that she’s bigger, when she falls asleep she enters lighter sleep stage of non-REM which is why she wakes the instant you lay her in her crib. She will also wake more often at night and doesn’t know how to put herself back to sleep, so she looks (screams) for mom or dad. Baby may start waking for the day earlier and naps will likely change and become shorter and less frequent. Ella was a very consistent 4 naps a day kind of gal. But since the regression she has cut out her evening nap. Which is very inconvenient for mom and dad as that’s when we would eat dinner! Since cutting out that nap I’m finding Ella is ready for bed around 7pm instead of 8:30pm-9pm.
How do we make it stop? Good question. We are still trying to figure that out. So far what we are doing, isn’t working. Right now we rock/ nurse Ella to sleep and lay her in her crib once she’s asleep. She will predictably wake about 45 mins later and at that point we will pick her up and rock her to sleep again. She will usually wake about 2 times during the night and more likely than not require either dad to rock her or moms boob to fall back asleep. Before Ella was born Chris and I decided we would sleep train when the time came. I guess it’s time. There are SO many books and resources for sleep. We decided the SleepEasy Solution would work best for us. It’s a great book that breaks down the facts about babies sleep and how to get them to sleep through the night. Yes, it’s a “cry it out” approach, but it’s a gentler method in my opinion. It’s crying it out with compassion. Ha. Plus the book is written by two moms who’ve been there.
Some key points we’ll be following:
- Be consistent. Create a nighttime routine and do it every night. Preferably in the room where baby is sleeping. Whether it’s a bath every night, pre-bedtime massage or reading a book. Or maybe soft music and a bottle or nursing.
- Decide if your babe has “sleep associations” which are basically anything that your child relates falling asleep to. For Ella it’s falling asleep in our arms or nursing. This is hindering her, if she falls asleep in my arms then wakes in her crib alone she gets scared and doesn’t know how she got there. For some babies a sleep association could be a pacifier, a parent sleeping nearby or being always rocked to sleep.
- Make sure her sleep environment is healthy. This is super important in a baby’s ability to sleep well. What’s in her crib? Make sure its free of loose blankets or toys. Is the room dark enough? Is the temperature right, it should be between 68 and 72 deg. Protect your babe from distracting sounds by using a white noise machine. We’ve been using this one since Ella was born. I plan on purchasing a lullaby doll like this, to play when we are getting jammies on.
After your nighttime routine it’s key to place baby in her bed awake (drowsy is best), tell her you love her and leave the room. Set intervals for “checking in” on your babe. The book says 5 minutes, 10 minutes then 15 minutes are most successful. When its time for the first check in, you can go into your baby’s room, close enough that she can see you, but not so close to touch. Say something encouraging like “I love you, it’s time to go to sleep, I’ll check on you again.” and then leave the room. Don’t linger. Try to limit each check in to 30 seconds or shorter. The 3rd check in is the longest. Continue at this interval until baby has fallen asleep. You’ll repeat this process when baby wakes at night.
They say the first night is the hardest and most babes take about an hour to fall asleep. It’s not going to be easy. Listening to your baby cry and cry is hard and heart breaking. You and your partner have to be on the same page, you need to agree on a plan and stick to it. This process won’t work if one person isn’t really into it. Remember you aren’t doing this to torture your child, you’re giving her the ability to learn to sleep like a champion. So grab a book, turn on the TV, drink a glass of wine, do something to help keep you calm and relaxed while your baby is trying to soothe herself back to sleep. On a side note, when crying it out, always make sure your baby isn’t hungry, has a wet/dirty diaper or is too hot/cold. If all these conditions are right, baby will not be harmed by crying for a little while. And she will not remember or hold a grudge against you in the morning. Quite the contrary infact, she’ll be happy and well rested.
I’m no sleep expert, and by no means do I feel everyone should follow this plan. Every baby is different and every family is different. Heck, we haven’t even tried this method so it might not even work for us! BUT we are going to try. We’ve got nothing to lose. I encourage you to research different sleep methods, read the books, make a plan and stick to it.