What is the 4 month sleep regression?
The 4 month sleep regression happens between 4-6 months old, and is not truly a regression as such but more a developmental leap forward which affects sleep. When it happens, parents often think their baby is teething or that they need to start solids, but this is rarely the case. Disruption from teething usually occurs over a few days and then subsides, and hungry babies can be sustained through this time by increasing their milk feeds. Introducing solids too early or increasing their solids to quickly can cause their sleep to become worse because they are not having the correct balance of nutrients that is provided by the milk.
Why does sleep regression happen?
This ‘regression’ happens because the baby’s sleep cycles are maturing and changing. They move from newborn cycles (which are 4-6 hourly at night) to adult cycles (which are 2-4 hourly – or even less if your baby is overtired from cat napping during the day!). At this time, a baby that you were feeding 4-5 hourly overnight may start waking every 2 hours or less. The only way baby knows how to go back to sleep is by being assisted by their parents. Whilst rocking or patting back to sleep after 4-5 hours is achievable and ‘easy’, parents often quickly tire from having to repeat this every 2 hour over night. To solve this we need to gently teach your little one to put themselves back to sleep with less parent assistance.
Cat napping is also a major contributor to this ‘regression’, while this can be relatively normal and to be expected under 12 weeks, if your baby starts to get grumpy after their 45 minute naps, and wake 2 hourly at night, this is a pretty good sign their short naps are no longer restorative and we need to look at helping them to lengthen their sleeps and establish really healthy sleep habits.
What can I do about sleep regression?
Babies who are taught to settle to sleep on their own and resettle between sleep cycles are far less likely to experience this regression. For very young babies, gentle methods are the best way to go. Cry-based sleep training does not work for babies under 4 months of age, and you should never leave your newborn to cry it out, because they are neurologically incapable of learning to sleep in this way.
Your strategy should be the same if you have a newborn or if your baby has started to go through this ‘regression’ already. Start with their naps at the beginning of the day, and by nighttime, baby has already had 3-4 attempts at self-settling and re-settling. This will take some time, so the key is persistence. Soon enough, baby will start to learn the skill of settling and resettling, and you will be back to your 2 wake-up nights.