Sleep regressions. They're one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome when you're a sleep-deprived new parent and the four-month sleep regression can sink you like the Titanic.
One minute you have this perfect, little gorgeous baby who sleeps. And all is right with the world. Then, suddenly, your baby is waking up frequently and not going back to sleep or skipping naps. Not fun. And also unavoidable.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Let's break down the first sleep regression period.
What is the four-month sleep regression? (Or, why is my baby doing this to me???)
At this stage in their lives, babies begin to sleep more like adults. That is, they can no longer block out their incredibly loud siblings, the sounds of the grocery store or the party going on around them. Unlike their newborn selves, they no longer spend a lot of time in deep sleep and they now sleep in cycles -- between light and deep sleep. Just like adults. (Your baby is growing up already!) Enter the four-month regression.
During the fourth trimester the kind of newborn sleep per cycle is different. Your newborn baby has a longer period of deep sleep within each sleep cycle. It may take you a few minutes to rock or feed your baby to sleep and you can easily place them down and they won't wake up. Easy peasy. But as they get closer to the four-month mark the stages within each sleep cycle shifts and now your baby has a larger window of light sleep at the start of each cycle. Suddenly, rocking your baby to sleep and placing her down asleep isn't so easy anymore. Sound familiar?
When they're in the state of partial arousal, the period where they are shifting from one sleep cycle into another, they might need the environment in which they fell asleep to be recreated (like being rocked or nursed to sleep). If you are doing it for them at bedtime, you're also going to have to do it for them throughout the night. This is perfectly okay in the short term but what about the long-term solution?
What can I do about the four-month regression?
This is a great opportunity to start guiding your baby into healthy sleep. If you're ready, at this point babies can be encouraged to fall asleep on their own and in their own sleep environment.
How do you do this? Here are a few of my recommendations:
Give them a consistent place to sleep. Put them to down to nap in the same place where they sleep at night. I encourage motionless sleep because vibration or motion during sleep can force the brain to stay in a lighter sleep state and reduce the restorative power of sleep. Crib sleep is the best.
Put them down drowsy, but not asleep. This helps them be okay with their crib and surroundings. If they're comfortable and happy, they will go to sleep on their own. Practice makes perfect!
Establish an early bedtime. You always want to avoid putting down an overtired baby. Early bedtime is key.
Practice a consistent, soothing routine. A regular routine will help them get used to bedtime and will assist them in falling asleep on their own.
Developmental milestones will also affect sleep quality. Around four months of age your baby will start to move around more and even start flipping over. It's at this time where we want to start considering getting rid of the swaddle and having them get used to sleeping on their tummy once they roll over. Take note, until your baby can naturally flip over on their tummy themselves you should always be placing them on their backs.
Remember to be consistent and try not to beat yourself up. This is a learning process for both of you! But with consistency and guidance, you can help your baby get through the regression and become an independent (and great) sleeper.
Follow Alanna McGinn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GNSleepSite