The 4-Month Sleep Regression

_DSC2002-2“You are, for the most part, a good sleeper. You normally only wake up once a night to eat,” These are the exact words I wrote in my journal to my daughter on the day she turned 4 months old. Sweet, naïve words, as it turned out. I didn’t know just how fast all of that would change.

The first two months of my daughter’s life were rough. We struggled with breastfeeding and I had to use a nipple shield until she was about 8 weeks old. She was a slow eater and night feeds took forever. She woke frequently, as newborns do. Then, around 3 months, everything got better. We kicked the nipple shield. Nursing got easier and she became more efficient. She started sleeping longer. I finally thought she was working toward the better sleep that all the books said would eventually come. I had hope!

Then she entered her fourth month and bam!, my illusions were shattered. She started waking more and more frequently. It took longer to get her back to sleep. Then, in my online “due date” group, everyone else started chiming in. “After weeks of 1 wake a night, now he’s up every 2 hours!” “I’m so zombified right now. I broke down and cried last night.” “I feel like I’m approaching the end of my rope.” We were swapping stories of wake up patterns, suggestions for soothing, recommendations for swaddlers and sleep suits. What the heck was going on?

The 4 month sleep regression, that’s what was going on. Although babies can actually go through a number of sleep regressions as they grow, the 4 month tends to be the first and a biggie. It’s rough. Your poor body is fooled into thinking that sleep in longer stretches is once again possible and then it’s all yanked away. You start to wonder if it’ll ever pass. All you want to do is sleep. Thankfully, a friend in that group, an experienced mom, clued us all in. She also linked us to the book The Wonder Weeks for additional explanation about what was going on. If you’ll look on page 12 (use the preview option), you’ll notice that weeks 15-19 are predicted to be fussy, with a big stormy time right around 17 weeks. For me, 17 weeks was exactly when I reached out for help. That age is when baby begins to understand and learn how to process his or her world. They may be babbling more, beginning to roll, grabbing their feet, etc. Since we constantly process information as we sleep, it’s not surprising that this new wealth of information overwhelms them at night. At the same time, their sleep patterns change to be more like the way adults move through light and deep sleep. Naps may become shorter, sleep more interrupted. Since they haven’t yet developed the ability to sooth themselves back to sleep, they’ll rely on you to help them do so. All of this can add up to a tired, cranky baby and tired, cranky parents.

The good news is that it does pass, typically. Most babies will spend 2-3 weeks in their regression patterns before moving on to (hopefully) better sleep. I’m not here to give you tips, because if my experience is any example, all you really can do is survive it. Lean on anyone who offers to help. Make sure your partner is involved at night, if that’s an option. You may find that a new swaddle, a pacifier, or a change in routine somehow actually does help your little one sleep again. But if you don’t, just know that it really does get better and that you’re not alone. Try reaching out to moms of babies the same age. Just knowing that your baby is going through a developmentally normal phase and that other mothers are just as tired and frustrated as you are can make all the difference. As one of my online friends put it, “I see that everyone else is having exactly the same problem, and that is SUCH A RELIEF. I can’t tell you how much better I feel now. It’s a Real Thing. It’s not just me doing it wrong, or my baby turning evil. THANK YOU ALL.”

You’re not doing it wrong. Your baby is fine, normal, and healthy. You’ll get through this. Lean on us, your community. You’re not alone.

Kate Cunha lives in the Pacific NW and is the mother of a nearly 3 year old rotten sleeper who only now is figuring out the whole “sleep through the night” thing.

Tags: 4 months, sleep, sleep regression, wonder weeks

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