When you first had your precious little baby, you probably felt a tiny bit overwhelmed by this fragile, squeaking creature, that could barely lift their head. You know what was awesome about this tiny alien with the glassy eyes? Many things! Newborns smell like heaven. They are also practically immobile, so wherever you place them, that’s where you will find them. AND they sleep a gazillion hours per day. I know you think now that you are not enjoying your sleep, because your newborn wakes up every hour. But brace yourself, for things get worse. Now, your newborn might need feeding every other hour, but they also sleep in between. This means that you can also close your eyes for a midday nap. Of course you don’t, because us humans are foolish like that, and you just sit there and stare at your little treasure. I did that too, so I don’t blame you.
However, there is a slim chance and you will learn from my mistakes and actually try to sleep whenever your newborn sleeps. Because soon enough, you will have to deal with the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. And that’s no joke.
What is the 4 month sleep regression?
The 4 month sleep regression has many names. You can call it “the 4th month hell”. But that would not be very politically correct, as it implies that your baby makes your life a living hell. You could also call it “Wonder Week 19”, if you are following this book. (By the way, if you only want to buy one book about baby development, buy this one. And they don’t pay me to write that – I wish they did, though!). Or you can even call it “the 4 month sleep progression”, if you are a hard-core attachment parent and appreciate the fact that this living hell is actually a period of great progress for your little one. Which it is, don’t get me wrong. After this ordeal your baby will be able to perform a whole new set of party tricks, that will most likely include rolling as well as sleeping on their time (which will terrify you at first, because SIDS). They will also start babbling, eeh I meant “talking” more and if you are lucky, they might even start pinching you as hard as they can. That might not sound particularly appealing, but it is a necessary skill, because how are they going to pick up their peas, when they are 6 months old, huh?
So basically the 4 month sleep regression is a symptom, an indication, if you prefer, of your baby’s brain growing. So yes, it is hell, but it is also a great thing. You should actually be glad when it happens, because it shows that your kid develops as expected.
How will you recognize the 4 month sleep regression?
That’s pretty simple. Your little love will start waking up every hour or even 45 minutes at night, asking to feed. Additionally, they might refuse their naps during the day and being super pissed and fussy, because of that. The world around them is becoming waaay too exciting. They might be afraid that, if they sleep, they will lose some awesome event, like you eating a snack, for instance.
On top of that, they no longer fall into deep sleep directly. Their sleep pattern starts to look like yours, so they sleep lightly at first. That’s why when you feed your baby and they fall asleep, you can no longer put them down, without them waking up and screaming bloody murder. But don’t worry, you will be able to that eventually, once this developmental leap is done.
Why not just sleep-train your baby?
I wish I could tell you that there is a way to teach your baby to sleep on their own, just by putting them into their (or your) bed. There are many methods out there that claim to do just that. However, your baby will not learn to fall asleep and stay asleep until their brain is ready. It’s simple as that. Before that leap they are just not physically capable of self-settling. If you are happily letting your baby “cry it out” and after a couple of nights they don’t call you anymore, it’s because they either are in panic mode or have lost hope that they can rely on you. It’s not my opinion, people. It’s science.
Yes, but how will you survive?
Aaah, yes… the title of the article. My tips are not just “my” tips. They are a nice collection of the collective wisdom of many moms that I know, either personally or online. Some tips work for some moms and babies, while others don’t. You might wonder why I don’t say a word about dads. Well, the reason for that is that N. is absolutely capable of sleeping through the night, regardless of what Loulou does, therefore he was not affected by the 4 month sleep regression. If, however, your partner is a light sleeper, you can consider suggesting him to sleep in another room for as long as the storm lasts. Why should all of you suffer? After all, you need one sane person in the house to cook and do some basic cleaning. And if you bottle feed your baby, YOU can sleep in another room and let him deal with the hot mess! OK, on to the tips:
- If you are breastfeeding, take the baby to your bed for that hellish week (that’s how long it lasted for us – you might be luckier). Also, sleep topless, so that your breast is ready to be sucked and squeezed and covered in drool. That way you will fall asleep much faster, compared to getting up and getting dressed/undressed.
- Sleep with a towel underneath you. Frequent feedings often lead to leaky boobs as well as frequent spit-ups. If you don’t want your bed sheets to smell like a cheese factory, a towel is a great idea.
- Watch your baby closely. When they show the first signs of being tired, put them to bed. Don’t delay for any reason. For us, the signs are Loulou rubbing her eyes and yawning (yeah, pretty obvious, I know). If we reach the point that her eyes look moist or glassy, we are already past the ideal bed time.
- Keep following your bed time routine religiously. Your baby will still wake up frequently, but it might be easier to put them to bed the first time. We do bath-massage-clean clothes-feeding. But whatever works for you!
- OR break the routine! As contradictory as that sounds, I have heard/read stories of babies who hate their beloved routine during leaps. In that case, do whatever works. Try walking around, while baby-wearing. Try singing. Try holding their hand until they fall asleep. Try jumping up and down that pilates ball of yours. WHATEVER WORKS. Oh, and be warned that what works one day, might not work the next.
- Don’t overstimulate your baby. This can be hard, because as your baby develops new skills, you might be tempted to help them practice. That’s great, but when you see that your baby starts sucking their fingers/fist and look away from you, they need to be left alone, to re-cooperate. That handy tip was given to us by Elizabeth, a very talented Embodied Movement instructor.
- ASK FOR HELP. Your partner might not realize how hard this broken sleep is for you. They probably want to help you become your normal self again, but don’t know how to do that. Therefore, it’s a good idea to tell them explicitly what would be useful. Do the dishes need washing? Do the bills need to get paid? Do the baby’s clothes need ironing? Do you need a break from visitors? Do you need a mountain of chocolate? Whatever it is that you need, ask.
- WARN PEOPLE that you are slightly crazy, due to sleep deprivation. When I am sleep deprived, I snap in second for no obvious reason and I also tend to be over-emotional. It is good if people around you know that you haven’t been sleeping well. That way they can treat you a bit more gently or at least cut you some slack.
- Take turns with your partner. If your baby is bottle-fed, take turns feeding them with your partner, or, if you are a single mom, that’s a great time to test your friendship, by asking your best friend to stay with you for a couple of days and take over night feedings. I am absolutely serious. Do that. That’s what friends are for.
- Don’t try to force naps, if your baby doesn’t look tired. Look for sleepy signs instead and only then put your baby to sleep. Forcing naps on what was your baby’s regular nap times will only irritate them at this point. Keep in mind that, at around 4 months, many babies start taking 3 naps instead of 4.
- Eat well. When you don’t sleep well, it is even more important to eat a wholesome diet. Especially if you are breastfeeding, take extra care, because exhaustion can lead to a reduction of milk supply. I have been taking a small amount of fenugreek per day, to make sure that my milk supply doesn’t decline. The reason for that was that, despite the fact that Loulou manically fed throughout the night, she ate much less frequently during the day. Be careful though, because this herb is quite potent. I took 1/3 of the recommended amount for people with supply issues and within 24 hours my breasts were uncomfortably full.
That’s it people. Honestly, that’s all the wisdom I could gather. Be patient. This too shall pass. And I am pretty sure that much bigger challenges are awaiting 🙂
(talk about encouragement, right?)
*You can check out all the “Family and Parenting” posts here*
Thank you! 🙏 I have been googling this issue like crazy and your article was by far the most reassuring and helpful! I haven’t slept for more than 2 hours strait in a few weeks. I am a single mum and my LO is in the top growth percentile so I am finding it a struggle to keep up! It’s nice to know that these sleep issues are there for a good reason and when LO is ready to sleep through he will. I can only pray he gets ready soon before mum starts hallucinating from exhaustion! Thank you again and keep up the good writing! 😊
Hey Mel! I am so glad you found my article helpful! I have huge respect for single moms and honestly I have no clue how you do this. To give you some hope, you can go and check out the post I wrote a few days ago: The title might discourage you (as it involves dad) but the general message is that Loulou finally sleeps through the night (ok, wakes up once but falls right back to sleep) at 11 months. It might seem like AGES from now for you, but you will get there. Trust yourself and your babe and it doesn’t hurt to get a multivitamin to keep you standing in the meantime.