Four months into your newborn’s life, and you’re finally (maybe?) getting the hang of this parenting thing. But suddenly, your bundle of joy throws you a curveball. Those increasingly longer sleep sessions are gone. It feels like you’re up every hour on the hour. Could your baby be going through a 4-month sleep regression?
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“A sleep regression is when your child who was sleeping really well — maybe even through the night — doesn’t anymore,” explains pediatrician Noah Schwartz, MD. “It won’t happen to every baby, but it’s common. That’s why it’s important to be ready for it, so you don’t have to worry there’s something wrong.”
But fear not! Four-month-old sleep regressions don’t last forever. You will sleep again. Dr. Schwartz gives advice for how to get through it.
What is the 4-month sleep regression?
During a 4-month sleep regression, your baby’s sleeping habits change. “They start to wake up at night and cry more. It can happen once or multiple times,” notes Dr. Schwartz.
The reason? Research shows that around 10 to 12 weeks of age, babies start developing their circadian rhythm. The body’s internal clock regulates circadian rhythms, which follow a 24-hour cycle. “As adults, we’re always cycling through stages of deep to light sleep. Newborns spend more time in deep sleep. But around 4 months, their sleep ability begins to mature and become more like an adult’s. They start to go into these lighter phases of sleep where they’re more prone to waking up,” explains Dr. Schwartz.
How long this period of unpredictable sleep lasts depends on the child, he adds. But there are things you can do to nudge your baby (and you) back to Dreamville.
How to get past (and survive) your baby’s sleep regression
Dr. Schwartz says that successfully getting past a sleep regression comes down to baby sleep 101. “There’s nothing special you need to do for this 4-month sleep regression besides get back to the basics. If you haven’t yet, this may be a good time to sleep train your baby.”
Need a quick refresher? Try these six methods.
1. Try the cry-it-out method to sleep train your 4 month old
Dr. Schwartz says that while there are many effective ways to sleep train your 4 month old, he recommends the cry-it-out method, as it’s usually the quickest and it allows your baby to put themselves to sleep (or back to sleep) instead of you rushing in to soothe them. This method gets its name because it (usually) involves some crying as your baby learns this new skill.
“I’m a big fan of the cry-it-out method. If you always rock your baby back to sleep when they cry, they’re going to be dependent on you to fall back asleep every time they stir or wake up from a noise,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Granted, cry-it-out is challenging for many parents because no one likes to hear their baby cry. But everyone will benefit when your baby learns to fall asleep and stay asleep by themselves. If cry-it-out is not for you, find a different sleep training method that you are comfortable with.”
Dr. Schwartz emphasizes that it’s important to stay in your comfort zone, however. “You’re allowed to check on your child and assure them that mommy or daddy is there, and everything’s OK — although I would avoid picking them up if you can. And if your child is still eating at night, feel free to keep feeding them at their scheduled feeding times, too.”
2. Feed your baby well during the day
“Make sure your baby gets enough to eat throughout the day so they’re not hungry overnight. If they wake up starving, they’re going to need to eat. They probably won’t go back to sleep until you feed them again,” says Dr. Schwartz.
3. Put your baby to sleep awake
When putting your baby to sleep — whether it’s the beginning or middle of the night — make sure they are not fully asleep. “You want your child to be, at most, drowsy, so they complete the transition into sleep on their own” says Dr. Schwartz. “This method helps your baby learn to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up in the middle of the night.”
4. Put baby to sleep in a calm, relaxing atmosphere
Dr. Schwartz says that since babies are becoming more aware at 4 months, it’s important to minimize any stimuli in their room during sleep periods. Set the mood for a good night’s rest. Make sure the room is dark and use a white noise machine.
5. Establish a bedtime routine
Dr. Schwartz emphasizes that good bedtime routines are the stuff dreams are made of. They involve doing the same things — in the same order — every evening before you put your little one to sleep. “As early as 2 months, I started bedtime routines for all my kids,” notes Dr. Schwartz.
He recommends starting with the B’s:
- Breast or bottle.
“When they get teeth, add brushing to the routine. It helps them learn to adjust to this part of their day and understand it’s time to wind down for sleep.”
6. Check in with your pediatrician
Dr. Schwartz says you should always feel free to check in with your pediatrician if your baby can’t seem to get over the sleep regression hump, or something doesn’t seem right to you. “Worrying about your child is normal and natural. You should always make sure your baby is OK, especially if this is the first time this has happened. Your doctor can help ease your fears and make sure there’s nothing else going on.”