The Dreaded Four Month Sleep Regression

It happened to us, as it could happen to anyone.  Bugaboo was almost three months old.  I laid her down for bed at 9:30 p.m.  Seven hours later, at 4:30, she woke needing to eat.  That’s right, my not quite three month old slept seven hours in a row!  She repeated this trick night after night – sometimes going six hours, sometimes going almost nine!  And then something changed.  A few weeks shy of four months old, she started waking up more often.  Her naps were shorter.  I couldn’t figure out when she would go to bed, wake up, or nap.  She woke up several times per night – sometimes sleeping less than two hours!  We had reached the dreaded four month sleep regression!

Recognizing the Sleep Regression

At Bugaboo’s two month checkup, the doctor suggested letting her sleep on me in order to get longer naps in.  Every time she needed a nap, I would grab some snacks and water, a blanket if the house was cold, and my nursing pillow.  We would settle in my recliner, and I would nurse her to sleep.  I would then play on my phone or nap until she woke up.  I remember hours every day of just sitting in that chair with a sleeping baby in my arms.

I don’t regret doing it – especially now that Bugaboo will not sleep in my arms.  I miss being able to study her face and hands, clip her nails, and listen to her breathe.  There are those sleep experts who would say the best way to teach the baby to sleep is to put her down drowsy but awake from the get-go, but almost no mother I have met has experienced a baby that actually falls asleep this way.

Very Short Naps

Around four months of age, when things began to change with Bugaboo’s sleep habits, we weren’t sure what to do.  We finally knew it was a sleep regression because she couldn’t stay asleep during naptime for more than an hour anymore.  In fact, most of her naps were 26 minutes long!  Every little sound or movement would wake her up.  Her naps were longest in the evening, when the light was low.  There were obvious things about her sleeping environment that we could fix.

We knew she needed more sleep for her health, and at the next appointment, the doctor’s advice changed: let the baby nap where she sleeps at night.

Consider Teething, Reflux, and Illness

If your baby suddenly cannot sleep very long, cries a lot, or takes short naps, consider other possibilities than just a sleep regression.  You don’t want to end up sleep training your baby if she’s sick.  If there’s a problem like reflux to address, you want to make sure you are addressing the right problem.

If your baby cannot sleep because she is teething, try a little baby Tylenol to see if she settles better.  Put some teethers in the freezer and let her chew on them.  If her irritability improves, if she sleeps better, or if teeth pop through, perhaps she is just teething and not going through a sleep regression.

Check your baby’s temperature to rule out sickness.

If you suspect your baby has reflux, check out these websites for advice on reflux:

Use the Two Week Rule

In general, babies go through changes every two weeks.  If your baby has suddenly stopped sleeping very well, try the coping methods for two weeks.  If her sleep continues to be poor past two weeks, you are likely going through the dreaded four month sleep regression and may need to sleep train.  Below are some ways to cope if your baby is not sleeping well.

Ways to Cope

Perhaps you are not ready to start a sleep training program.  Maybe you’ve heard bad things about “cry it out.”  You may be hoping to avoid sleep training your baby at all, as some lucky parents do.  That’s ok!  Here are some ways to cope with the sleep regression without starting a sleep training program.

Swaddle

If you’re trying to break your baby’s habit of sleeping in your arms, or if you are just looking for some help with keeping her asleep, check to make sure she is swaddled.  Being swaddled will help her feel cozy and secure, and it will help her stay asleep longer.

We loved the Halo Sleep Sack for this purpose.  You can swaddle her with her arms in or out.  As she grows older, you can swaddle her with one arm in and one arm out, which will help during this transitional phase when she is learning to roll over.  If you swaddle with arms out, the swaddle wings wrap around baby’s stomach and still provide a cozy hug.

Earlier Bedtime

An overtired baby may not sleep well.  Even at this young age, bedtimes are important.  If you are going through the sleep regression or if you have a fussy baby, look into moving her bedtime forward.  A bedtime as early as 6:30 doesn’t necessarily mean your baby will wake up at 4:00 am ready to play.  You may find baby is more rested and naps better if she gets a good night’s sleep.

Tummy Time

Give your baby lots of stimulation and physical activity during her awake time.  At the young age of four months old, this mostly means tummy time.  Try to fit in some tummy time every time the baby is awake.  Test yourself and your baby to see if you can keep her on her stomach a little longer each day.  If your baby has stimulation and exercise during the right time of the day, then she may sleep deeper at night.

Feed Feed Feed

At four months, babies now have the ability to sleep through the night.  They just don’t always make it.  One reason is hunger.  If your baby is waking up for a lot of night feedings, try shifting her calories to the day.  Feed her as often as she wants during the day, and throw in an extra feeding on top of that.  Try not to start solid foods before six months, and always check with your pediatrician.  However, know that when your baby starts to eat solids, her need for night feedings should 22w3ww34ediminish.

Time for Sleep Training

So you tried some non sleep training methods, and your baby still isn’t sleeping well.  It’s time to consider some formal sleep training steps to deal with the sleep regression.

Put the Baby in the Nursery

First, move the baby to her own room for naps and to sleep.  Check out my tips for putting the baby in the nursery.

Bedtime Routine

Every method of sleep training recommends a bedtime routine.  This can be a long, complex chain of events.  Or it can be as simple as changing into pajamas, singing a song, and having a bottle.  Watch for potential sleep associations in your routine, and adjust as needed to remove them.  Set the same, or perhaps shorter, routine for naps.

Bugaboo never liked her routine until she was at least nine months old.  Before then, I could start a routine with her, but when she recognized it as the bedtime routine, she would cry and scream.  Still, our routine included putting her in her pajamas and her sleep sack, and I would sing.  Then I nursed her or gave her a bottle.  This created a sleep association that I had to break when Bugaboo was closer to a year old.  However, it got us through the sleep regression, and the association was easy to break when Bugaboo was older.  We have since added to the bedtime routine, and instead of upsetting her, the songs and books calmed her down for bed without needing to nurse.

This is my example of how every baby is different.  While Bugaboo may seemed to have not followed the textbook examples of setting a bedtime routine, we still had our simple steps that we followed every night with her.

Pick a Sleep Training Method

There are a lot of books out there with advice on how to sleep train your child.  Methods range from “no tear” to “cry it out.”  Some parents choose a “cry it out” method to “rip off the Bandaid.”  They assume that a few nights of crying will end in a sleep trained baby and months of restfulness.  Others don’t want any tears at all.  They may choose an extinguishment method, such as sitting in the room with the baby until she falls asleep and then slowly edging out of the room.  A good method is what works for you and your family.

I personally prefer and use the Ferber method.  It’s sometimes mistakenly called cry it out.  You do let your baby cry, but only for set periods of time that grow longer as the night and weeks go on.  I like the method because you still go in and show your baby that you are there for her, but you also let her know that it’s time for sleep.

Ferber worked best for our family because there were times that Bugaboo would not respond to any other method.  My husband wanted to take a “no tears” approach, but there were nights where no amount of consoling or rocking could stop Bugaboo’s tears.  Eventually she would get exhausted from crying and fall asleep, but we just had to leave her to herself at those times.

Get Your Spouse On Board

As I mentioned, my husband wanted to do a no tears approach, but Bugaboo forced us into the Ferber method.  Still, even with the baby calling the shots, it was tense sometimes.  I would be letting her cry, watching my timer tick down, and my husband would rush in and pick her up to soothe her!  He always apologized afterwards, “I didn’t know you were working on your method.”

If you and your spouse don’t agree on a sleep training method, then choose the method that involves the least tears.  The parent that wants to rip the bandaid off will have to endure a few extra weeks of sleep training.  However, the parent that wants no tears won’t have to wander around the house listening to the baby scream and be tempted to rush in to soothe her.

Another way to resolve differences in sleep training approaches: leave sleep training to one parent entirely.  Once again, I suggest letting the parent who wants to use the no tears method do the sleep training.  The other parent may be frustrated if the no tears approach takes some time, but sleep training responsibility will be off her plate.  If one parent insists on using the Ferber or a “cry it out” approach, the other parent can physically remove himself from the situation – even by leaving the house – so that he doesn’t have to hear the baby’s tears.

Be Flexible

Try to apply your sleep training method consistently.  Give it a few nights to a week to see if there is any improvement with your baby.  But be flexible as well.  You know your baby better than anyone else, and you know when she is in true distress.  Some parents may not be able to withstand a cry it out method of sleep training for long and are willing to pull the bandaid off slowly to avoid listening to their baby cry.

Adjust your sleep training schedule for vacations and illnesses, knowing that your baby will take some steps backward when these life circumstances get in the way.

Even if your baby’s sleep regression lasts for a few weeks or months, remember this is just a phase in her life.  These are still the good old days – when you wake up from those sleepless nights, you still have your darling little baby to enjoy.  If you give her a few extra cuddles during this time, you won’t break her.  If she cries a little while sleep training, she’ll recover from that, too.

What about you?  How did you fare the dreaded four month sleep regression when it hit?

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