You are puttering along, enjoying those snuggly soft baby cuddles.
Baby stops sleeping well.
You wonder what’s going on for a few days, start Googling, and pretty soon realize your little one is smack dab in the middle of the 4 month sleep regression.
This can also happen a tad early or a tad later than 4 months (anywhere from 3 to 5 months depending), but the idea is the same.
So, how do you know if baby is going through the 4 month sleep regression?
4-month sleep regression symptoms:
Baby might not have all of these, but still be going through the 4 month regression.
- Baby started waking frequently at night
- Naps become shorter (often 45 minutes in duration)
- Baby is much more fussy and acts sleep deprived
- Changes in feeding patterns
- Doesn’t transition through sleep cycles like before (wakes early or halfway through naps) and can’t seem to fall back asleep
- Overall, your baby’s sleep patterns have changed for the worse and there’s an overall lack of deep sleep
This is actually pretty common with 4 month old babies.
If your baby is between 3-5 months old and suddenly hit a major rut with sleep, it’s likely the 4 month regression
New night-wakings, even as often as every 1-2 hours, waking up 40 minutes after bedtime, and cat-naps galore are all tell-tale signs. So what the heck is going on? This means baby is far more likely to wake up between sleep cycles, begin catnapping, and start waking up more frequently at night. They aren’t able to re-settle from one sleep cycle to the next.
And, more importantly, how do you survive?
The 4 -month sleep regression is actually a misnomer. Although it feels like a huge step backwards in sleep, it is actually a developmental milestone that marks a progression in your baby’s brain development.
During this period of sleep disruption, their brains are going from a newborn sleep pattern to an adult-like sleep pattern.
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This matters significantly because:
- Their circadian rhythm is now very much in-play and in rhythm with the sun, meaning they will need an earlier bedtime now and will likely start waking with the sun;
- Biological nap windows become much more important (the optimal times of day for nap sleep)
- Their sleep cycle length changes from 4-6 hours to 2-4 hours. They will be spending much more time in light sleep phases.
The last one is probably the most important in terms of the effects on their sleep. A baby that may have been doing a long 6-hour stretch at 3 months might now be waking up every 2 hours.
They will need assistance getting to deeper sleep phases more often. What worked in the newborn stage often quickly becomes unsustainable.
The 4 Month Sleep Regression
Before we go any further I think it’s important to realize some reasons the 4 month sleep regression is worse for some babies than others.
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Babies Go Through The 4 Month Sleep Regression Because They’re No Longer So Sleepy
So those early newborn days and weeks are so precious. Baby sleep easily and often and you pretty much feed him and he falls asleep and that’s that.
Around 4 months they are less sleepy, they need more wake time, and they stop falling asleep at the drop of a hat.
If you haven’t taught baby how to sleep on their own without you nursing or rocking them to sleep then this age is where it shows.
If you aren’t able to put them down in their crib drowsy but awake to sleep, they may have trouble getting and staying asleep.
This doesn’t mean what you did was wrong, but that four months and beyond is a different kettle of fish.
And it takes longer for baby to get into deep sleep so your tricks and hoops will now become much more involved.
“To put that in perspective, if you are holding your baby to sleep, you would need to hold her for at least 30 minutes to make sure she’s in deep sleep and then she might wake up 15 minutes later. Sound familiar?” Baby Sleep Site
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At 4 months, Doctors USED TO Recommend Rice Cereal…
In years past the 4 month sleep regression wasn’t quite as bit of a Thang for one good reason. Moms started babies on rice cereal at this age.
➡️ So when the 4 month regression was related to hunger this nipped it in the bud.
Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age (source).
This means if baby is waking early and more frequently is to feed more often and build that milk supply up to the necessary levels.
Perhaps baby needs more frequent feeds for a few days or longer feeds at each nursing session.
Trial and error should help you get the right amount. And then, in a month or two, when you add solids or purees, you’ll be able to rule out hunger completely.
Follow your pediatrician’s advice, obviously, but be careful not to rule out hunger.
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Baby Is Taking 45 Minute Naps
If baby used to nap for long stretches, but is now waking after 45 minutes, the first strategy you should run towards is feeding more often.
➡️ One of the major ways the 4 month old sleep regression shows itself is by babies waking up after only 45 minutes.
Assume that baby is hungry and simply feed baby as soon as he wakes. If you keep this up for a day or two and notice your baby doesn’t want to feed at these times, then it’s likely a sleep issue, not a hunger one.
If you keep this up for a day or two and baby seems to lengthen his stretches of sleep instead of continuing with the 45 minute intruder, then you have your answer.
Baby was hungry, your milk supply was low, baby was having a growth spurt, or all of the above.
What To Do When Baby Wakes After 45 Minutes:
- Throw out your routine for a few days and feed baby immediately after he wakes. Try to give baby a full feed and not let him fall back asleep while nursing, which can be contributing to sleep props as well as not getting to the more nutritious hind milk.
- After the few days are up, determine if baby was actually hungry during those extra fees. If yes, keep feeding baby until he passes through the growth spurt and your supply catches up to the demand.
- If after a few days you see baby wasn’t hungry for those feeds, you know you’re likely dealing with a sleep prop. This means you need to work on teaching baby to go to sleep on their own. (See my free email series on how to do just this, [thrive_2step id=’9673′]right here![/thrive_2step])
- If baby seems to be waking up, but not irritable or fussy, then perhaps baby is getting plenty of catnaps throughout the day, but could take longer naps with a few routine tweaks. This might mean putting baby down to nap 10 or 15 minutes later than normal and seeing if that helps.
Baby Is Waking Frequently At Night
If baby used to sleep much longer stretches at night and has now stopped, hunger is likely the culprit.
I’ve heard said that around the 4 month mark you should move to 4 hourly feedings, but I personally don’t recommend this if you’re nursing because you aren’t able to track exactly how much milk they’re getting and this could make things significantly worse if it’s due to hunger.
However, if baby used to wake up every few hours at night and is now waking up more frequently and needing you to nurse him, rock him, or do something else to get him back to sleep then you’ve likely got a sleep prop on your hands being made worse by shortening sleep cycles at night.
Steps To Take If Baby Is Waking Frequently At Night:
- Give full feeds where possible, don’t feed for two minutes then put baby back down. Try to coax baby to take as long a feed as possible.
- Make careful note of what is causing baby to wake up. Does baby want something particular to go back to sleep (to be held, fed, etc.). If this is the case, baby has a sleep prop and you’ll need to create a plan to wean baby from that.
- Realize that whatever is happening, you can find a solution, you will find a way, and that both mommy and baby were made to sleep long restorative stretches. You can get there.
How to beat the regression (summary)
- Give baby full feeds.
- Have an age appropriate daily routine
- Cluster feed in the early evening when milk supplies are low.
- Help baby transition through sleep cycles.
- Help soothe baby to avoid over tiredness.
- Feed as often as baby wants, always focusing on full feeds.
Is the regression a growth spurt?
Some parents are tempted to think that the frequent wake-ups are because of a growth spurt, so they start feeding at every wake-up. But this unfortunately only reinforces the problem as your baby is likely using those feeds to get himself back to sleep, rather than for nourishment.
Although a growth-spurt can cause an extra wake-up overnight, it will not cause the need to eat every 2 hours (for a healthy, normal sized 4-month old).
Why is the regression worse for some babies than others?
There are certain things that can make the regression worse – a baby who is already overtired from short naps or a too-late bedtime, will often hit the regression hard.
Also, a baby who is not on any sort of schedule and has a lot of sleep props (must be bounced/rocked/nursed to sleep, etc.) will also often have the hardest time during the regression.
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Can you prevent the 4-month regression?
No, it’s not possible for baby to skip this developmental stage, but there are certain steps you can take to help minimize the negative effects on sleep.
Establish healthy hygiene before it hits. This means following age-appropriate wake-times, a consistent nap and bedtime routine, and an optimal sleep environment.
Encourage a healthy schedule. Even during the newborn stage, you can start following a flexible schedule for sleep and feeding, that includes full feeds, age-appropriate wake-times, and as they get older, an earlier bedtime.
Work towards independent sleep. Give your baby opportunities each day to work a little bit on self-settling. This means not responding to them the second they wake-up and fuss if it’s not time for a feed- give them 5 minutes to see if they’ll resettle.
This is a great time to start sleep training.
How long does the 4 month regression last?
It’s different for every baby, but it will usually pass within 2-4 weeks. If your baby’s sleep is still disrupted after several weeks, you can safely assume it is not still the regression.
More likely something else is off in the daily routine. But you don’t have to wait 4 weeks to start implementing positive changes. In fact, implementing positive sleep changes now will help them pass through the regression much more quickly.
FAQs about regressions
Every baby’s circadian and biological rhythms begin to mature around this time, but not every baby has severe sleep disruptions. Some may simply “wake up” more.
This really depends on whether baby has self-soothing skills and what methods you use to teach baby these skills. All babies’ brains are changing around this time regards to sleep, and helping baby learn new sleep habits makes it pass faster.
Breastfed babies are typically going between 3 to 4 hours during the day at this point. Some babies can sleep longer stretches at night.
You can teach self-soothing skills in a variety of ways. Using wind-down routines and avoiding overtiredness will mean you can put baby down drowsy but awake and help them learn to drift off to sleep on their own.
Yes, it can shorten the naps to 45 minutes when they were previously longer. This is typically because babies transition through their sleep cycles and – if they aren’t used to re-settling on their own – they wake up! This is why teaching self-soothing skills helps.