There is an infamous 4 month sleep regression that happens sometime around when a baby is 4 months old. Coupled with typical postpartum exhaustion and/ or depression, it can be exhausting and overwhelming for even the seasoned mama.
You can help your baby through this sleep regression and I plan to offer some explanation and solutions below. But, just know that there is no magic “fix.”
Mostly it’ll be a matter of enduring it, trying to maintain healthy sleep habits, comforting your baby when necessary, and knowing that this too shall pass…like many unpleasant seasons of motherhood.
As is the case with all my “how to” posts and my articles that share our personal experience, no system is perfect. I’m giving you a teeny tiny glimpse of what works for us when it comes to sleep regressions… in hopes it may be helpful to you! Everything is a principle. Trust your instincts with your own children. In terms of my tips – take what works for you and ditch the rest! You are the mother of your children, and you are the best mom for them!
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What is the 4 month sleep regression?
“4 month sleep regression” is a catch all phrase that describes the seemingly sudden changes in a baby’s sleeping patterns that happen sometime around 4 months old.
Fun fact: It can actually start anywhere from 8 weeks old to 5 months. Awesome. 😉
Many parents feel like their baby goes from generally being pretty sleepy to all of the sudden being a terrible sleeper! I often hear some version of these common 4 month sleep problems:
- My baby won’t nap longer than 45 minutes
- My baby cries and cries to fall asleep
- Why is my baby suddenly waking every hour at night?
Is the 4 month sleep regression a myth?
Yes & no.
On one hand it’s technically not a “regression,” even though everyone calls it that. It feels like a regression to parents because suddenly, your baby is sleeping worse. (AND THAT IS A HORRIBLE FEELING!! After having 4 babies in 5 years, I totally get it.)
But what’s actually happening is that your baby’s sleep is changing. The baby is adjusting, which causes frustration and some difficulty sleeping.
I love the way Rachel Turner, a Sleep Sense Sleep Consultant said it:
A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,” and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. This would be much more aptly titled the “Four Month Sleep Progression.”-Rachel Turner
Sometime between the ages of 2 and 5 months, babies transition to the same adult-like sleep stages you and I have.
And, they learn to cycle through these 4 stages all night long, just like us.
Prior to this transition, babies just sleep deeply whenever they’re sleeping. (Here is an overview of how your sleep changes with age.)
The 4 stages of sleep are:
STAGE 1 – Falling asleep. This is when you are aware that you’re drifting off and sometimes nod suddenly awake, and then drift off again.
STAGE 2 – The first legit stage of sleep. You are really sleeping. You spend a lot of your sleep time in this stage.
STAGE 3 – Very deep and restorative sleep. It’s hard to wake you up. If you get woken up by, perhaps, a screaming baby, you might feel as if you got hit by a bus. (Speaking from experience.) Also, night terrors would be here.
REM – More active brain & this is when you’re dreaming! Ideally, you cycle in and out of REM sleep all night long and not suddenly being wakened from here, or you’ll be super groggy…. again, those babies though…
So, why is there a 4 month sleep regression?
Remember, we’re calling it the “4 month” sleep regression, but it can actually kick in anywhere from 8 weeks to 5 months old. (Earlier is more common.)
It has to do with the baby transitioning from “sleeping like a baby” (deep sleep only) to sleeping like every other human… learning to fall asleep independently and cycling through the 3 stages of sleep.
The thing is – most babies have to learn to sleep! (And either they’ll figure it out on their own or parents can help them along.)
In our home, we tend towards what I call “parent-led sleep training.” Rather than letting baby lead the process, we observe the baby’s cues and needs and follow rhythms + routines that we think make sense for the baby and our family.
Many of my other sleep training posts discuss specific tips, strategies and ideas for parent-led sleep training.
Other 4 month sleep disruptions
It’s worth noting that the 4 month sleep “regression” happens to coincide with a lot of other developmental changes. We’ve definitely noticed our kids experience worse sleep when they hit certain developmental milestones!
NEW SKILLS- ESPECIALLY MOVEMENT RELATED
Basically, we’ve observed that when our kid learns a new physical skill – rolling, sitting, crawling, pulling up on furniture, walking, etc. – they go through a period where they wake up and try to do it in their cribs in the middle of the night.
Sometimes, this just leads the baby to have a little solo party in his crib… cooing and babbling away while practicing the skill… then, he just falls back asleep eventually.
SIDE NOTE: This is just one example of a time where it’s beneficial to teach your baby to put himself/ herself to sleep from a very young age. (Here are 10 more reasons to teach your baby to sleep independently as a newborn.) If your baby is dependent on a sleep association such as rocking or nursing, then when he/she has new skills that interfere with sleep, you will be up a lot trying to get the baby back to sleep.
ROLLING INTERFERING WITH SLEEP
Baby learning to roll is the big one that interferes with sleep around 3-5 months old. Here are some tips to deal with the rolling transition:
- LET THEM PRACTICE a lot during their day “play time” and wake time. Encourage them to roll to you. Roll them halfway and let them finish getting themselves over. Do lots of tummy time to encourage muscles strengthening.
- DROP THE SWADDLE! This is important!! Once baby stops rolling, it’s not safe to swaddle both arms and legs in tight. You can drop it cold turkey, or swaddle them with their arms out, thus weaning the swaddle more gradually if they like the routine of being swaddled. There are other products made to mimic the swaddle feeling too! Blank and blank are super popular and highly rated!
- TUMMY SLEEP – Once baby can roll himself from back to front, he is strong enough to safely sleep on his tummy! You don’t have to flip him over. All 4 of our babies learned to roll back to front FIRST. So, they had been swaddled back sleepers for 4 months, then learned to roll to their tummies. We dropped the swaddle cold turkey. We still put them to sleep on their backs, but at some point in the middle of the night, they would roll themselves back to front and then get TICKED that they were “stuck” on their tummies.
Crying + Transitions
This tummy sleeping transition was MISERABLE with our first. We went in all night long for 2 nights trying to flip her to her back, but she kept flipping to her tummy and screaming. Finally we realized she was just going to have to learn to sleep on her tummy.
So we let her cry until she fell asleep on her tummy. The first time, we let her cry for almost 45 minutes on and off. It was torture for us!! We would go in to reassure her, pat her, but not flip her or pick her up. (Honestly, going in seemed to drag out the process.)
Once she finally got herself to sleep, the next time she woke up she cried for less than 10 minutes.
After that, less than 2.
After that, she was a tummy sleeper for years!
Needless to say, with our subsequent kiddos, once they could roll, we just dropped the swaddle and didn’t go into flip them. It went much faster when we just let them figure it out on their own 100%. 2 of the kids didn’t cry at all! They loved being tummy sleepers instantly.
This let-them-figure-it-out approach ended up working well for us for all movement transitions! We’d practice whatever frustrating skill they were working on during the day and at night, they would wake and fuss and self-soothe.
Remember, though, we start our wholistic sleep training/ scheduling approach with our babies as NEWBORNS. This means, by 4-6 months old, they’re generally pretty good at getting themselves back to sleep. If your baby has never had to do that, it may be much more difficult as they get older. And that’s okay!
Mostly, it was done WITHOUT TONS AND TONS of crying, but there was some crying! I don’t want to mislead you. Generally, it seemed to all go faster if we didn’t interfere.
Any time we went in to comfort, or help them, and then left again, it seemed to just make them mad and prolong the process.
Idea: Give them a Reset
We had one kiddo that generally has really big feelings!! He needed the most help and comforting in these scenarios.
He was the hardest to sleep train, the latest to sleep through the night (didn’t hit 12 hours until 16 weeks), and the worst at self soothing. At 3, he still is! And that’s okay! That’s how he’s wired. 🙂
Often, with him, rather than drag it out and be going in and out a ton, we would give him 10-15 minutes to figure out whatever the problem was on his own.
Then, we would go in, get him out of bed for 15 minutes and just play or read calmly in a different room. Then, we’d go put him back to bed. We called it a reset.
You need to figure out the method that works for your family and for that particular child! Hopefully some of these ideas will help you or free you up to try something new! 🙂
But just go with your momma instinct! You got this!
The rolling at night problem is short-lived!
some babies figure out rolling both directions at the same time. But usually they figure out one way, then the other. Regardless, it’s very short-lived. Pretty soon, they’ll be past it and go back to the prior (hopefully good) sleeping habits!
4 months (ish) is also the age where babies will start to get really mad if their pacifier falls out and they can’t get it.
Again, it depends on you and your baby! Our first child had SUCH a strong suck desire. Around this age, the paci would fall out and she’d be so mad. Very quickly, she actually found her thumb and that made self-soothing so much easier.
Once she was going to the dentist (around age 3), he reassured us it wasn’t affecting her teeth and she’d eventually grow out of it. At 6.5, she’s aware that she does it and is wanting to stop but recognizes it’s a hard habit to drop.
If you really don’t want your baby to suck his/ her thumb, then you probably will want to pop that paci in every time they’re expressing an opinion about it.
Alternatively, you can just let them figure it out… they’ll probably fuss and cry some out of frustration, but get tired and get over it. They might drop the paci then, or become less attached.
And in a very short while, they’ll figure out how to pick it up and pop it in themselves!
COLD TURKEY VS. GRADUAL
We have done a “cold turkey” approach for dropping the paci and swaddle. We tried gradual methods with our first because it felt less harsh, but that ended up dragging everything out and being confusing in some sense.
Some people have a lot of success with gradual methods but we’ve found go-big-or-go-home-all-at-once to be easier for our family and preferences.
EARLY TEETHING PAIN
There is variation in the actual time of the 4 month sleep regression. But if it happens to be on the later end of the spectrum (3-5 months), then your baby might also be experiencing early teething pain alongside their sleep regression.
Bummer! Being a baby is hard work! 😉
Usually, teething pain is indicated by a combination of…. constant drool, sometimes a runny nose or diaper rash, and chomping on everything 24/7 (hands, wrist, toys, your shoulder).
Often, as they get older, babies won’t eat solid food as well while teething.
At some point, you can even start to feel the gums swelling in the bottom front where the first 2 teeth will come in.
Honestly, if we think our kids are in pain from teething, we give them tylenol or ibuprofen! You can’t give ibuprofen until they’re over 6 months, though. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations. The dosages are based on weight!
SIDE NOTE: Here’s a weird money-saving medicine hack I tell all new mommas!!!
Some other ways to help soothe teething pain are:
- These Munchkin Fresh Food Feeders – cheapest on Amazon if you can wait! We put fruit, ice, carrots, whatever in these!!
- A pacifier if your kid likes one.
- The water-filled teethers that can go in the fridge or freezer.
- Just a damp washcloth. My kids LOVED these!
Is there a 4 month sleep regression solution?
First of all, take a deep breath and say this with me again: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
It won’t last forever. Motherhood has a way of really exercising your patience + perseverance muscles!
MAKE SURE YOU’RE IMPLEMENTING “BEST PRACTICES” WHEN IT COMES TO INFANT SLEEP
Let’s talk about alllll the overarching “best practices” when it comes to good sleep. Did you know you can pay hundreds of dollars to have a fancy schmancy sleep consultant tell you how to get your baby to sleep!?
They can offer a really personalized experience, hence spending several hundred dollars on it! But, I’ve tried to provide many of the basics for free on my site. Check out my sleep training archives for details, but here’s an overview of our wholistic sleep training process:
(You’ll notice there are lots of tips that have to do with eating schedules and awake time too!)
- Daytime feedings every 2.5- 3 hours (ish) from the START of one feeding to the START of the next. So, if you feed at 7 am, plan to feed the baby around 10 am give or take.
- Get the baby FULL at each feeding… it will almost always be 10-20 minutes of actual nursing time (or more) for newborns. Plus all the time to latch, get situated, burp, change, arouse baby when he gets drowsy, etc… It feels like hard work, but if you can get the baby full every 2.5-3 hours, he won’t be snacking all day er’ry day. Which will also lead to better naps!!
- Speaking of naps – wake your baby to eat every 3 hours all day long.
- Speaking of naps (again) – this naptime post addresses the #1 overlooked naptime issue… letting baby get overtired.
- The order of the baby’s daytime routine should be: wake up and eat, play/ stay awake for a little while, take a nap. (Learn more about creating a baby schedule and see sample schedules for baby’s entire first year.)
- When your baby exhibits tired cues, start your naptime routine and put them down for a nap.
- Fresh diaper if necessary
- Darken the room (AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE) and turn on white noise – we’ve used this white noise machine, this sound machine with a projector, and an old fan. White noise is not a bad crutch. In fact, it’s incredibly useful in helping baby learn to settle themselves when they stir or get accidentally woken by something in the middle of their naps.
- Swaddle – we use these inexpensive velcro ones (size SMALL) to get a tight, snug swaddle
- Sing/ shush/ sway/ pray – or whatever little comforting thing you want to do right before you lay them down. But don’t rock/ nurse to sleep except for the last feeding before bedtime.
Other sleep regression survival tips and tricks
- PRACTICE – We talked about this more extensively in the previous section, but helping baby practice new skills during the day might make him less frustrated at naps/ night.
- PAUSE – Give the baby 5-10 minutes and try to let him get himself back to sleep. Even if he starts fussing, stirring, crying. It might not last long!
- ROUTINE – Whatever it is, make your sleep time routine consistent. Establishing positive sleep cues/ associations is really helpful for babies who are learning to be good sleeprs. Make sure the room is dark and there is white noise if possible.
- AVOID OVERTIRED – here are all the details on an overtired baby and how to help him get to sleep.
- TRY NOT TO STRESS – your baby will be fine!!!!!! 🙂
- CONSIDER SLEEP TRAINING – You probably don’t want to create ALL NEW sleep habits and associations during this 4 month sleep regression. But once baby seems to have established more “grown up” patterns of sleep, it’s a great time to sleep train!
conclusion: you can do it!
All in all, the 4 month sleep regression can be really exhausting and emotional for baby and mom. You can try some of these strategies to help your baby through it more easily.
But just know that your baby will come out on the other side of it and keep growing into a happy, healthy sleeper.
p.s. if this post helped you in any way, would you be willing to share on Facebook and/or Pinterest!? Thanks!!