• Mary Cantwell

The 4 Month Sleep Regression: What happens and what can parents do?

Updated: Mar 22

Those first few months at home with a newborn are a whirlwind! Baby and family are getting to know each other, Mom is healing from birth, we are working out feeding/sleep schedules, and getting in our new rhythm.


Sleep is high on the list of items that new parents get asked about and think about quite a bit. As we round out the 4th trimester (babies first 3 months after birth), sleep starts smoothing out and we see a glimmer of predictability. Then wham! Baby starts waking up more, naps get shorter and before we know it sleep is all over the place.


What Happened?

Newborns are born with an underdeveloped Circadian Sleep Rhythm, which is the sleep/awake cycles in a 24-hour period, and it develops over time. The first step in our sleep journey is sorting out days/nights. Around 6/8 weeks plus, baby starts consolidating part of nighttime sleep and getting into the beginning stages of daytime organization that continues for the coming months.


At 4 months, there is a significant amount of brain development, and it typically flows into disrupted sleep. They may be up more for additional feeds due to physical growth spurt, trying out a new motor development or getting used to being hands free (aka swaddle to sleep sack transition). The positive nugget here is they are developing beautifully (aka progression) but to us parents it FEELS like a regression.


How to Prep?

Prepping and educating ourselves before the baby arrives, if possible, will help as their sleep needs change. Focusing on setting up a solid sleep foundation during the 4th trimester (first 3 months after baby is born) will help the baby as they have had exposure to practicing foundational sleep/sleep hygiene which will be instrumental once we hit 4 months.


What is foundational sleep?

Dark/Cool Sleep Environment

Age-appropriate wake windows

Practice laying down drowsy and aware

Consistent sleep routine

Separate sleep space

Swaddle (once rolling move to a sleep sack)

No electronics in room

Ladder response to wakes that are not feeds (shush/pat, pacifier, rock, and so on)


How to Survive?

No matter how or when how we prep for this normal part of sleep development, the question is how we move through it! Three simple tips to navigate this sleep development is: 1) routines/consistency 2) dial into age-appropriate Wake Windows to keep them rested and 3) practicing the Pause.


Three Simple Tips:

1) Routines/Consistency:

For your child, having a consistent sleep routine will cue them that something has changed in their environment. What this typically looks like at this age is lowering lights in their room, putting on the sound machine, changing diaper, swaddle/sleep sack, walk around room or rock to drowsy and aware, then lay down in crib. If you see fussing when the routine starts, it is baby’s way of communicating they know sleep is on the horizon. The more we are consistent our sleep routines it helps cue them that it is time for sleep and overtime they fall asleep faster.


2) Wake Windows (WW):

Are from when your child wakes from one nap (or from morning wake up) until the next nap. At 4 months, WW hover between 1.5 to 2 hours. We want your child to be falling asleep within those wake windows and not starting the routine at the WW. If we start the routine at the WW by the time they fall asleep they are likely overtired which leads to having a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep (cortisol levels rise). As we run through the day in a continued overtired state, it will affect night sleep where they may have a hard time falling asleep at bedtime and may be in a lighter sleep through the night.


3) The Pause:

This is a good one! As your baby transitions from one cycle to another, they may seem to wake (talking, grunting, small fussing, rolling around, eyes opening/shutting, and so on) and may still be asleep. Let’s try to practice “The Pause” which is watching/listening to what they are communicating (that being said, if something sounds off to you go in and check on them). Watch on the monitor and pause for a moment (couple of minutes) to see if they connect to the next cycle before going into assist. They may still be asleep and if we intervene prematurely we may interrupt them as they are trying to connect.


How long does it last and how to move forward?

It varies child to child but expect it for 2 to 4 weeks. Practicing the items above and asking for help from your spouse, friends or family is a gamechanger for this development.


If you would like support during this transition or baby’s sleep changed months ago and we are still struggling on the sleep front, lets set up a Discovery Call so that you can ask questions on how I serve families and I can get more information on what is happening sleep wise.

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