You can't avoid the four-month sleep regression, but you can conquer it.
Does this sound familiar? Baby is well on her way to sleeping through the night until, boom… she turns four months old, and all hell breaks loose. All of the sudden, she takes shorter naps and wakes up more frequently at night. She grows more and more irritable, and settling her to sleep has been a lot more difficult. These, mama, are all signs that your little one is going through the four-month sleep regression.
Though all babies experience multiple sleep setbacks in their first two years, your four-month-old's wakefulness can feel especially cruel and can give you the impression that something is wrong. But changes in baby’s sleep patterns are actually very normal. Around 16 weeks, your baby’s sleep cycles mature. She starts cycling through light and deep sleep like an adult and goes through a huge developmental and physical growth spurt. She gets hungrier and starts to practice rolling. Simultaneously, she's more aware of her surroundings and wants to engage with the world around her, which can result in a serious case of FOMO at nap time.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around it: this regression is hard, and baby's new sleep patterns are here to stay. But not to worry, there are things you can do to adapt to the new reality and get your baby (and you) back on track. Here are 6 tried-and-tested hacks to get you through the four-month sleep regression.
1. Transition your baby to an age-appropriate nap schedule. Newborns take loads of naps, often varying in quantity and quality. Around 16 weeks, however, you want to help your baby organize her sleep around a three-nap schedule: morning, mid-day and a late afternoon catnap that ends by 5pm. Depending on whether you like to plan ahead or live more spontaneously, a more organized nap schedule can be a godsend or a bummer -- but it’s key to your baby’s sleep success moving forward.
2. Prioritize naps at home. Quality daytime sleep equals to more nighttime sleep. Newborns can nap anywhere, but babies need a dark, quiet and consistent sleep environment in order to get the restorative reboot they need. If your baby has been doing most of her naps in the stroller or baby carrier, it’s time to decrease the frequency of your nap-time outings. If you start to feel stir crazy, head out for fresh air during the late afternoon catnap.
3. Make bedtime responsive to daytime sleep. An overtired baby at bedtime almost guarantees lots of overnight wakings. If yours hasn’t napped well during the day and you’re debating a fourth 4:30-5pm catnap, consider instead putting her to bed early instead.
4. Create a solid sleep routine. Babies thrive on consistency, so create a sleep time routine to provide cues that it’s time to wind down. At this age, aim for a short (5-10 minute) routine before each nap and bedtime that involves a diaper change, putting into his swaddle/sleep sack, and a few books or songs. You can incorporate a feed into the routine, just do it at the beginning so she doesn’t associate eating with sleeping.
5. Provide lots of extra cuddles during the day. She may be more clingy during this regression -- there’s a lot going on in her brain! Don’t hesitate to be more attentive during her awake hours. Shower her with kisses and reassure her that you’re there for her, even if you’re so tired you can’t see straight.
6. Play the long game. Many babies come out of the 4-month regression completely dependent on rocking/nursing to sleep or being held for naps. (I’m not judging--sometimes you’ll do anything for some ZZZs). If your sleep-adled brain can handle it, try to get through this period without adding to the list of sleep associations your baby already has. Instead, focus on adjusting her schedule and creating positive sleep associations like the sleep routine.
Bonus tip to mamas whose babes haven’t yet hit the 4-month regression: now is a great time to practice good sleep habits with your newborn. For example, give her the opportunity to try falling asleep on her own in a crib, or move her feeding a bit earlier in the bedtime routine. Don’t aim for the stars; even if you take some baby steps towards independent sleep, you’re setting yourself up for an easier time when you hit 16 weeks.
Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant and founder of Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in France and New York City, she works with exhausted parents around the world to get their kids’ sleep back on track. Meet her here + follow her adventures at @hadleyinfrance.
Photography by Lauren Crew for Well Rounded.