Tips For Managing The 4 Month Sleep Regression
Well you made it through the newborn stage where sleep was more scattered. Dependent on food intake and you just rolled with it. It was tough but now you have found the sleep / awake rhythm with your baby and it feels like you are in a good place. Then you reach 4 months of age and your baby decides to throw it all out the window.
I often see new parents complaining about the 4 month sleep regression. How their baby was sleeping great and now its a living nightmare. They won't nap, they wake up constantly, they only want to be held again. They are exhausted and their baby is super cranky. I feel that pain. I lived through it three times. And as a postpartum doula I see many families struggling with this. So what's a family to do?
Rethinking The 4 Month Sleep Regression
The first thing we need to do is look and see what's going on. This happens to practically every baby so there must be a reason for it. I tend to look at the biological reasons for things in order to understand what's happening with your little one. And at this time, so much is happening.
In the first few weeks of life sleep was dependent on food intake. If feeding wasn't going well, sleep took a hit. Then as feeding got easier and things smoothed out, sleep got better. Then there were the growth spurts to deal with. Baby was getting bigger and needed more food. These happened at 6 weeks, and 3 months and sleep was put aside for managing the increased time spent feeding.
At 4 months there is another big change. But not around feeding. This one is around brain development. Your baby is starting to get more input into their brains. More information is being downloaded. Their wake times are longer, they are playing, grasping, rolling around, learning. In order to manage the new information that is being sent to their brains, baby's will begin to develop more connections in their brain. And like you, this is done when they are in REM sleep, or a light / active sleep. You can see it if you look closely, their eyes move rapidly beneath their eye lids (Rapid Eye Movement...get it?) Their brain is processing everything and creating new pathways and connections to grow and develop these new skills.
But as mentioned, this happens during light / active sleep. So babies will spend longer periods of time in REM sleep then before in order to build those pathways. Which means, they may need to snuggle longer, they may wake up easier than before and are startled more easily. And that also means that your once sweet sleepy baby is not so sweet and sleepy any more.
Good News: This doesn't last forever. And it is necessary for your baby to grow and develop. And don't we all want that? It's short term pain for long term gain. Or as my dad used to say, there is method in this madness.
How To Survive This Brain Progression!
See what I did there? Let's relabel this period of development. Because this is a positive change in your baby, despite it feeling like your baby will never sleep again.
Understand that this situation is temporary. And it will take a few days or more to get through it, but it is temporary.
Plan your days to be more low key than they were before. Remember the newborn period when you spent time just snuggling baby and watching Netflix. Go back to that for a little bit.
Lower your expectations for housework and other activities during this time. You'll get back to it, but your baby needs you right now.
Ask for help. I know it's not always easy but asking for support, someone to watch baby while you take a nap or do something for yourself can be helpful. And getting baby snugglers isn't as hard as you think.
Wear your baby more during the day for naps. I'm super biased toward a wrap, but any baby carrier that will give you some freedom of movement, allow you to be hands free and allow baby to sleep will do the trick.
Get some fresh air outside. Going for walks and getting fresh air and natural light is extremely helpful for encouraging good sleep.
Consider trying swaddling again. You may have phased it out at this point but going back to an appropriately sized velcro swaddle can help in those periods of light sleep. You will be able to phase it out again once this period is over.
And consider taking naps too. If baby is laying down in a bassinet beside your bed, crawl into bed and have a wee lay down yourself. Even a 30 min rest or 20 min power nap can be helpful to make it through the rest of the day.
I understand that this can be a frustrating period of time for you and baby. But I'll say it again, it's temporary and oh so necessary.
For more information on sleep and life with your newborn, check out our online Infant Care Class.