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All about the 4-month sleep regression, or as I call it progression!

Updated: May 7

Parents kissing 4-month old baby.

As a parent of a baby approaching the 4-month mark, you may be concerned about how this will impact their sleep. I genuinely understand your worries and am here to support you. In this blog post, I will delve into the 4-month sleep progression, including its causes, duration, and, most importantly, tips to navigate this challenging phase!

Why I call it "PROGRESSION" instead of "REGRESSION"

In the traditional sleep world, sleep regressions are periods when a baby may start sleeping less and have a more challenging time falling and staying asleep. They happen at various times depending on the baby, but most commonly at four months, six months, eight to ten months, one year, eighteen months, and two years.

As a certified Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist, I use the term 'progression' instead of 'regression' because, while it's true that babies may sleep less during this time, it's due to the intense development and growth happening. This term helps focus on how the baby is thriving instead of the potential sleep loss.

Signs your baby is going through the 4-month sleep progression

Understanding the signs of the 4-month sleep progression is crucial. Each baby is unique in how this progression impacts them, so by being aware of these signs, you can better support your baby during this phase. Here are a few signs:

  • Shorter naps than usual

  • Increased night wakings

  • May need more support to fall asleep and get back to sleep upon waking

  • Increased overnight feedings

  • Reduced overall sleep time compared to before

Background on sleep cycles

The leading cause of this progression is that their sleep has become more adult-like, so it is helpful to do a brief overview of sleep cycles.

For adults, a sleep cycle is divided into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). NREM includes three sub-stages that deepen from light sleep to restful sleep to deep sleep. It plays a role in healing from illness or injury, dealing with stress, and solving problems.

REM is the phase when you have dreams and the restoration of brain and body functions occurs, including energy conservation and memory consolidation. It is the last stage in the sleep cycle. We all briefly awaken between each cycle.

Each cycle takes approximately 90 minutes and repeats throughout the night.

Causes of this progression

1. Change in sleep architecture to more adult-like. Newborns only go through 2 sleep stages: an active REM stage and a "quieter" non-REM stage. Their sleep cycles are about 40 minutes long. A leading cause of the 4-month sleep progression is that their sleep is becoming more adult-like, meaning they go through all four sleep stages during one sleep cycle. At the end of each cycle, they have a brief awakening.

2. Increased awareness of surroundings. Babies have become more aware of their surroundings, meaning it may be harder to get them to take a bottle or breastfeed during the day, which may cause them to wake up more often at night to feed.

3. If breastfeeding, your baby may feed more at night to maintain your milk supply. Hormones drive supply until the baby is 6-8 weeks old, but after that point, it is based on supply and demand. So, if the baby was sleeping long stretches, supply may have dipped.

4. Baby learning to roll over. As they work on this new skill, they may practice it at nighttime. Furthermore, it is possible they have not yet grasped this skill fully. In that case, they may roll from back to tummy but cannot roll themselves back over, so they call out for assistance at night.

Tips to help get through this time

1. Try feeding in a dark, quiet room. This could help if the baby keeps getting distracted during feedings (whether by bottle or breast).

2. Support the baby's sleep as much as possible. Since during this time, babies may wake up more between cycles, you could try methods such as napping in arms, stroller, or carrier, for example, as you could more easily help them get back to sleep. I wouldn't recommend changing how you put the baby to sleep at this stage, for example, as they are already going through other changes with sleep, so continue to do whatever is working for you, such as nursing, bouncing, rocking, or swaying.

3. Get help from your village. Whether it be your partner, parents, sister, in-laws, doula, or trusted friend, do not feel like you must go through this alone. You will likely get less sleep and feel more overwhelmed with the demands of the baby's increased feedings, night wakings, and irritability. It is more than ok to need more breaks and support. For example, if you are the one dealing with night wakings, could your partner get up with them in the morning so you can catch up on sleep?

4. Give lots of floor time during the day. Since this is a time when your baby is likely learning how to roll over, the more time you give them to work on this skill, the better. Limiting time in car seats, bouncer seats, strollers, and other containers is helpful so that they have the maximum amount of floor time.

How long does it typically last?

Depending on the baby, this progression usually lasts 2-6 weeks. If it extends beyond this, you may want to investigate further if there is an underlying cause (e.g., undiagnosed tongue tie or food sensitivity). Remember, this progression represents a permanent change in sleep architecture, so it's unlikely that sleep patterns will return to exactly how they were before. However, with time, you should see some improvement.

Final Thoughts

This time can be exhausting, but remember, you are doing a great job supporting your baby's needs! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below.

Also, if you are looking for individualized support with this or any other challenge, you can book your free Discovery Call here to see how I can help.

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03. Mai
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Very informative article! 😊

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