Four month sleep regression

So, it turns out that having a couple of four month old babies means that I have to deal with twice the dosage of what I now know is ‘four month sleep regression’. Not to put too fine a point on it, this sucks the big kumara.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to enlighten you by quoting a very informative article from The Sleep Lady.

I’m writing a lot about this topic because, once again, it’s one of those things that I knew nothing about before experiencing it myself: nobody had told me that, at four months, my babies might go a bit crazy. It’s the growth spurt thing all over again: I had no idea that they were going to happen, or how to deal with them when the did strike, and I found it so frustrating when I had no idea what was going on. With growth spurts, if somebody had said to me, “hey, after three weeks or so the babies will start doing nothing but grizzling and feeding for a couple of days – just go with it, because it’s a growth spurt and things will settle down again” I would have felt far better equipped to deal with it. Forewarned is forearmed, after all. Now, I’ve had my eureka moment about the current unsettled behaviour we’re experiencing, and I want to make sure that anybody who might read this before their baby reaches the same stage can feel a little bit more prepared. It might just be me, but I find it significantly easier to cope with challenging baby-related situations if a) I understand why they’re happening; and b) I know that the current situation is finite (because when you’re breast feeding around the clock, or resettling your screaming baby for the tenth time in as many hours, it really can feel as if life will never improve).

Anyway, here’s The Sleep Lady’s lowdown on four month sleep regression, along with my comments. This post should be read as the first part of a two part series, because I also want to talk about Wonder Weeks (which can help to explain what the heck is going on).

You’ve got the schedule down. Baby is FINALLY sleeping more…and then, WHAM! Suddenly she’s not. Welcome to what is commonly referred to as the 4 month sleep regression. Some may refer to this phase as increased wakefulness, but it all amounts to the same thing: you and baby have newly found your groove, and now baby just isn’t acting like herself.

This (very common) sleep regression is characterized by a distinct change in your baby’s behavior. Some indicators that you’re experiencing the 4 month sleep regression (other than the fact that your baby is 4 months old) are:

• Increased fussiness;

• Multiple night wakings (especially if your baby has just begun to sleep longer stretches during the night);

• Reduced naps or “disaster naps”; and

• Changes in appetite.

That is EXACTLY what has happened to us this week. Hattie and Joe were sleeping really well, and now they’re not. Last night we were up with them every hour, for the first time in their short lives. Their daytime naps have gone to hell in a handbasket – a week ago I was managing to get them to have at least one 90 minute morning sleep, and often at least two sleeps of that length or longer, plus one or two 45 minute naps (with some resettling to get them to sleep for more than an hour). In the past two days they have each had only one day sleep that has lasted more than an hour. Today, Joe slept for 35 minutes this morning, 40 minutes over lunch, and 40 minutes later in the afternoon. All play and no sleep makes Joe a cranky boy.

And oh, the increased fussiness! Hattie has become quite the drama queen (and let’s be honest, she was starting from a fairly melodramatic point). At the end of some of her feeds she’s started crying uncontrollably, for no apparent reason (no wind, etc). Or she’ll be happily playing one minute, and will burst into tears the next, refusing to be comforted with cuddles.

And our loose three hourly feeding schedule seems to be increasingly condensed into feeds every two and a half hours.

4 Month Sleep Regression

In other words, your baby’s sleep schedule just turned on its head. The good news? This probably means that your baby is growing. According to research done by Rijt and Plooij, authors of Wonder Weeks, your baby is becoming more engaged in the world around him. As your baby realizes that he can interact with his world, he also begins to realize that his actions affect others, and that he has a bit more control of his surroundings.

Spoiler alert: reading this paragraph earlier this evening has made me already feel more equipped to cope with the current situation. Although it’s bonkers to feel like your babies are actively trying to make life difficult, sometimes it’s hard not to start attributed machiavellian levels of cunning to these little people. It does me good to be reminded that they are learning stuff at a rate that would cause an adult’s head to explode, and that their behaviour is obviously going to be affected.

More commonly, this sleep regression is associated with growth spurts. You may notice that your baby has outgrown his current wardrobe, or has begun to increase his mobility (it’s not uncommon for babies to learn to roll over during this time).

This is definitely the case with Hattie and Joe. Hattie has just grown into her 0 – 3 sized clothing, and some of it already looks a little skimpy, and Joe is absolutely thriving. And they’re both practising movements to get them over onto their tummies – there is a lot of legs getting pulled up and little baby bodies suddenly on their sides.

Parents often can’t figure out why their sweet baby is suddenly a sleep deprived, fussy, cranky, overtired baby overnight. They begin to question if it could be an ear infection, teething, lack of supply (for breastfeeding moms), or maybe he’s got reflux…the list goes on. What parents don’t often realize is that around this time your baby’s sleep rhythms have also changed (just to throw more into the mix of their little world changing).

My automatic assumption is that the babies have just gone feral…

I haven’t had any concerns about my milk supply, which is good, but I did take Hattie to see our doctor yesterday, because of her new-found habit of crying after feeds (which I feared was a sign of reflux). And I’ve attributed a lot of her fussiness to teething.

Infant Sleep Patterns

As an infant, your baby probably slept just fine anywhere and everywhere. This is because while an infant does cycle through sleep, there aren’t distinct sleep stages like an older baby or adult may experience. According to Dr. Richard Ferber, newborn babies spend much of their sleeping hours in deep, restorative sleep, which is why once your little one dozes off, it’s difficult to wake them until they’re ready to be changed or fed again.

This is so true – in the first few months, you really can’t disturb a sleeping baby: if they want to be asleep, they seem to be able to sleep through anything (including their twin having a screeching breakdown in the neighbouring cot).

4 Month Old Sleep

Now that your baby is older, she is beginning to enter the adult world of sleep, which means that she will be cycling in and out of very distinct stages: deep sleep and active sleep, just like you. The problem is that your baby doesn’t know how to deal with this new sleep cycle. If you’re rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, you may find that it takes a full thirty minutes for them to be fully asleep, only to have your baby wake fussy less than fifteen minutes later. This is because your baby has a startle reflex when they enter active sleep, and it often wakes them up. If they don’t know how to get back to sleep, they look for the person who can help: mom or dad.

That sounds so familiar! Both babies have become hugely dependent on us to help them to sleep. When we’re both here, that’s OK (not fun at times, but OK). When it’s just one of us holding the fort (me during the day, or me this evening, while Tristan’s been at the rugby), it becomes pretty much impossible. The babies went to sleep fairly easily tonight, Tristan went out, and then both babies woke up after sleeping for only 30 minutes. I tried to settle each of them in turn, but whichever one wasn’t getting the shushing and patting would screech like a banshee, disturbing the one that I was trying to settle. Eventually I conceded defeat and sent an SOS text to Sarah, our lovely neighbour. She came over for an hour and held Hattie while I cuddled and settled Joe back to sleep. Thank God for Sarah, that’s all I can say. And I hope that Tristan enjoyed the night off, because I’m afraid that it’s the last one he’ll be getting for the next few weeks…

Eventually, I settled Hattie to sleep in the portacot in my office (it’s been there all this week, because it was becoming so difficult to settle two babies to sleep in the same room during the day – one of them would inevitably wake up after their first sleep cycle ended, 40 to 50 minutes after falling asleep, and their squawking would wake up their sibling). The good thing about settling in the portacot is that we’re still using the bassinet attachment, which enables me to rock the baby to sleep if necessary.

As if that wasn’t stressful enough for you, your baby actually does most of her deep sleep at the beginning of the night. So while she may go to sleep for about five hours (interestingly, that is the technical definition of sleeping through the night at this stage, but many 4 month olds are capable of sleeping longer), she will begin to wake at regular intervals later in the night. This is where it gets challenging.

That is definitely the pattern that has developed with our two little treasures. They go to bed at 6.30 pm and are usually asleep by 7 pm. Sometimes they wake up after three hours for a feed, but they’ll sometimes last until 11 pm or later before waking up. Until a few days ago, they’d then wake up no more than once through the night. For the past few nights, we’ve been woken up at least every two hours.

And I’ve just had to resettle Hattie, after an hour’s sleep. It didn’t take much – I just rocked her in the bassinet for a couple of minutes. It’s as if she only needs me to be vaguely involved in the process, so she can relax and go back to sleep.

Your baby is growing, the world is becoming far more interesting for them, and they have to learn to fall asleep on their own. No wonder your baby is cranky! If you’ve experienced this phase, you aren’t alone. This sleep regression should only last between two and four weeks. Any longer than that, and you have created a new schedule (and not one that you’ll want to keep).

TWO TO FOUR WEEKS!!! As I commented to Tristan in a text message this evening, it already feels like I’ve been going through this with them for two to four years. All jokes aside, it is comforting to know that this stage will end eventually. I just hope that I live to see the day…

Thankfully, The Sleep Lady has some advice for how to get through this tricky phase:

7 Tips to Help You Through the 4 Month Sleep Regression

1. Do what works.

Remember, a lot is changing for your baby, so try to ‘go with the flow’, at least for now.

Really, what choice do I have?

2. Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues, and try to respond to them quickly.

This is crucial, in my opinion. The difficulty, when you have twins, is responding quickly enough, but I do find that there’s usually a few minutes’ lag between the two babies being ready for bed, so I pounce as soon as I can, and get one settled while the other one is still happily playing on the mat. And settling the babies into different rooms for the daytime sleeps has enabled me to settle the second baby effectively, without disturbing the first baby. As of this evening I think I’m going to keep the two of them separate for night sleeps as well, and see if it helps – although Joe is definitely displaying some of the sleep regression signs – he’s very clingy, and much more difficult to settle than usual – Hattie’s the one who is really gripped by it at the moment.

3. Once your baby’s fussiness begins to calm down, consider introducing ‘drowsy but awake’ at bedtime.

This will encourage and help him learn to put himself to sleep. Stay by her side and offer physical and verbal reassurance. If she does nothing but cry for 15 minutes despite your soothing help, pick her up and rock, hold or fed her to sleep and try again the next night or whenever you both feel up to it.

‘Drowsy but awake’ has been our bedtime goal since we started sleep training with Hattie and Joe. We’ll shush and pat them until they’re just nodding off, and then we’ll leave them to it. But yes, sometimes you just have to concede defeat and pick that baby up for a cuddle. Before Sarah came over to help me this evening I had two inconsolably sobbing babies on my hands, and even though I know that they are absolutely fine, and won’t actually explode from crying, I don’t really want to leave them in that stage. A few minutes of grizzly ‘I’m worn out and I’m going to sleep’ crying is one thing; hardcore screeching is quite another.

4. Be wary of creating a new sleep crutch. Go ahead and keep whatever crutch is working, but try not to lengthen the list.

At the moment, the only ‘crutches’ we use are a white noise machine in the babies’ room, and a musical mobile:


We stopped giving either baby a dummy in their cots quite a few weeks ago (and Joe was never particularly interested in it anyway), and I’m glad about that: one thing fewer to worry about later.

5. Offer LOTS of additional snuggles and reassurance.

Now that I understand more about what’s going on, I think I’ll find it easier to do this (rather than being fanatical about trying to resettle them at all costs).

6. Watch for signs of growth.

Yes, this is a trying time, but you’ll be amazed at all of the new discoveries that your baby will make during these weeks.

I just hope that I’m awake to appreciate them!

7. Follow your flexible schedule as much as possible.

Babies thrive on consistency and routine, so be sure to provide it.

This seems slightly oxymoronic to me, but I guess The Sleep Lady means that I should continue to try to stick to the standard ‘feed-play-sleep’ structure, even if they only sleep for 30 minutes at a time…

And remember, this sleep regression is actually a good thing. Your baby is growing and changing. And it’s temporary; your baby will return to her longer stretches of sleep at night again. If your baby isn’t back to her sweet self in a few weeks, please consider contacting her doctor to see if there may be an underlying medical issue.

I can’t tell you how much comfort I take from the knowledge that this situations are temporary!

Coming soon: part two – the Wonder Weeks.

2 thoughts on “Four month sleep regression

  1. I’m so glad to hear about Hattie crying after a feed – Holly has learnt to screech after a feed like shes being tortured. Talk about alarming! All these growth spurts just seem to appear with the snap of a finger don’t they! Hopefully after 6 months it slows down for a bit. Oh wait….then theres teething. Sob!! One tip I have to offer – go buy at least one safe T sleep wrap. Now. Holly learnt to roll this week, front and back and spent all Friday night rolling onto her tummy in her cot, panicking and screaming for mummy to come help her. I imagine two babies doing that would be even more exhausting. That wrap saved my sanity last night!

    1. That Holly is just too advanced for her own good, bless her! And yes, the constant pace of change with these babies is amazing. We’re going to try solids this weekend – unbelievable!

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