During the newborn phase, 0-3 months, your baby just might “sleep like a baby”. Meaning she eats, poops and sleeps ALOT. At night-time, your newborn may even sneak in a 6 hr stretch… and if you are really lucky, you may even get a 9 hour stretch. Although its kind of like a seeing a husband vacuuming, kind of a rare treat. That’s why it is a real kick in the pants when your baby his the 4 month mark and starts waking up more frequently at night.
How do you know if you are going through the 4 month sleep regression?
Your previously good sleeper is waking up more at night. This very common appears as waking up every 3 hours at night. A night-time sleep cycle is 3 hours, and so your baby is surfacing every three hours between cycles. She can’t figure out how to roll into the next sleep cycle.
Naps are becoming harder to get them to fall asleep and stay asleep for. You may be plagued by naps that are 45 minutes and not a second longer.
Another common sign is that your baby now wakes up when the car stops or when you try and transfer the car seat into the house, cutting short those previously longer car seat naps.
Why the heck is this happening?
They don’t call 0-3 months of age, the 4th trimester for nothing. During these early months, babies are still sleepy and not very aware of their surroundings. That period has come to a close and now your baby is waking up to the world around her. She is becoming much more aware of her environment. She may surface from a nap in the car seat and instead of rolling over into the next cycle, she says “Hey! We’re in the super market! That’s cool, I need to check this place out”, and doesn’t go back down.
In addition, little did we know, that during those first 3 months of life, we were actually training our babies to fall asleep a certain way. For most of us, it was at the breast feeding to sleep, or bottle feeding to relax the baby so she can relax into sleep. For others it was rocking, swinging, bouncing or using a pacifier. Let me be clear – there is nothing wrong with any of that. We do what we do to survive those first 3 months, because the most important thing those first three months is keeping that baby alive and getting her fed! Any bad sleep habits can be corrected, and at 4 months that becomes glaringly obvious.
As a first time parent most of us don’t realize how much sleep a baby needs. A 1 month old, cannot comfortably stay awake for more than 1 hour during the day. When that baby starts fussing after being awake for 1 hour, its most commonly because she is tired. Most of us are so worried about hunger, and we have haven’t grown baby problem repertoire yet, that our most common thought is … “She must be hungry” and we bring her to the boob, where the nice warm hold and comforting boob puts her to sleep. She learns that when she’s tired, she cries for the boob and that will make her feel better.
When you are putting your baby to sleep at night and she is waking up every 3 hours, she is surfacing after each sleep cycle, and looking around for the same thing that helped her fall asleep at bedtime. Most commonly this is nursing to sleep either via the breast or bottle. Many Moms I talk to say, “okay, I get that, but I am definitely NOT nursing to sleep.” So I ask, okay, tell me about your bedtime routine. Then they tell me “We go into his room, change his pjs, sit in the rocker and he nurses. BUT he has his eyes open, I burp him, hold him for a few minutes and then lay him down”.
I get that, but if you are nursing within 30 minutes of lying him down in the crib, you are nursing him to sleep because he has still used the sucking motion of nursing from a bottle or breast to help relax him.
So you relax him with the food, and then hold him, which is also relaxing, and then laid him down “drowsy but awake”. Its like having 2 glasses of wine and then trying to watch a movie with your husband on a Friday night….dooozer ville.
So you have done all the work for him, like the wine did for you. Now when he wakes 3 hours later he is looking for that same routine to help him back to sleep.
He thinks he needs that to fall back asleep and has no idea he can create self soothing skills on his own.
Now don’t get me wrong – all the books say for those first three months to put them down “drowsy but awake”… and that is because we can correct sleep habits later on, so we do the work for them the first three months.
So what the heck can you do?
The first thing you can do to help her is to make sure you are not keeping her awake too long between sleep periods.
If she gets “overtired”, it gets harder to get her to sleep and puts her at increased risk of more frequent night waking.
For a 4 month old, she needs to be back asleep 1 hour after waking up in the morning. She can likely stay awake comfortably 1.5- 1.75 hrs between nap 1 and nap 2. And again between nap 3 and 4.
A 4 month old babies needs a total 3-4 hours of naps, this is often in 4 naps.
At 5 months, they usually transition down to 3 naps, as their naps tend to get a little longer and push out room in the day for 4 naps.
The bedtime for a 4 month old should be around 7 pm. From 0-3 months, your babies goes through the The Witching Hour which keeps her bedtime later, around 9-10 pm.
By 4 months, the witching hour and need for cluster feeding should have passed and bedtime should be around 7 pm. She needs a total of 11-12 hours of overnight sleep, not without interruption obviously as she still needs 1-2 night feeds in there. Thus, a wake up time sometime between 6 and 7 am. This is a natural time for babies to wake as it is based on the circadian rhythm which is tied to the sun, and hormones from our pituitary gland.
Lastly, and most importantly, you are going to have to teach your baby to relax herself into sleep through some type of sleep training, or sleep teaching as I like to call it.
She needs to create some self soothing skills so that when she surfaces at 2 am, even though she fed at 1 am, she can put herself back to sleep. There are many different methods out there based on your preference.
Just about everyone goes through this 4 month sleep regression, but parents have different sleep tolerances and children have different wake up frequencies!
Here’s a blog I wrote about 10 things you need to know about teaching your baby to sleep, the most important one being that teaching your baby to sleep does not exclusively mean CIO or “cry it out”. More on that too in another blog… so many ideas to put to paper.
On a side note, I frequently see desperate, sleep deprived Moms frequently posting on Facebook that their baby is up and keeping them up. Then I see replies from other Mom’s that say “oh don’t worry about it, just bring them into bed with you”.
Here’s my beef with that: if a parent is actually posting to FB how badly her child is sleeping, she is desperate and exhausted and by saying “don’t worry about it and just bring them to bed with you”, you have just minimized her feelings and made her feel that her feelings or lack of sleep are not important.
In addition, these wake ups don’t tend to decrease, some sort of change is required for Mom to get some sleep. 4 -5 months is a great time to teach your baby to sleep because usually your baby isn’t teething or learning motor skills, both of which can interfere with sleeping.
I hope this blog helped you identify why these wake ups are happening. More on what you can do about it coming soon.
Photo credit: http://www.shaileeconnollyphotography.com/