Congratulations!! You have survived the newborn phase! Once your baby turns 12 weeks old, they are officially no longer a newborn. It goes really fast, doesn’t it?! In many ways, things get a lot easier from here, but I am afraid they might get a little bit harder FIRST!
Most babies will go through a sleep regression around 4 months of age. I hope that you have a unicorn baby that doesn’t show have any signs of regression, but most babies will struggle with sleep for a little while. I have some suggestions for you to help your baby get through this stage quicker, and more seamlessly!
I think it’s important to understand WHY babies go through this regression, so you know why we want to react a certain way. Around 3-4 months, babies go through a few major developmental growths. So, while the term “regression” seems negative, it’s actually a really good thing! It shows that your baby is learning, growing, and gaining new skills. YAY! This is true for all sleep regressions (that’s right, there are more to look forward to later on!). For now, let’s dive deep into WHY a regression happens around 4 months.
At this age, babies tend to start rolling, which often impacts sleep. I remember this phase vividly with both of my girls! It is tough, but if you react properly, it usually only takes about 3 days for them to get through it. What IS the best way to help them through this? I’m glad you asked…
If your baby can roll from their back onto their tummy, but not the other direction, you may see sleep suffer. Babies love to practice new skills in their crib, so you’ll probably find that they are constantly rolling to their tummy and getting stuck! They likely cry out for you to come rescue them, and most parents come running! The problem with constantly flipping them over is that it ca become a game for them, and it teaches them that you will come and roll them every time they get stuck. This will probably cause you to be up multiple times throughout the night, rolling them to their back! Nobody is going to get much sleep this way, and it will become a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break! So, what should you do instead?!
LEAVE THEM BE! That’s right. When they roll to their tummy, you will want to give them to space to figure it out on their own. You can be there, comforting them and helping them settle back to sleep, but leave them on their tummy. I promise that they are safe. If they are strong enough to roll then they have the strength to be safe sleeping on their tummy. By giving them the space to get comfortable and figure it out on their own, they will either find that they enjoy sleeping in different positions, or they will learn to stop rolling!
What else happens developmentally around 4 months of age? Their bodies start to produce melatonin, which is exciting! Melatonin will give you some control over solidifying their circadian rhythm (internal body clock), because there are some things you can do to stimulate melatonin production. This becomes important when you are in the 4-month regression, because this is also when they gain the "light sleep cycles," which they lacked during the newborn phase. This means that is might be more difficult for them to fall asleep, and they will wake up more easily. Knowing ALL of this, you can understand why babies struggle with sleep while their bodies adjust to all of these changes!
How to use Melatonin to your advantage!
Our bodies naturally wake and sleep with the sun. Sunlight will cause our bodies to suppress melatonin, causing us to stay awake, while darkness will increase the amount of melatonin we produce. For this reason, you want to make your babies bedroom as dark as possible! A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be able to see you hand if you hold it out in front of you!
You want to room to be on the colder side (18-20 degrees Celsius). Not only is this recommended to help prevent SIDS, it will also help aid sleep. A cooler room will help stimulate the production of Melatonin.
A solid and consistent bedtime routine is one of the easiest things you can do to improve sleep. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, keep it short and simple. Ideally, you want anyone to be able to do the bedtime routine, anywhere! The goal is to do the same actions every time you lay them down for sleep, to signal their body that sleep is coming and it is time to produce melatonin! This goes for nap time too! A short 5-10 minute nap time routine will help them immensely.
I recommend setting some goals for your baby’s sleep and doing your best to move towards that habit every day. When you want to create or keep a habit, it’s important to be consistent and repetitive. So, when it comes to your child’s sleep habits, you want to be INTENTIONAL and CONSISTENT. Why intentional? Because it becomes very easy to create habits without realizing that is what you’re doing. I am willing to bet every parent (myself included!!) has been so tired at a 4:00AM wake up, that they have brought their baby to bed. In the moment, you choose the path of least resistance, so everyone can get some sleep. I get it, trust me! But it also sends mixed signals to your baby and teaches them that if they fuss or cry enough, they may get to sleep in mom and dad’s bed. Once they see other options, they will fight you to try and get the result they prefer. You can’t blame them!
Focus on your goals and try not to lose hope! Almost every baby goes through this phase, but it will end. It can take up to 3-4 weeks to get through a regression, but if you react with your goals in mind, you should come out with a great sleeper!
I am always here is you feel like you need some support in getting your little one through this phase, or any other! There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, it can be helpful to just have an expert create a custom sleep plan for you! Let me take the guesswork out for you :)