The 4-Month Sleep Regression

Online Baby Sleep Support Client Case Study – 4-Month Sleep Regression

Desperate Mama Thao came to me for help with the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. Below is a summary of our session together.

I’m at breaking point. Have been battling the 4-month sleep regression and it just seems to be getting worse and worse… Help! Baby has a feed-to-sleep addiction but I can’t even get through with that as he then wakes as soon as I put him down and it starts this endless cycle all night.

He’s sleeping so lightly and even on me will stir every 10 mins or want it to be a specific hold so I can’t even try to relax while holding him.

What is the 4-Month Sleep Regression?

The 4-month baby sleep regression is exhausting for parents. It can set in when bub is anywhere from 11 weeks to 20 weeks old.

The 4-month sleep regression signifies a permanent change in your baby’s sleep habits. This is quite a normal developmental milestone as your baby’s brain matures and he starts to cycle between deep and light sleep just like you do. So in that sense, the word sleep-regression is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a new stage of an infants development – a more acute awareness of the world around him.

However, when your baby is in this developmental stage you will often suffer through:

  • frequent night waking
  • shorter naps, or difficulty getting him to take naps
  • difficulty in self-settling
  • difficulty falling back to sleep after waking.

All this sleep disruption can take a huge toll on you.

Thao’s Challenges with the 4-Month Sleep Regression

Every baby is different. Every parent is different. And every home environment is different.

Advice for dealing with the 4-month sleep regression will depend on each family and how bub has been sleeping thus far.

Here are some of the specifics that my client Thao reported when she came to me for help:

  1. Baby feeds to sleep for every nap and bedtime.
  2. After feeding, he continues to comfort-suck.
  3. Once asleep, taking him off the nipple often results in him searching for the nipple in his sleep then waking himself, unable to find it.
  4. The last nap of the day is a challenge – often he will skip the afternoon nap and is overtired by bedtime.
  5. Baby is swaddled for bedtime.
  6. He’s waking hourly all night.

Helping Thao with the 4-Month Sleep Regression Blues

Once I had gained an understanding of what was happening for Thao and her baby, I offered the following advice.

  1. Start preparation for nap time sooner.

I can see that your baby is overtired from too long of a wake time between naps.

Start all preparation for nap times at 1.5 hours after he wakes. This means that baby will be asleep by 2 hours of wakefulness – rather than starting preparations after 2 hours, and finding by the time you get him to sleep it’s been 3 hours.

This is how the over-tiredness sets in. And over-tiredness is another term for overstimulation.

  1. Remove the nipple sooner.

Your baby’s sleep will improve once he has learned to self-settle, has adjusted his sleep debt, and knows how to get to sleep on his own more quickly, with less preparation.

Feeding to sleep is what is needed for the first couple of months while you get through the newborn stage. Now he is used to sleeping on the boob. And sure he will look for it if you remove it, and at times it will wake him, annoy him and frustrate him.

But at this point I suggest taking your nipple out of his mouth when he begins to close his eyes or when you can feel he has begun to comfort suckle.

If he fusses when you do this, let him fuss. It’s normal.

You could even say, “I can see you are looking for the nipple, but I could feel from how you were feeding that you’re full now. You can sleep without my nipple.”

This kind of talk is soothing to him because he is calmed by your voice. It also reminds you that what he is doing is normal, and you remain calm by verbalising the situation aloud in a gentle, confident voice. It reminds you to let him find his way with your guidance.

You are transitioning him to learn that he doesn’t need to comfort feed to sleep. Give him opportunities to self-settle and he will more than likely begin to sleep longer.

  1. Remove the swaddle.

Instead of restricting his arms in the swaddle, let him be free to suck his fingers or hands if he needs them.

It is better that he uses his own body for soothing rather than relying on a crutch such as a boob, a dummy or rocking. And it’s nicer for him to have control over when he sucks rather than someone else deciding for him.

  1. Give baby opportunities to be capable.

The beauty of the 4th leap is that your baby’s brain is now much more aware and able to learn to self-settle. The difficulty is he doesn’t know that he has this ability yet. So you need to guide him to that opportunity.

To get past this stage he needs some predictability so he can learn to trust in the process.

Once babies discover their abilities, it can be overwhelming for them at first. You will see frustration, accompanied by crying.

But it will pass. And once it does, he will have developed a new skill. And he’ll feel more confident and trusting in you as his leader.

You can support him by listening and responding with your soothing words, patience and support.

  1. Expect and allow crying.

Some crying will need to happen during this process. This is natural and normal because he is frustrated, confused and overtired.

Just like you probably want to scream from the mountain tops about how tired, frustrated and unsure you are at times, your son is going through a similar time of frustration.

After confusion and frustration comes learning. There is no need or way to protect him from that.

So let him let it out, and let him know you hear him with soothing words and song.

You could say, “ I know this is frustrating. But I am here. Right next to you. I am with you and I hear you.” And stay in the room until he sleeps.

Since you are within his field of vision, close your eyes and show him what to do. He might bellow and scream but you are right there with him.

  1. Get the predictable sleep time routine sorted.

These tips apply almost universally for baby sleep:

  • Dim the lights.
  • Speak in quiet, calming tones.
  • Feed baby (at least 30 mins before sleeping so he stops associating feeding with sleep).
  • Shower or bath together – accompany this with your sleepytime lullaby.
  • Short bedtime story.
  • Top-up feed.
  • Final lullaby.
  • Allow baby some space to sleep.

For more detail, read my healthy sleep habits for an 8-week old baby.

  1. Arrange the rest of the day for optimum sleep.

What about the rest of the day and the other parts of your home life?

  • Stay close to home.
  • Take actual down time when he naps.
  • Limit visitors.
  • Spend his wake times in fresh air on a balcony, in your yard – giving him space for mobility and the opportunity to play with his new-found hands and feet.
  • Limit the noise in the house like TV.
  1. Take your self-care seriously.

You can’t take proper care of your baby if you are not caring for yourself. Prioritise your self-care in as many ways as you can find. I suggest:

  • Get Dad to do the bedtime routine with baby so you can get some rest. This is a great bonding time for Dad too.
  • Make sleep a priority. Easier said than done, right? But as I said above, take time for yourself when baby naps and do not allow yourself to feel guilty about it. Yes, you have a million and one things to do, but all of it can wait. Your mental health comes first.
  • Recruit friends and family to help you cook and clean. Many women resist asking for the help they really need. But it does take a village to raise a child, so get your village involved. Nutritious meals in the freezer and a few clean loads of laundry can go a long way. Your loved ones want to help, they just need direction.
  • Remember that your baby is in the midst of a normal developmental milestone. Your job as his Leader is to guide him through this transition and give him opportunities to grow and thrive. You are not “doing it wrong” and you are not failing. You are exactly where you are meant to be.

Thao’s Response

Thanks so much Raquel Tara. I’m really struggling and you’ve thrown out a lifeline.

Need more advice on helping your baby to sleep? Follow me on  Instagram, You Tube, or Facebook where I do regular live Q&As with parents like you.

Support for the 4-Month Sleep Regression

About Raquel Tara – Baby Sleep Support

I’m one of the most experienced voices in the infant sleep support space. I’ve worked with doctors, teachers, celebrities and coaches both-in Australia and abroad. 

I help parents get their babies sleeping with Australia’s most supportive 1:1 baby sleep programs. I’d love to help you too.  Work With Me