Hey there, Mama. If you’re reading this you are most likely tired. Exhausted. At the end of your rope. You’ve hit the dreaded 4-month sleep regression.
Maybe you’re sipping coffee at 5 a.m., wondering why on Earth your little cherub is awake so early. Or maybe you’re up for what feels like the millionth time tonight. Where does that darn pacifier keep disappearing to? You’re looking for help, a little sympathy, and the light at the end of the tunnel.
You’re in the right place.
Most women enter into motherhood prepared to lose a little (OK, a LOT) of sleep. Newborns have tiny tummies and wake frequently to eat. What many women are not prepared for however, is for that sleep loss to continue months into their child’s life.
Parenting books, friends and family, and even some doctors offices perpetuate the myth that babies should sleep through the night by 3 months old. For many babies, however, this just isn’t the case. It’s completely normal for a baby to wake to eat at 9 months and even beyond. This goes for breastfed and formula fed babies alike.
Another thing many parenting books fail to mention is that babies sleep patterns change as they develop, and that infant sleep is very different from adult sleep. Babies spend significantly more time than adults in active sleep (about 50% more) and are much more prone to sleep interruptions and disturbances (Dewar, 2008). Because babies are such light sleepers, they often have a difficult time transitioning between sleep cycles. This is why they wake up when you lay them down, the door closes, or the dog lets loose a string of howls at the mailman (a regular occurrence at our house).
As if this wasn’t bad enough, babies experience a huge developmental leap right around 4 months. They’re busy practicing new skills such as reaching for toys, rolling over, and babbling. While this is all very wonderful and exciting, it can temporarily disturb sleep.
Combine immature sleep cycles with developmental milestones and you have the perfect formula for a sleep regression. Some babies move through the regression quickly while others need more time to adjust (our regression lasted 2 months). Severity of the regression also varies. In our situation, Alec went from sleeping a solid 9 hour stretch to waking every 30 minutes through the night. The result? One exhausted mama.
The good news? Sleep regressions are temporary and your baby will sleep again. It might not be tonight or even a few months down the road, but it does get better. I promise.
For those who don’t think they can make it through one more night, let alone weeks or months, I have a few tips to help you survive in the meantime.
- Get outside as much as possible. Go for a walk. Read on your porch. Everything seems brighter in the sunshine, and the fresh air will do wonders for both you and your baby.
- Go easy on yourself. Those dishes? They can wait until tomorrow. What’s more important is getting the rest you need.
- Go to bed with your baby. So what if it’s only seven o’clock? Your body will thank you.
- Ask for help. You know all of those family members who offered help when your baby was a newborn? Call them! Recruit someone to help around the house or watch your baby for an hour so you can nap (Grandmas are great for this!).
- Coffee. All the coffee.
- Go easy on your baby. You might be tempted to let your baby cry it out at this point. Don’t do it. Sleep training isn’t recommended until at least 6 months, and recent evidence suggests that CIO might not be beneficial to infant development. Remember that your baby needs and loves you, regardless of the time of day or night. Soak up the snuggles; you can’t spoil a baby (no matter what Great Aunt Betty would like you to believe). This time, though it may seem like an eternity through your sleep deprived eyes, lasts but a moment.
From one mama to another: Hang in there. You’re doing a great job.