For us, there were few things in the first year were as terrifying as the four month sleep regression. It was actually worse than the newborn phase because we’d gotten used to sleeping a longer stretch at the beginning of the night, only to have it unscrupulously yanked away.
If you’re looking for tips on this topic, please let me offer my most sincere condolences. You’re most likely in the sleep deprived trenches, looking for tips, tricks, something, ANYTHING to make it stop. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic swaddle to make it better, and you’ll probably have at least a few more rough nights. However, I can offer perspective on what it looked like at our house, and how we survived. The great news is – we DID survive – and you will too.
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Where we were at three months
We sort of eased into the four month sleep regression, slowly moving backward on our quest for a decent night’s sleep. It hit us at about 3.5 months, literally two weeks after I’d gone back to work full time. We still weren’t sleeping through the night, but had been getting a really long stretch from 7-8 p.m. until 2-3 a.m. I was living in my happy little bubble. I’d started to think about how I could introduce a dream feed and get to sleep from 11-6 a.m. I was so over waking up in the middle of the night. I’d convinced myself I just needed to adjust the timing of her last nursing session and we’d be in business. When I think back on this it makes me laugh, because this was only the beginning of a very long and sleep deprived year!
What the regression looked like
Little lady had other ideas about changing her schedule. Out of the blue she progressively slept shorter intervals over about a week. She was waking an extra time at night at first, then staying up longer once she was awake. Sleep finally deteriorated to the point where she was waking every 45 – 90 minutes. It took about a week and a half to get to this point. By then, she was waking up about six times a night and staying awake for up to an hour at a time. This horrifying development lasted for multiple days. Just when we thought we’d never sleep again, she started sleeping slightly longer stretches. Over the course of the following week moved back to two hours at a time, then three. Finally she adjusted back into a longer first stretch – although it was shorter than the one we’d become accustomed to.
WHY is this happening?!
I did a LOT of googling to try and maintain my sanity, searching for anything that would get us through this time faster. I wanted any kind of product or tip that would help us sleep longer. Unfortunately, I didn’t find one, but I did get a lot more knowledge about why this was happening. Which made it *a little* more bearable. A lot of my sleep advice I got from the Baby Sleep Site. I never bought one of their packages, but I’ve seen a lot of good reviews if you’re interested in sleep training in the future. Ali Fedotowsky had a great experience sleep training with a sleep coach. Not that I’m getting all my parenting advice from high profile mammas, but our daughters are close in age, were both exclusively breastfed, and had similar sleep challenges. For me, that meant her advice was as good as anyone else’s!
Can this be solved with sleep training?
What I learned – and this is important – you CAN NOT sleep train your way out of the four month sleep regression. Number one, baby isn’t old enough to sleep train. Most articles I read that you should begin somewhere between six and eight months. But the main reason you can’t train during this time is that baby’s sleep is changing. They are moving from “newborn” sleep into “adult” sleep, and their REM patterns are shifting. The changes that happen in the four month regression are permanent. The habits picked up at this point can stick around. It’s really important while in survival mode not to create any new sleep associations that you’ll have to break later.
For us, this time coincided with little lady learning to roll up on her side. This meant we had to go cold turkey on the swaddle as well. It was definitely rough, but looking back we had a couple of bad weeks and were able to get through the regression and out of the swaddle in one fell swoop? Maybe it wasn’t so bad? OK – I know you’re wondering… how long is this going to last?!
Start marking your calendar
Or don’t. Depending on how you like to address unpleasant things. We went through two full weeks of multiple wake ups (more than two) per night. After two weeks we normalized back to once a night between 10-5 a.m., and by three weeks we were in a new routine. Unfortunately, the new routine was nowhere near my grand visions of sleeping uninterrupted from 10 p.m. -6 a.m. But it was better than getting up every couple of hours. I started a dream feed during this regression, and became terrified to give it up. We kept up the dream feed until 11 months, even though it didn’t really work! This is way past the recommended time to use a dream feed, but I was so terrified of going back to waking up 2-3 times per night.
What happened with sleep during the four month sleep regression
There were a few major changes that happened over the course of a couple of weeks:
- Little lady was unceremoniously kicked out of our room and into her crib. When she was waking every hour, someone needed to sleep, so hubby and I took three hour shifts taking care of her in her room. I definitely slept on the floor rocking our rock ‘n play for multiple hours. By the end of the regression, she was in her crib every night until at least 4 am. If she woke up after that we’d bring her into our room in the rock ‘n play until 6 a.m. to get a little more sleep
- She was fully unswaddled. Since she started rolling on her side, we immediately unswaddled her and put her in a sleep sack for bedtime. We loved the Aden & Anais muslin ones because they were so lightweight. You can layer up with fleece PJs in the winter, or they are light enough to wear even in a warm room in the summer. She always hated the swaddle and would fight her way out, so we weren’t taking ANY chances when rolling was concerned
- Her “new” sleep schedule had her waking at least once during the night (between 1-3 a.m.) and then again sometime between 4-6 a.m. She wasn’t super consistent on wake up, but always woke for a middle of the night feeding.
How we made it through
Although that new schedule doesn’t sound super appealing (trust me, it wasn’t) it was infinitely better than waking 5-6 times per night. This was probably why we let it go on for so long. I’ll address our longer term sleep issues at some point. For now, here are some of the ways we handled the four month regression.
- Survival is key. If there was ever a time to call in help, this is it. If you have any family or friends with children willing to spend a night or so, DO IT. Please take them up on this offer. It really will help with your sanity. Two zombie parents who need to feed themselves, a baby, and go to work don’t mix well.
- If you have no volunteers to come help, but you can afford to hire in help, again, DO IT. Night nurses and postpartum doulas offer this service. While pricey, after so many nights of continuous waking the price can be worth it. We were lucky and our babysitter offered to help us out. It was cheaper than a nice hotel room and was the best money we spent in the first three months. It’s amazing what eight full hours of sleep feels like once you’ve been deprived for so long. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to have help come in every night and our parents live out of state, so if you’re going at it alone, keep reading!
Share the work
- It’s time to start splitting the work 50/50. If both of you are working it’s my opinion that both spouses should trade middle of the night shifts. Even if that’s not the case, now is the time to call in your hubby. We took 2-3 hour shifts in little lady’s room, rocking her when she woke and doing what we could to soothe her back to sleep. This meant I would go to bed very early, and hubby would stay up pretty late for the first shift. Then I’d get up with her for a few hours in the middle of the night, and try to still squeeze in another nap before getting up for work.
Do whatever it takes, but don’t create new habits
- Be very careful about what you do in order to survive on such little sleep, which is why my number one strategy is to call for help. A coping mechanism could become a new sleep association that you’ll have to train your way out of. Although this stage is all about survival, you don’t want to be stuck with a baby who will only sleep in a swing when it’s all said and done.
Lastly, take heart – although we are a sample size of one, this sleep regression was BY FAR the worst we dealt with in the first year. We’re coming up on 18 months soon, and have started to have sporadic night wakings again, but I have to hope the worst is behind us. You too will make it through!