As a baby sleep consultant of 19 years and midwife and nurse of 29 years, I can tell you with certainty that the 4-month sleep regression is real! It derails babies, starting off a spiral of sleep deprivation.
Parents always ask me why does sleep come undone at the 4-month mark?
I can tell you right now, and many of you won’t want to hear this, it’s the patting, rocking, holding, feeding and swaddling babies to sleep after 4 months of age.
Patting to sleep is a big sleep crutch. It’s rhythmic and leaves an imprint on the baby falling halfway down the hierarchy of settling. Unless patted, baby can’t get back to sleep once they wake from a sleep cycle. I’ve seen toddlers also asking to be patted, saying to mum, “Pat mummy. Pat, pat mummy”. And I’ve even seen 7 month old babies getting hold of mum’s hand, placing it on their tummy and patting.
At 12 weeks (3 months) your baby has the new ability to perceive the way things change around him, such as a voice shifting from one pitch to another, a cat slinking across the floor, and the light in a room becoming dimmer as the sun dips behind the clouds. Your baby’s world is becoming a more organised place. He is discovering the constant, flowing changes around him”.
At 19 weeks (4 months) babies move to the ‘World of Events’, which are patterns and sequences. “After the last leap forward, your baby was able to perceive smooth transitions in sound, movement, light, taste, smell, and texture. But all of these transitions had to be simple. As soon as they became more complicated, he was no longer able to follow them.” (Hetty Van de Rijt PhD., & Frans Plooj, Ph.D. 2014). This is the pat, rock, and feed to sleep. If babies can’t recreate the thing that put them to sleep then their sleep will come undone.
What can you do now to avoid the 4-month sleep regression?
If your baby’s sleep was predictable until now, it may all fall apart. However, there are many things you can do to help retrieve a good night’s sleep. Continuing to work on building consistent sleep routines and cues. Helping baby learn certain events mean sleep is coming. You may want to work on identifying the sleep associations your baby has and teaching self-settling.
- Stop patting, rocking, holding and feeding to sleep at 3 months
- Practice putting the baby to sleep fully awake, in the cot, at 2-3 months
- If using a dummy avoid using it for all settling and avoid using in the night
- Teach baby to roll over in her cot in the day
- Practice tummy time when awake in the cot and how to lay her head down on her tummy.
- Move baby to a large floor mat with toys placed a little way away from baby
- Avoid using the play-gym too much, it can prevent rolling over.
- Do more sleep in the cot compared to sleep in the stroller or sling
- Stop swaddling before 4 months moving to a sleeping bag or sleep suit.
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