The Four Month Regression
What exactly is this 4-month regression, and what happens to your babies around this time?
Around the four month mark, you may notice a change in your baby’s behaviour, feed and sleep patterns. Like most things with babies, they get there in their own time; some may arrive at this stage a little earlier, whilst some may get there a little later.
Your baby may now:
be frequently more unsettled during the day
take less interest in their feeds during the day
be difficult to settle for their naps and bedtime
wake up more frequently and be unsettled during the night
need more feeds during the night
If this sounds like your baby, welcome to the 4-month regression! These changes are perfectly normal and I promise you aren't doing anything wrong nor are you failing; they mean that your baby’s development and sleep are bang on track! You may have heard people call it the 'dreaded 4-month regression', or perhaps even much worse! It can be a very unsettling and stressful time for both parents and babies. I often have parents ask me “What is wrong with my baby?” or “What I am doing wrong?” I can reassure you it is neither of these; it is simply a rite of passage for every baby as their sleep develops and consolidates into more mature sleep patterns.
Why is this happening at four months?
A lot of changes are happening to your baby and their sleep right now, and these changes are permanent despite being called a regression.
As newborn, your baby’s sleep was constant; when they slept, it would be in a deep non-REM state, and they would wake for food and comfort. Feeding, rocking or bouncing would easily put your baby back to sleep, and they could be transferred fairly easily. At night, you may have had long blocks of sleep and a couple of feeds were needed. If your baby woke up, feeding or bouncing would settle them easily once again.
Now your baby has matured, they have developed a second sleep cycle different to the first. This sleep is a lighter sleep better known as REM. Now, instead of going into a deep sleep straight away, they now go into an REM sleep first before transitioning into their Non-REM (deep sleep). Throughout the night, they now cycle between REM (light) and Non-REM (deep) sleep.
These new sleep cycles can bring big changes to how your baby sleeps and behaves:
- Frequent unsettled periods during the day
This is because they get over overtired from night wake-ups and naps being a little all over the place. Also, all the change may cause them to feel a little insecure and anxious for a little while.
- Less interest in feeding during the day
Your baby is not long out of their Fourth Trimester, and around this time they really start to become more interested in the wonderful and exciting world around them. Your baby is now much more alert, wanting to interact and see what is going on! They have discovered that there is more to life than food, and they are too busy and may be distracted for feeds.
- Difficulty settling for naps and bedtime
This is because your baby goes into a light sleep cycle instead of going straight into a deep sleep. They may find it tricky to get off to sleep with previous ways of getting them off to sleep stop working. The lack of naps and more frequent night wake-ups may also cause your baby to become a little overtired, making them harder to settle.
- Frequent wake-ups during the night
The frequent wake-ups are a result of them cycling between light and deep sleep. We all wake many times during the night when we transition from light to deep sleep - this is called surfacing. We are so used to it that we may not notice we do it! For your baby surfacing is new, and they may need support at first to help them link their sleep cycles together.
- Changes to feeds during the night
Because your baby may be too distracted during the day to feed full-feeds, and the world can be a very exciting and stimulating place, some prefer to feed in the peace and quiet of the night.
How can we support our babies (and ourselves!) through it?
Whilst this is a phase that passes (it usually lasts around six weeks), there are lots of things you can do to support your baby through this frustrating and tiring phase.
To help your baby settle during the day:
Give your baby lots of verbal reassurance
Have extra hugs, touch, and skin-on-skin
Plenty of fresh air and natural daylight
Plenty of opportunities for exercise, i.e.: a kick around on her mat, or lying on your chest
A bath together is a great way to end your day.
If they become really unsettled, you could also try:
White noise and holding her in the tiger-in-the-tree position - image here
Re centre them - place your baby on a firm and safe surface (bed or crib, for example). Place both hands on their chest with a light pressure and breathe long, deep and slow breaths.
To help your baby focus on food:
Offer them frequent and extra feeds throughout the day
Offer a chance for a longer and fuller feed pre-bed
If they are getting distracted:
Take them to a calm and quiet place to feed, if you can
Hold their hand or stroke their face whilst they are feeding
Nursing beads can help them focus on feeding: read on here for more information
Difficulty settling for naps and bedtime
The first nap of the day is the most important one; if we miss this, then all other naps can get out of sync and they can quickly become overtired. This may make them harder to settle with each nap, which then has a knock-on effect on bedtime and frequent night wake-ups! Watch your baby for sleep cues after around an hour/hour-and-a-half from when they wake in the morning. Babies go quiet, still and glazy-eyed when they are tired; this is your cue to whisk them off to bed!
Now is a great time to get some nap and bedtime rituals along with a routine set up, and be really consistent with them.
Babies can be noisy when getting to sleep, and it is ok to leave them for a bit if not crying. It is quite normal for a baby to chat/groan away for anything between five and 15 minutes before they nod off.
Help with the frequent night wake-ups and feeds
This is usually down to them feeding less frequently and being over-tired. I have found that most babies just need time, patience and reassurance and this phase passes.
Having a consistent plan of action for night wake ups can really help:
Listen for a couple of minutes to see what your baby does. Sometimes we can intervene too soon and stimulate them! If they sound like they are settling ( totally different from having an emotional need!) it is ok to give them their sleep space.
Feed, cuddle, and rock to settle your baby to sleep. Try not to worry about creating bad habits, rods for your own back, and spoiling them (I believe you can’t do any do any of these!). Once they are through the regression and more settled, I find that these naturally fall into place; and if they don’t, we will be in a better place to help your baby.