4 Month Sleep Regression. Yes, it's a thing. I never knew it was a thing though until my third baby. Just goes to show that old dogs can learn new tricks, huh?
I LOVE the Wonder Weeks App and have found it to be extremely accurate. Babies go through times of developmental leaps and during those times often have sleep issues. It makes a lot of sense: as they develop they are more and more aware of their surroundings which makes it more difficult for them to self soothe when they wake early or difficult for them to fall asleep when they are first put down.
I'm a member of several Babywise Facebook Groups (my personal favorite is "I Love Babywise" if you're looking for a good one!) and kept reading about this mysterious "4 month sleep regression." It is a month long wonder "week." I shrugged it off. Tess was doing so well with sleep so surely it wouldn't affect me. Not my kid...
Turns out not only did Tess struggle with the 4 month sleep regression...but she also struggled with it for a long time. As in her developmental leap started 2 weeks early and lasted the entire length of the leap which was 4 additional weeks. Do the math: that's 6 weeks of rough sleep people!!!
All babies are different (and remember there is no such thing as a "perfect" Babywise baby!) and the regression phase affects them all in different ways. Some babies are barely phased by it (looking back...that's how Britt was). Some start having night issues. Some struggle falling asleep at the start of sleep. Some wake mid-nap. Kye and Tess never struggled with falling asleep at the start of sleep times. Both babies always went down easy! But they BOTH struggled at 4 months old with waking randomly in the night as well as with chronic 45 min intruder. (So thankful for my blog so I was able to go back and see how Kye struggled too and it's not just something Tess has dealt with!) With Kye we were so desperate we even tried doing a dream feed bottle of breast milk mixed with rice cereal (um yeah...def 1st time parents right there for ya!).
The term "chronic 45 minute intruder" sounds scary huh? Well that's because IT IS. It's a dang BEAST. Basically the baby goes to sleep fine and then at exactly 45 min into their nap they wake up. Usually 45 minutes is about the time when the body is transitioning into a deeper sleep. With the intruder, however, these babies can't make that transition.
I am a very consistent parent. I am pretty much as hardcore as you can be about nap times. About being home for naps. About doing the same things the same way each time to give my babies the best possible sleep they can get. I was seriously at a loss for what to do with Tess and her sleep issues. I tried everything. Since I feel like I've done it all... here are my tips for dealing with the 4 month sleep regression:
1. Check Awake Time Length: When people write me with nap issue questions my go-to answer is to shorten awake time length. Simply put: have your baby go down for nap earlier. Overstimulation can cause so many sleep issues! I don't think I've ever recommended a longer awake time.
With Tess I tried shortening the awake time length but it didn't work. So I tried making it longer and nothing changed either. In the end, I decided to lengthen her awake time. If it didn't make a difference either way, then I preferred having her naps be shorter so it'd be less time dealing with trying to get her to sleep ;)
2. Offer Comfort: When the baby wakes mid-nap, comfort them. This may help them settle back into sleep and get through the transition. They may just need to know you're there!
This worked PERFECTLY with Britt. Whenever she woke or had any sleep issues, I'd just hold her and BAM! she'd be back to sleep. Once she was back to sleep I'd lay her back down in the crib and she was good to go for the rest of nap. Worst case, I'd have to hold her for the remainder of nap but she'd sleep easily in my arms as needed. I never tried it with Kye, but with Tess it had the opposite effect. If I picked her up at all from the crib then she'd get more upset and more awake. I just wasn't able to help her!
3. Swing: The motion of the swing will put most babies to sleep pretty quickly! You have to be careful not to leave it in motion the entire nap as it can quickly become a sleep prop. Many, many Babywise moms use the swing (especially for babies with reflux issues).
I have never liked the idea of a swing. I'd rather hold my baby then lay them back down in the crib so they can keep sleeping in their bed rather than get used to sleeping somewhere else. I never used the swing with either of my other kids...but put that junk to good use with Tess during this regression phase. I would put her in the swing mid-nap when she woke crying and once she fell back to sleep in the swing I'd turn it off so she wouldn't get used to the motion of it. It was hit or miss. Sometimes she'd fall back to sleep in it, sometimes she wouldn't.
4. Pacifier: A pacifier is a "more dangerous" sleep prop, in my opinion, than the swing. Babies can become very dependent on a pacifier very quickly! Since having dealt with a pacifier baby with Kye, I have avoided them as much as possible out of fear of having another "paci baby" (You can read my post about having a pacifier Babywise baby here!).
Kye took a pacifier before I had ever even opened a copy of Babywise . So he always had it as a sleep prop. When he had the 4 month sleep regression issues, we'd be in and out of his room 1,000 times re-inserting the pacifier. It was a PAIN but it was also easier than having to troubleshoot with Tess. The paci worked for Kye. It helped him transition back into sleep, even though it was a hassle for us! I can remember vividly spending nights laying on his floor with my hand through the slat of his crib holding that paci in his mouth!
With Britt we never did much with the paci. She never took to it and the instant we weaned her from the swaddle she started sucking her fingers and used them as her own personal "sleep prop."
I could tell by watching Tess (I mean how awesome are video monitors?!?) that she was sucking the air a lot when she was awake. She'd cry and suck and seemed to want to suck on something to help her soothe. I never, ever have given her a paci at the beginning of nap or night time sleep. But we did use it (or at least attempt to use it!) mid-nap or for middle of the night wakings.
We have found that it helps her mid-nap but not as much during the middle of the night. The nights when we did the paci she slept less due to it constantly falling out. She was less rested the next day and more exhausted. So we now limit paci use to times during naps only when she has woken up mid-nap and can't get back to sleep on her own. Usually if we do use it she will suck on it long enough to fall back to sleep and then spit it out and stay asleep. There is very little going in and re-inserting it, although it does happen on the occasional nap!
5. Cry It Out: Just like the name suggests: you let the baby cry. There are many variations to cry it out and most resources don't recommend doing cry it out for mid-nap waking until around 5 months old.
Everyone has different opinions on this...and I'm probably much less "hardcore" when it comes to cry it out than you would think! I. HATE. IT. Hearing a baby cry is just really hard for me and seems to only get harder the more babies I have.
With Kye we never did cry it out. He took the paci so we went in anytime it fell out and put it back in. Britt was a GREAT cry it out baby. I'd let her "fuss" and she'd fall asleep within 8 min almost every single time. She very, very rarely cried longer than that and if she did then I'd go hold her and it'd do the trick. I barely ever remember Britt waking during the middle of the night. But if she did we also would do cry it out. Again, she'd cry for under 20 min and be back to sleep.
I don't mind letting a baby fuss for a bit. But when I tried letting Tess cry it out for her mid-nap wakings it didn't work. She'd only get more worked up and more upset and more awake. Not once did she fall back to sleep for a nap where I did CIO. Even though full on cry it out didn't work for naps, I still let her fuss for 15-20 min when she wakes mid-nap. Before trying any other tactic, I gave her that time period to allow her to fall back to sleep on her own. My goal is for her to self soothe. How will she learn to do that if I don't give her the opportunity?
When it came to night wakings I was truly at a loss. As I mentioned, the paci didn't work. Holding her didn't work. And I wasn't going to have her sleep in a swing the entire night! So I committed to doing cry it out at night with her. Zach slept upstairs as he's a mega light sleeper and I just handled it. I'd sleep with the monitor next to my bed and when she'd cry I'd watch her to see what she did.
What's interesting about Tess is when she'd be crying during the night...her eyes would always stay shut. I googled like a mad woman trying to find info about "sleep crying" because that's what it seemed like she was doing! If I tried to hold her or do the paci it just woke her up and that's why she was so "angry" when I tried those things. She would seem asleep but be crying and sometimes it'd last for over an hour at night (of course like around 2 am...) but the next morning she'd be FINE. Happy. Well rested. Didn't seem tired at all! Even though it was hard for me (and meant a lot of sleepless nights on my end!) it ended up being that cry it out was the best route to take for handling her middle of the night wakings.
6. Schedule Change: As babies get older they spread out their feeding times, drop naps, and lengthen awake times.
The 4 hour schedule is a little slice of Heaven in my book! My older copy of Babywise suggests moving to the 4 hour schedule around 12 weeks. The newer versions suggest waiting much longer than that to make the shift.
I moved Kye to the 4 hour schedule right around 3 months old, with Britt I waited a little longer (you can read the post about that here), and with Tess I planned on waiting even longer. I wanted to "go by the book" with her and try to follow the newer version of Babywise.
Babies show the readiness for a schedule change in different ways. Some babies can sleep longer and will need to be woken to eat and that's a sign they are ready for the change. Other babies can handle longer awake times and that's how you know to change it. Britt was my only "long sleeping" baby. I had to wake her every time when it was time to eat so I knew it was time to move her to a schedule that spread out her feedings more and allowed her to sleep longer. With Kye and Tess they could handle longer awake times. Britt always struggled with making it to her nap time! I often had to put her down early for naps. But Kye and Tess? They could stay awake and never seem tired and not have their naps affected by it.
As I mentioned above about checking awake time lengths when dealing with the sleep regression, I tried various lengths for Tess and none of them helped. I tried pushing her to 90 min of awake time and she did fine with it. When I tried pushing her to an hour and 45 min of awake time, she actually slept more solid for naps and didn't have the intruder issues as often. So I decided to make the move to the 4 hour schedule. Moving to the 4 hour schedule (meaning eating times at 7, 11, 3 and 7 as well as naps at 9, 1, and 5) allowed her to drop a nap. Prior to that schedule she had 4 naps a day and with the new one she had only 3. Although the schedule change didn't really help her sleep any more solid for naps, at least I had one less nap to deal with!
7. Cat Nap: Once you have your baby on the 4 hour schedule, the last nap of the day is more of a "cat nap." It helps them get some rest in the evening time before getting that long night time sleep.
I had never considered the third nap a "cat nap" with my other kids. They'd sleep until it was time to get them up then they'd get a bath and nurse and go back to sleep for the night. With all my Tess sleep issues Casey mentioned that I may want to start waking Tess from the third nap and make it a true "cat nap."
Casey has loved The Baby Whisperer and has been using a lot of Hogg's techniques (which go hand-in-hand with Babywise). I pulled back out my Baby Whisperer book and read up on how Hogg suggests waking babies from the evening nap. She talks about the amount of sleep a baby requires and how having them sleep more than they need can cause sleep issues.
I started putting Tess down for her evening nap at 5 but then when she'd wake at the 45 min intruder I'd just get her up and keep her up until bath time. She'd be sleepy and cranky and we'd usually end up bathing her early (b/c the child LOVES bath!) and I'd usually end up doing her 7:00 feeding at 6:45. This does allow her some awake time before going to bed for the night and seems to help her to get that more solid sleep.
8. Dream Feed: A dream feed is a feeding you give your baby while they are asleep. It helps to "top them off" and help them to sleep through the night with a fuller belly. You want to time the dream feed to be at least 2 hours from when they last ate and to also be before midnight.
With both Kye and Britt I accidentally slept through the dream feed when they were about 9 weeks old. And they both slept through the night fine without it. Many moms never even introduce a dream feed at all with their babies. And I do believe that holding onto it too long can cause sleep issues as it starts disrupting their sleep patterns.
For Tess I accidentally slept through the dream feed when she was much older than the other two had been. She was 16 weeks old when I accidentally slept through it (I set an alarm on my phone to wake me up to go feed her). She woke just as often as she had been waking in the middle of the night so I thought it may be time to drop it. The first night I officially dropped it she slept more solid through the night than she had in awhile so it really helped! My original plan with Tess was to keep the dream feed until she was consistently sleeping solid through the night but I'm glad I accidentally slept through it when I did as it made a big difference in her night time sleep patterns by dropping it!
9. Swaddle: Swaddling mimics the womb and helps keep the baby from waking due to startling. It's recommend to drop the swaddle once a baby can roll from back to tummy as it's not safe!
We have swaddled all three of our babies. With Kye we held on to it way, way, way longer than we should have (kid was like 6 months old when we finally dropped it haha!) but with Britt I weaned her from the swaddle at around 4 months old (you can read about it here). Britt showed signs of being ready to drop it (the big one being that she'd break out of the swaddle and stay asleep) so I slowly weaned her by doing one arm out for awhile, then the other arm out, then the legs out before fully dropping it.
Tess was showing NO signs of being ready to drop the swaddle. None. I had it rigged up where it was impossible for her to break out of because she had been breaking out of it and it was causing her to wake up. So I was using a Woombie and a MIracle Blanket combo to help keep her contained haha! However, my friends Kelly and Laura suggested dropping it cold turkey. Their reasoning was pretty smart. Since I was already dealing with sleep issues with Tess, why not use them to be productive? She'd have to drop the swaddle soon anyway so why not go ahead and get rid of it when she was already not sleeping great? Rather than waiting to drop it and having it mess up her sleep again?
I was hesitant at first but at that point in the game I was wiling to try just about anything! So I decided to drop it cold turkey when she was 17 weeks old. Which means I put her to bed that night just not swaddled. Didn't do a one arm out slow wean thing, just dropped it. And it worked out great! It took a couple days to adjust, but it didn't make any of her sleep issues any worse! And now it's one less issue to deal with down the road :)
10: Introduce a "Friend": This is not something I even feel comfortable recommending...however I will say this. I use every single precaution possible to protect my babies from SIDS. I have a mattress cover (never heard of it? read this!!!) and use a breathing detection monitor. I do back to sleep religiously and I have a thermometer in their rooms to monitor the temperature. I'm pretty passionate about sleep safe practices!
All three of my kids have a "Lovie" (You can see them here!) It's a breathable security blanket. My mom bought Kye the monkey one and Britt the lamb one and I got Tess a bunny one when she was born. I called the company before ever letting Kye have his in the crib and talked to them in depth about how breathable it is and everything. I got much more passionate about sleep safe practices when Britt was born and didn't let her sleep with her sheep until much older (and she honestly doesn't even care about it now!).
Once we stopped swaddling Tess I noticed she was sucking her arm. She wasn't sucking her fingers like Britt did. And she wasn't really happy about sucking her skin. She did, however, suck the fleece material of her pjs at night. I debated and debated about it and decided to test run letting her sleep with the bunny. I know there are kids who suck on blankies...which is gross but I mean it'd def be an easier thing to wean from than Britt's fingers have been haha! I thought maybe since she was more interested in sucking on the material of her clothes than on the paci or on her skin maybe the bunny would provide her something to suck on.
I was a total nervous wreck about it and she didn't end up sucking on it. However, she did end up PUTTING IT OVER HER FACE. Y'all. You know that totally freaks me out! She does it for almost every nap as well as at night. How is it possible for a baby to want to sleep with something covering their face?!?! I go in and make sure it's "tented" up some so I can see her and I check the breathing deduction monitors like a crazy person (and yes, I'll use BOTH the Snuza Levana and the Angelcare !). But it drastically has improved her sleep. Again, I'm not recommending this and, as you can tell, it was a mega last resort effort for me to try.
11. Time: I have tried it ALL when dealing with the 4 month sleep regression. Some things have worked, and some things haven't. The one thing that is full proof though is TIME. It is HARD having worked and worked to get your baby to sleep through the night only to have them waking at all hours. It's frustrating to troubleshoot naps and still have a baby waking exactly at 45 minutes. Trust me, MY tears were probably shed more than Tess's were! I checked the Wonder Weeks App constantly to see how many dreaded days were left of this developmental leap...and I rejoiced when it was down to the last day! And guess what? That night she slept awesome. She is still having some night wakings and some nap wakings but it's not nearly as bad and I now have a solid game plan in place for how to best handle it to allow her to get her best rest.
My BEST advice? Stay consistent. Find what works for YOU. And give it time! It will get better!!!
I know some people may actually want even more details so this section is for you ;) I tried a lot of things and ended up deciding what would work best for Tess but also for myself. Dealing with this junk caused me a lot of stress and anxiety and I had to find a balance. So here is her full schedule including how I handle everything. This schedule started when I moved to the 4 hour schedule and dropped the dream feed (16 weeks old):
6:45-7:10: Up for the day, nurse, awake time
8:45-9:00: Down for nap. No swaddle. Give "Lovie"
If wake mid-nap: Let fuss for 15-20 min (if doesn't fall back to sleep on own then give paci)
10:45-11:10: Up from nap, nurse, awake time
12:45-1:00: Down for nap. No swaddle. Give "Lovie"
If wake mid-nap: Let fuss for 15-20 min (if doesn't fall back to sleep on own then give paci)
2:45-3:10: Up from nap, nurse, awake time
4:45-5:00: Down for cat nap. No swaddle. Give "Lovie."
6:20ish: Get up from cat nap. Have awake time with family before bath.
6:45: Bath time and ready for bed for the night. No swaddle.
7:00: Nurse and then straight to bed after this feeding. Give "Lovie."
If wakes middle of the night then I just let her fuss. Usually will only fuss for a few minutes and go back to sleep. I will go in and move her if her legs go through the slats of the crib (she tends to sleep sideways in her crib!) and will also go in to give her the "Lovie" if she's let go of it.
If wakes early in the morning (like at 5:45 or later) then I let her fuss awhile but will give the paci if needed to help hold her off until her desired awake time.
That's what is working for us right now...at least until the next "wonder week" happens in 20 days! ;)