4-Month Sleep 'Pro'gression:
This is one of the hardest parts of the first year with your baby. Almost every parent will remember this as a challenging time while their little one makes some big leaps in their development. They’re really moving from the 4th trimester of sleep and feeding on repeat, to starting to recognize more around them and develop more adult-like sleep cycles. All the parents around you must have told you that this is a big REGRESSION. It sure does feel this way, but with some education and understanding that this is a period of massive change and development all because your little one is right on track and doing everything they should be – it tends to make the time easier to wrap our minds around. We want to keep thinking about what’s on the other side of this, and not that they have regressed in their little lives.
Lack of sleep is one of the many things disrupted at this time. You finally feel like you might have this parenting thing figured out, right!? Baby is sleeping longer stretches, getting bigger, you have an established feeding routine, they’re healthy and growing well, etc. And then it all goes out the window!
It wasn’t you…TRUST ME! Their little brains are developing so much right now, and as their world changes, we need to help them move through it all in a loving and responsive way – BUT – we also need to take care of ourselves by getting help or trying to let go of some things for a few weeks in order to get through it. Sleep, again, is just one piece of the puzzle here, but this is where many parents are reaching out for help.
What exactly is going on during this time?
1. If you are breastfeeding, your little one, who up until now may have been sleeping through the night, is now suddenly up ALL the time. This is because until you are 6-8 weeks postpartum, your milk supply is driven simply via your hormones. It doesn’t matter how much baby nurses or doesn’t, you will make milk! After that time, our milk production system begins to run on supply and demand. When baby breastfeeds, they empty the breast, this sends signals to the body to make more milk to replace what was there and the cycle continues. If you aren’t breastfeeding as often, such as when they begin to sleep longer stretching, milk is not being removed as often, and therefore, less milk can be produced. This starts to show up by the 3/4-month mark. By feeding more often at night (which is when we make our milk!), these smart little beings are telling your supply everything it needs to know in terms of how much more milk they need and even if it needs any extra properties such as a certain antibody!
2. The other reason they may feed all night long is because all of a sudden during the day they are MUCH more aware of their surroundings and can easily be distracted. Check that you are getting at LEAST 8 good feeds in 24 hours. More is always good, too! In order to accomplish this during the day you might need to head into a quiet room just the two of you to minimize distractions.
3. This also seems to be the time when tongue tie issues – if present – become apparent, so it’s something to consider if babies show certain signs. Consider reaching out to discuss what these could be, see a Lactation Consultant or a Pediatric Dentist who specializes in this if you are concerned that this is a possibility. Tongue-tie or “Ankyloglossia” can impact sleep and feeding right now, but also go on to impact feeding and speech later on.
4. Babies at this age are starting to learn how to roll onto their tummies. This is a big milestone! They need lots and lots of practice. Ensuring they get this during the day with floor play is essential, but they might still need to be up a few extra times at night because they’re excited to show you their new skills. Avoid going too many places where they end up spending most of their day in “containers” such as car seats and strollers without allowing for proper movement. This new rolling skill can actually be the cause of them waking up as they roll onto their tummies and need to call on you to help them resettle. Once they can safely roll from back to tummy and tummy to back, most medical professionals will say you can leave them prone (on their tummy) if that’s how they prefer to sleep.
So, how do I get through this?
1. Progressions usually last around 2-3 weeks; and even up to 4 weeks.
2. You need to expect that this will be a challenging few weeks. THIS IS NORMAL!
3. Recognize your little one will need you even more than they do now (I know…how can that be!?). Do whatever you can to help them get as much rest as possible. This usually means holding them for naps, or in carriers, or taking stroller naps in the fresh air, so you both get a change of scenery. This is also going to mean extra breastfeeding even if only for comfort.
4. BUT – because this is going to be challenging, and you might end up feeling touched-out – every chance you get to sleep when baby sleeps….do it. Or maybe you just make a lineup of Netflix shows you’re going to power watch while they sleep. Find some new books you’ve been meaning to download. (The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary might be helpful during this time). Dive into the quiet time and set some mantras around how you’re helping baby. “I am a good parent”. “They need me so much right now”. “I am everything this little one needs”. “Nobody else can love or provide for them like I can”. “I am secure in our bond know we will get through this”. This won’t be the only hard time in their lives we are parents need to help them through so work on leaning into the moments.
5. ASK FOR HELP. This doesn’t necessarily mean help with baby. You are really all they need right now. This might have to be help for your other responsibilities. Can the other parent hold baby for a little bit while you go to bed first and have a pre-bedtime nap? Or a walk outside (fresh air changes everything.). Can someone bring you meals, fill your water bottle and cut up some veggies and make a trail mix snack to keep your energy up? Can someone take an older sibling on a fun outing? Whatever you need to you can focus in on baby.
6. Keep your routines around naps and bedtime. While scheduling might be all over the place during this change, roll with it and just make sure your pre-bed routines (bath, stories, songs, breastfeed, etc.), are the same to keep some predictability.
7. Do not start or change anything during this time unless you really have to for external reasons. Keep ALL of the sleep associations you have and add as many more as you need. Hold them. Love them. Respond to their needs. Support their emotions as they find their new skills. And take care of YOU.
Adapted from Isla-Grace Sleep, 2020