Sleep is such an important part of your baby’s growth and development. It should be easy, right?
The honest answer is that helping your baby sleep is hard work, especially when she’s an infant.
This is why we’ve compiled a list of the most common baby sleep challenges, as well as solutions and tips to help you overcome your infant sleep problems.
You’ve got the schedule down. Baby is FINALLY sleeping more…and then, WHAM! Suddenly she’s not. Welcome to what is commonly referred to as the 4 month sleep regression. Some may refer to this phase as increased wakefulness, but it all amounts to the same thing: you and baby have newly found your groove, and now baby just isn’t acting like herself.
This (very common) sleep regression is characterized by a distinct change in your baby’s behavior. Some indicators that you’re experiencing the 4 month sleep regression (other than the fact that your baby is 4 months old) are:
• Increased fussiness;
• Multiple night wakings (especially if your baby has just begun to sleep longer stretches during the night);
• Reduced naps or “disaster naps”; and
• Changes in appetite.
4 Month Sleep Regression
In other words, your baby’s sleep schedule just turned on its head. The good news? This probably means that your baby is growing. According to research done by Rijt and Plooij, authors of Wonder Weeks, your baby is becoming more engaged in the world around him. As your baby realizes that he can interact with his world, he also begins to realize that his actions affect others, and that he has a bit more control of his surroundings.
More commonly, this sleep regression is associated with growth spurts. You may notice that your baby has outgrown his current wardrobe, or has begun to increase his mobility (it’s not uncommon for babies to learn to roll over during this time).
Parents often can’t figure out why their sweet baby is suddenly a sleep deprived, fussy, cranky, overtired baby overnight. They begin to question if it could be an ear infection, teething, lack of supply (for breastfeeding moms), or maybe he’s got reflux…the list goes on. What parents don’t often realize is that around this time your baby’s sleep rhythms have also changed (just to throw more into the mix of their little world changing).
Infant Sleep Patterns
As an infant, your baby probably slept just fine anywhere and everywhere. This is because while an infant does cycle through sleep, there aren’t distinct sleep stages like an older baby or adult may experience. According to Dr. Richard Ferber, newborn babies spend much of their sleeping hours in deep, restorative sleep, which is why once your little one dozes off, it’s difficult to wake them until they’re ready to be changed or fed again.
4 Month Old Sleep
Now that your baby is older, she is beginning to enter the adult world of sleep, which means that she will be cycling in and out of very distinct stages: deep sleep and active sleep, just like you. The problem is that your baby doesn’t know how to deal with this new sleep cycle. If you’re rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, you may find that it takes a full thirty minutes for them to be fully asleep, only to have your baby wake fussy less than fifteen minutes later. This is because your baby has a startle reflex when they enter active sleep, and it often wakes them up. If they don’t know how to get back to sleep, they look for the person who can help: mom or dad.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough for you, your baby actually does most of her deep sleep at the beginning of the night. So while she may go to sleep for about five hours (interestingly, that is the technical definition of sleeping through the night at this stage, but many 4 month olds are capable of sleeping longer), she will begin to wake at regular intervals later in the night. This is where it gets challenging.
Your baby is growing, the world is becoming far more interesting for them, and they have to learn to fall asleep on their own. No wonder your baby is cranky! If you’ve experienced this phase, you aren’t alone. This sleep regression should only last between two and four weeks. Any longer than that, and you have created a new schedule (and not one that you’ll want to keep).
7 Tips to Help You Through the 4 Month Sleep Regression:
1. Do what works.
Remember, a lot is changing for your baby, so try to ‘go with the flow’, at least for now.
2. Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues, and try to respond to them quickly.
3. Once your baby’s fussiness begins to calm down, consider introducing ‘drowsy but awake’ at bedtime.
This will encourage and help him learn to put himself to sleep. Stay by her side and offer physical and verbal reassurance. If she does nothing but cry for 15 minutes despite your soothing help, pick her up and rock, hold or fed her to sleep and try again the next night or whenever you both feel up to it.
4. Be wary of creating a new sleep crutch. Go ahead and keep whatever crutch is working, but try not to lengthen the list.
5. Offer LOTS of additional snuggles and reassurance.
6. Watch for signs of growth.
Yes, this is a trying time, but you’ll be amazed at all of the new discoveries that your baby will make during these weeks.
7. Follow your flexible schedule as much as possible.
Babies thrive on consistency and routine, so be sure to provide it.
And remember, this sleep regression is actually a good thing. Your baby is growing and changing. And it’s temporary; your baby will return to her longer stretches of sleep at night again. If your baby isn’t back to her sweet self in a few weeks, please consider contacting her doctor to see if there may be an underlying medical issue.
If you have decided to swaddle your baby, the time will come when you need to wean your baby out of the swaddle. Most babies don’t need to be swaddled past 4 months of age, although some may want to be swaddled beyond that. If your baby is rolling over (or close to rolling over), swaddling presents a safety issue. Babies who are swaddled with their arms in will have more challenges repositioning themselves when they get in an uncomfortable or unsafe position.
For most babies the arms are the key component of swaddling. If your baby is swaddled with his arms out, you may find that switching to a sleep sack or just pajamas is not a problem at all.
Here are some ways that will help your baby learn to sleep without being swaddled:
This technique allows your baby to learn a new way of soothing and sleeping all at once. Many children who are ready to be weaned off swaddling are already attempting at self soothing techniques (such as rubbing the face or suckling on his fingers) but are unsuccessful due to the swaddle. A cold turkey approach can work well when paired with a sleep coaching strategy that encourages your baby’s self-soothing skills. If this method is not helping him fall asleep due to excessive arm movement, try swaddling one arm only. The triangle swaddle can be helpful for this:
Begin this approach by swaddling one arm out. You may want to start with your baby’s non-dominant arm out first. You can often figure out which arm is dominant by watching your child suckle and self sooth; he will usually suckle on his dominant arm. For most children it will be the right arm. If this goes well with one arm, you can gradually work to swaddling both arms out, and just wrapping the swaddle around his chest, to provide that comfort.
Using a lovey
Placing a safe lovey or attachment object on his shoulder or beside his cheek, either on the dominant side or on both sides, can help your child, especially if he reaches for his face or has a startle reflex. If he wakes himself up, he can grab his lovey and may rub the soft item on his face, providing comfort.
Transitioning from swaddle to sleep sack
This is a gradual approach that can be taken that might include these steps:
- Swaddling your child and then placing him in a sleep sack. (You may want to swaddle the arms using the triangle swaddle.) Make sure that his room is at a cool temperature (between 60-70 degrees) so that your baby doesn’t overheat.
- One arm out in a sleep sack with the arm holes of the sack temporarily sewn closed.
- Two arms out in sleep sack with arms temporarily sewn closed (a woombie can also be used or another sleep sack design which allows arms to be loose inside).
- One arm out of the sleep sack (unstitch one arm hole of the sleep sack).
- Both arms out of the sleep sack.
Parental presence and transitional support
While you are close by you can help your baby make the transition from swaddling by creating a cozy feeling with rolled up blankets, tucking them in around his sides and below his armpits. It may also be helpful to put a breathable knitted or crocheted blanket on your baby, preferable one that you have slept with for a night or two before giving to your child. For safety reasons you may need to remove the extra support once your child is asleep. If you have concerns, please check with your health care professional.
During playtime it is important to encourage rolling from back to stomach and vise-versa. Babies often practice their new techniques at night, especially if not given enough time to practice during the day. The “swaddling issue” is often resolved once your baby is able to roll on to their stomach. The Joint Statement on safe sleep states that “Once infants are able to roll from their backs to their stomachs or sides it is not necessary to reposition them onto their backs.” If you baby is able to roll he will have an easier time repositioning himself if he gets in an uncomfortable position.
Use a transition product
There are many products that you can find in stores or online that will help transition your baby out of the swaddle. Including a sleep sack, Woombie, and Zipidee-zip to name a few.
Create a new sleep association
Your baby may be associating sleepy time with being swaddled. One way to help transition out of the swaddle is to help your child create new associations. Some things that you may want to try are: singing, reading a short story, music, or anything else that will help cue your baby that it is time to sleep.
One of the first steps you can take is putting some space between you and your baby when he is sleeping in the bed with you. This will help your child get used to sleeping without touching you.
Does your baby reach out in the night to touch you, grab onto you or stroke you? One way to help your baby transition out of co-sleeping is by giving your baby a lovey or transitional object to grab ahold of when he reaches out for you.
This will help him wean off the need for a parent close by and begin to learn ways to self-soothe.
The sheet that you will be using for the crib or bassinette can be brought into your shared bed before hand. Sleeping with the sheet between you and your baby will allow him to get used to the feeling of the sheet, and leave a familiar scent on it that will be comforting to him in the night when he is in his own bed.
If you find that your baby is using you as a human pacifier, you can try gently unlatching your baby when he has stopped eating and started non-nutritive sucking.
Night time in Baby’s room
You can try co-sleeping with your baby in his room to help him to get used to his new space. This may also help him feel more comfortable in his new environment. Be sure that this co-sleeping doesn’t need to last for too many nights.
During the day spend more time playing in your baby’s room to help him adjust and feel comfortable in his room. If your baby takes naps in a bassinette, you can move him into his own room for naptime.
Help your baby to become more comfortable with his crib (or other alternative sleep space) by allowing him to have some playtime in the crib during the day. It will help him to get familiar with the new environment. If your baby appears to have anxiety about his crib, click here for more tips and tricks on how to help acclimate your baby to his crib.
Some babies are born needing more close physical contact than others. It’s something that is engrained in their personality. These same babies often are not shy about communicating their needs. This constant need for comfort and to be held may be leaving you feeling drained and tired. While it may be easy to wonder what is wrong with your baby or how you can “fix” or change him, it may be more productive to take a look at your own expectations.
How you can meet the needs of your baby (however demanding they may seem) while keeping your own sanity? How can you manage around the house while holding your baby? What needs to be done by you and what can someone else do for you? What needs to be done now and what can wait? You may also need to change the expectations of those around you. Dishes will be in the sink a little longer than before and the rigorous cleaning schedule that prevailed is being replaced with the bare minimum.
During this time you may never feel rested. When a baby needs you constantly other things in your life will need to take a back burner; but just for a short while. This small window of time is shaping the way your baby will build trusting relationships, influencing his emotional development and is a very important stage in his life. The time you invest in your baby now will reap benefits for the rest of his life.
The most recommended solution for a baby who does not want to be put down is to wear him in a carrier. You can accomplish many things that you need to get done by having your two hands free while being able to meet your baby’s needs at the same time. For more about how to use a carrier, please see The Basics and Benefit of BabyWearing and Which Carrier is Right For You and Your Baby?
Sometimes these babies are labelled as “high-needs” or “sensitive” babies. Their needs are a little more complex, they seem to cry more, have trouble getting to sleep, are unable to self-soothe, and are more sensitive to life in general. Your baby may need to suckle more, be held more, walked and rocked more. There is nothing you can do to change the temperament your baby was born with, but you can learn some tools to help cope with day-to-day struggles.
Respond to his cues and meet his needs, you cannot spoil a baby by picking him up and carrying him around.
If you feel that your baby is getting sleepy, or is sleeping on you, the next step is to transition her out of your arms. This step may be harder than it sounds! It will take patience and probably more than one attempt:
• Keep your movements slow and strong.
No sudden movements and support her whole body.
• Keep his temperature consistent.
If he’s in a sling, considering placing him down still swaddled in the sling. Or have him wrapped in a blanket or a piece of your clothing (so the smell remains constant too) before putting him down.
• If your baby tends to flail and startle herself you can try swaddling her before he falls asleep.
• Transition him down to a bed by lying beside him and snuggling until he is deeply asleep.
You can also try nursing while lying down and slowing de-latching then moving away.
• Rock him in your arms while easing him into the swing.
You may need to manually move the swing very quickly at first and then let the swing take over with a steady pace.
• Place him into a bouncy chair that follows your rocking motion.
You may need to jiggle the chair vigorously while placing your baby down to help with the transfer.
• Some babies prefer enclosed areas like bassinets, car seats or strollers.
• Don’t leave right away.
If he stirs try giving your baby a pat to settle him back to sleep.
• If your baby is in your arms for sleep, you may want to rotate him gently so that he is facing away from your body.
This will help him get used to sleeping where he is not always tummy to tummy.
• At some point he is likely to grow out of this need.
You may want to try once a day to put your baby down to sleep in her bed.
There can be some anxiety that both you and your child feel when it is time for your baby to move into her own room. When making this transition, we recommend these gentle steps to help your child become comfortable in her new sleeping environment and sleep easily in her new room.
Preserve the crib environment
If your baby is sleeping on her own surface in your room, when you transfer her into her own room, try not to change anything about the crib. The crib or bed is a familiar space for your baby and if it feels, smells and looks the same, she may not notice a big change like switching rooms. This means keeping the unwashed sheets on the bed, and trying to simulate the same lighting, and noise environment that they had in your room.
Play time in Baby’s room
Sometimes parents don’t bring their baby into her new room until it is time for her to sleep there. Because of this, sometimes parents feel that their baby doesn’t like their room. One thing that you can do to help the transition is to have some “play time” in your baby’s room before bringing her in there to sleep. Spending time in her room will help her become comfortable and familiar with her new surroundings.
Getting Dressed in Baby’s Room
This is essentially the same idea as play time. Know that you can spend a lot of time in your baby’s room outside of just sleeping so that she is very familiar and comfortable with her room. Hanging out in your baby’s room, getting dressed and changing diapers will create positive memories and feelings for her about her room.
Sleep in Baby’s room
For the first few nights, it’s okay to sleep in your baby’s room with her. This way you can still respond immediately to her needs, letting her know that she is secure in her new room.
At some point most families will want to move their baby into her own room and following these suggestions can make the process much easier.
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