Raise your hand if you’ve been up at 2am googling “4 month sleep regression” or “why did my baby all of a sudden become a bad sleeper?” or “how to survive a sleep regression”. Yep, we’ve been there and oh my gosh does it suck! While sleep regressions are temporary, knowing that doesn’t make them any easier to handle! That’s why we’ve compiled this helpful guide to survive sleep regressions.
Before we get started we want to point out that regressions can actually be a positive thing! Regressions generally occur during major developmental leaps, where your baby is experiencing and learning a lot of new things. At the core, regressions are baby FOMO. Your little one is so excited about all these new skills and his little brain and body are working overtime developmentally. This increase in mental and physical stimulation makes it harder for babies and toddlers to settle and can drastically impact sleep. It can result in shorter naps, more frequent nighttime wakings, resistance in falling asleep, more need for physical attachment to you, and fussier than normal behavior.
How you respond to regressions is key, which is where our tips will come in handy.
The most common ages for sleep regressions are 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 2 years. Children do A LOT of developing in the first 2 years of life. And while these are the most common ages for sleep regressions, each baby is unique and may experience them at other times as well. Seeing your baby as a unique human being is an important part of this process.
Sleep regressions can last anywhere between 2 weeks to a month and half. But regardless of how long your baby’s sleep regression lasts, take hope in the fact IT WILL END. It is just a phase and your family is capable of surviving it! I’ve noticed that babies who have been sleep trained tend to have shorter regressions and parents of sleep trained babies can ride the wave of the disruptions a bit more easily because of the tools they’ve learned. If your baby isn’t sleep trained, that doesn’t mean all is lost.
The last thing I want to mention before I move on to the tips is this: sleep regressions (along with teething & illness) are the least ideal time to sleep train your child. If you’re considering sleep training, doing it after a regression ends tends to be easiest on you and your kiddo.
Tips for Surviving Sleep Regressions
Stick to Your Routine
As with all things infant sleep related, consistency is key. You may be tempted to try to change things up a lot during a regression, but in actuality that may make things harder in the long run. Babies thrive with gentle structure and by knowing what to expect. If you haven’t established a solid routine for naps and bedtime, now would be a great time to start. Routines help your child wind down before sleep which is crucial when their little brains & bodies are on overdrive.
If naps and night sleep are being cut short by the regression, moving bedtime up a bit can help compensate and prevent over tiredness. Start by moving bedtime up by 30 minutes and see how your baby does. For infants under 1, bedtime can be as early as 6pm if needed. If you don’t have a set bedtime for your child, now is a great time to start implementing one.
Time for Practice
As I mentioned before, your baby is learning a lot of new skills during these developmental leaps. Maybe she’s learning to roll over, or trying to sit up for the first time. Or maybe he’s starting to pull himself up to standing. Whatever it is, these skills are exciting and new to your child which makes them all the more appealing. Setting aside plenty of “play time” during the day to practice these new skills will ideally limit the amount of “practice” your kiddo tries to get in at 3am.
Increase Feedings if Needed
Because developmental leaps often coincide with growth spurts, you may notice that your child wants to eat more. Feeding on demand, whether with breastmilk, formula, or solids, can help your baby sleep better and be more relaxed throughout the leap. If you don’t want to associate feeding with waking in the middle of the night, you can work on adding a dream feed between 10pm and 11pm to get your baby extra calories without waking. Dream feeds don’t work for every baby, so I would recommend trying it for a few nights and if it isn’t working, don’t force it.
Give Your Baby Space
Sleeping independently is a learned behavior and regressions are a great time to help your baby learn some skills that will help with independent sleep long term. During play time or bed time, give your baby space to learn to self soothe. This doesn’t mean let your baby cry for hours on end without intervention. Simply don’t rush to pick up your baby at the first sound of a fuss or the first whine. You may find that given space your baby will find her hand, or shift into a more comfortable position which then will allow her to settle. By rushing to your baby’s side the moment he makes a peep, you send a message that fussing/crying is bad and that your baby NEEDS you and only you to relax or fall asleep. While this may be true for newborns, the older babies get, the more capable they are of learning the skills to sleep and settle on their own.
Create an Ideal Environment
Dark, cool, quiet: these are the top 3 environmental factors that help create a cozy sleep space. Invest in blackout curtains, breathable sleep sacks/swaddles, and a white noise machine. Use all 3 regularly for naps and bedtime. Not only does this create consistency, but it helps your baby tune out distractions and decrease the FOMO. Put your baby down sleepy, but awake and give him or her space to fall asleep.
Try to Avoid These Pitfalls
As hard as it might be, try to avoid feeding your baby to sleep, rocking your baby to sleep, or having your baby fall asleep on you. This doesn’t mean you can’t snuggle or feed before bed, just don’t let your baby fall asleep while doing them. If your baby is struggling to sleep during the day, try a stroller nap or a car nap so that he isn’t overtired during bedtime. If you can’t avoid these all together, that’s ok. I know that sometimes these are survival techniques and are often the easiest thing to do in the moment to help your baby sleep. If you can’t avoid them, try to limit them.
Ask for Help
Your patience may wear thin during these regressions and that is totally normal. As hard as it may be, just do your best as a parent and trust your instincts. But if you need, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Hire a postpartum doula or night nanny a few nights a week to get some extra shut eye. Talk to your partner about switching off who takes the night shift. Ask a friend or family member to come over during the day so you can nap. Do what you gotta do to survive and take care of yourself.
And don’t forget to have hope. Remember that this is just a season and like all seasons it will eventually come to an end. Be consistent. Be patient. And be good to yourself.