When a baby reaches around the age of 4 months, this is about the time when the lovely sleep patterns your baby may have settled into, go completely awry. You’ve probably heard this stage of sudden wakefulness referred to as a sleep ‘regression’, but it’s in fact a time of massive brain development in your baby, which is why it’s actually a ‘progression’. Your baby is developing beautifully, and building complex brain circuits.
Between birth and three years, their brain makes ONE MILLION CONNECTIONS PER SECOND! How amazing is that?! So, they’re never regressing.
So, at around 4-5 months (and as early as 3 months), they will need your support even more.
They’re probably crying more than usual, expressing lots of emotions, and only settling in your arms. You’re likely to see a new skill emerge at some point, like rolling over or reaching and grabbing for things. That doesn’t all happen by accident. It’s a huge and well coordinated effort between your baby’s body and their brain.
But, they’re not just developing physically. There’s also a lot of emotional and social development going on now. Your baby is now trying to make sense of the world. Their eyes are developing more, so they’re able to look around the room, meet your gaze, and this can be overwhelming and exciting for them. It’s normal that all of this new information impacts their sleep.
1. Stay calm
This is an exhausting but normal part of infant development. You might be feeling stressed, or like it’s a reflection on something you’ve done or not done, or a problem you need to fix. But, please know that it’s temporary, and it’s a positive thing that your baby is growing and developing as they should be. Sleep will happen again if you respond with kindness and empathy. It’s definitely not a time to consider sleep training. It’s a time they need extra support and reassurance. Comfort your baby with lots of snuggles and quality one-on-one time if possible. You can never spoil a baby with love.
2. Reduce a build up of cortisol
Because their sleep is disrupted during the night, they’ll probably be more tired and grumpy during the day. You’ll need to be quite flexible in your routine. Provide nap opportunities when you recognise their tired signs, even if the times are a bit off. Their naps may be shorter as well, so you’ve got to go with the flow to meet their daytime sleep needs in order to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. These naps might be on you, in a baby carrier while you do things around the house, or out for a walk in the pram. Whatever works for your baby right now!
3. Play time opportunities
Your baby is becoming increasingly mobile, so they might be waking themselves more in the night when moving around. You don’t have to keep repositioning them. But another great idea is to offer them opportunities during the day to practice their newfound mobility and social and emotional skills. Lots of floor play, tummy time, and kicking in the bath, rather than long stretches of time in seats, swings, and prams. You might need to lie on the floor with them if they’re extra clingy. Sing songs, read books…oh, and now might be the time to baby proof the house!
4. Look after yourself
It’s a challenging and demanding stage, so make sure you support your own sleep. Go to bed early, and if possible, nap when they nap. Yes, yes, the advice no one likes because it’s usually not practical…but seriously, you can do the laundry and tidy up when they’re happily playing on the floor or when they’re in the baby carrier. Don’t try to do ALL.THE.THINGS when they’re sleeping. Your mental and physical health is paramount. Your baby needs a regulated parent to be able to help them to be as calm as possible. Ask for help, take breaks when possible. If the crying makes you feel frustrated or upset, it’s okay to take some time out until you calm down. Put your baby somewhere safe, and go to another room, breathe deeply, or call a friend or expert to talk things through.
5. If their feeding patterns are impacted
Babies at this age can get very distracted during daytime feeds (or suffer from a serious case of FOMO), thanks to their increased awareness and vision, so they might save their feeds up for the night when it’s quiet and less stimulating. It doesn’t mean you have to change anything you’re doing with feeding, start weaning, or consider solids, but it can help to really focus on feeds for now. You might need to offer more feeds for comfort, and take your baby into a dark room free of all the fun stimulating toys, people, and distractions.
A reminder to continue safe sleep practices
If you aren’t already bed-sharing, this is a time when you might find that bringing your baby into your bed during the night is more practical – it makes feeding and resettling during the night easier when you’re already so tired yourself. It also helps to make the baby feel more safe and secure, which is just what they need now. Have you started playing a (not so) fun game of musical beds?
Bedsharing increases the risks of SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents, but there are things you can do to reduce that risk, so please head over to our article Bed sharing with baby – risk reduction and benefits.
If your baby is in their cot, and waking because they’re moving and bumping into the sides, don’t worry, they’ll soon learn not to. Resist adding any bumpers or pillows, which are unsafe.
Essentially, this is temporary, so do what works for you, comforts your baby, and supports them in a way that makes them feel secure and loved in this confusing and overwhelming time. They’re definitely not manipulating them (they simply don’t have the brain power to do that), and they want to sleep as much as you want them to.
How long does 4 month sleep patterns last? That all depends on your baby’s temperament, and how you help them through this stage. It can last a couple of weeks for some babies, and be quite quick for others.
For more information and for a free initial infant sleep and wellbeing consultation with our editor and resident baby sleep expert, Kara Wilson, submit your details here.