4-Month Sleep Regression: Killer of Joy

Okay, not really! I'll explain how we adapted to keep our joy alive.

We just finished two posts about Charlie's sleep training: before and after. Well… we thought we were finished. We're learning that in parenting, just when you finally turn the corner, there's some whole other winding maze to wander through. This time, it's the 4-month sleep regression.

On Charlie's fussy nights, Catie and I will carry on entire conversations without ever being awake at the same time. We'll text each other and link to articles that seem to explain what's going on with Charlie or that capture our frustration. Just the other night, this article by Kim West1 really hit the nail on the head.

Her first sentence says it all:

You’ve got the schedule down. Baby is FINALLY sleeping more… and then, WHAM! Suddenly she’s not.

Terrible Timing

It couldn't have been more than a few days after we posted our sleep training follow-up that things started going south. All of the sudden, Charlie reverted to taking over an hour to soothe himself to sleep and he stopped sleeping through the night. We were scratching our heads (when we weren't pulling our hair out).

We figured it must have had something to do with sleep training. After all, we'd just kicked that off a week or so earlier. But after trying out a few variations on his sleep schedule, it was getting clearer and clearer that something else was going on.

Catie had heard of the 4-month sleep regression and after reading more about it, we were convinced that that's what Charlie was experiencing. Here are some of the telltale signs from Kim's article:

  • Increased fussiness
  • Multiple night wakings (especially if your baby has just begun to sleep longer stretches during the night)
  • Reduced naps or “disaster naps”
  • Changes in appetite

Check. Check. Check. Check.

The Good News

Sure, the regression means sleep will be more difficult for a few weeks, but there is good news too. The whole reason this is happening is because Charlie's going through a lot of development all at once:

  • He's going through a growth spurt. — He's a 16-pound little chunk now.
  • His motor skills are improving. — He's shaking rattles, grasping rings, and pulling toys to his mouth.
  • He's interacting more with the world. — He and Ruby2 are quickly becoming best buds.

Kim even says in her article:

It’s not uncommon for babies to learn to roll over during this time.

And whadya know… Charlie just learned how to roll onto his side!

The proof.

What To Do

It's great that the 4-month sleep regression points to all these wonderful developmental milestones, but what about sleep? What do we do about sleep?!

After a few frustrating nights, we decided that sleep training and the 4-month sleep regression do not mix. So we decided to relax a little and lower our expectations.

Charlie was off to a great start with sleep training so we know he's capable of sleeping through the night, but it also felt like a lot to ask of him, considering this developmental leap he's in the middle of.

He's already made so much progress, so lowering our expectations means we may see some of that progress slip. Goals like breaking his pacifier reliance or reducing the number of comfort feedings… for now, we're just kicking that can down the road. We'll get there eventually but we don't want to pile on during this already-challenging time.

It helped to remind ourselves that ultimately, we know what Charlie needs. Nobody knows him like Catie and I do. There's a lot of noisy, conflicting advice out there, but we're resolving to turn the volume way down on all that advice so we can listen to Charlie.

So yes, we're sacrificing some of our own sleep (temporarily) to love on Charlie and get him through this rough patch. There will be plenty of time for sleep training on the other side.

For parents going through the same kind of struggle, the one thing I hope you take away is that you know best. It may not always feel that way and the internet will tell you otherwise, but trust yourself.

  1. Kim West is "The Sleep Lady" and wrote Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy

  2. Ruby is our 2½-year-old Goldendoodle.

Ruby, meet Charlie!

Steve Richert

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