At every pediatric visit my daughter has attended from 24 hours after birth, her doctor has been keen to check in on my mental state and well being and asks, “So how are you doing Mom, getting any sleep?” I would always reply, “Yes, she’s a great sleeper!” quickly followed up by, “Such a good baby, couldn’t have asked for better.” The doctor always smiled and told me I was lucky. Fast forward to her 4-month appointment and my response was very different. “Is she scared? is she hungry? Should I feed her every time she wakes? Should I start adding rice cereal to her milk to encourage her to sleep longer?” Is it too noisy? Should I use a white noise machine?” He looked at me encouragingly and uttered 2 dreaded words, “Sleep Regression.”
I face palmed myself thinking I should have enjoyed the glory days of sleep a little more while wondering, “will I ever sleep again?”
Parents everywhere wonder, why does this happen and what can I do to help?
Scientists have alluded this sleep regression to be because babies are transitioning into sleep cycles that more closely resemble adult sleep cycles. They have determined that adults, though we are unaware of these instances, actually wake up 6-8 times per night to ensure that our environments are safe. However, we have learnt to put ourselves back to sleep so quickly that when we awaken, we forget it ever happened. This is an interesting concept but what should we do to help babies deal with this phase?
Unfortunately there is no “quick fix”. However, since babies at this age are forming associations, it is a good time to help them develop good sleeping habits. This is also the time when bad habits can be quickly picked up so be wary of over feeding or over cuddling when baby wakes up at night. It is ok to allow them to try to fall back asleep independently.
Here are some tips to help during this phase:
Ensure baby is eating on schedule during the day time feedings. They can begin to get distracted by the world around them and not get enough calories, thus waking up more at night to increase the caloric intake necessary for their growing minds and bodies.
Put your baby down while still awake so they can learn to self soothe themselves without needing to comfort nurse or bottle feed to fall asleep. (The dentist will commend you after as milk also causes tooth decay which can begin prior to the emergence of teeth)
Make the room as ideal as possible. Set the temperature between 68-72 (as recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics), sound machine / white noise to eliminate distractions, no overly stimulating music, etc)
Have baby sleep in the same place for naps and at bedtime.
Don’t feel compelled to pick up or interact with your baby when you hear them awake. They may simply be cooing or talking to themselves and this is a great habit for them to have as it will help to self soothe during this phase of sleep regression.
During this difficult stage, it is important for parents and caregivers to be cognizant of the fact that this stage is developmentally necessary for babies and this too, shall pass.
Naimah Shaw is the mother of five beautiful children and the owner/content creator of the parenting blog, This Beautiful Life. There you can find product reviews, articles and conversations about food, homeschooling and motherhood. We are pleased to have her as a regular contributor to Fade Away Sleep Sounds.