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When we brought our newborn baby home from the hospital, I smugly thought we’d been given the gift of one of those babies who sleeps through the night.
Apparently, those kinds of babies aren't just magical, mythical legends. Our baby slept well from day one, so we thought we could breathe a sigh of relief. On we trudged through months one, two, and three. She continued to sleep great at night, just waking up to eat and going right back down.
But then month four hit. And I kid you not: My daughter has rarely slept through the night since. She just turned 18 months last week.
The culprit? Sleep regression. Here's what you need to know about sleep regression, how to handle it, and what you can do to help your baby get some sleep.
What Is Sleep Regression?
Sleep regression refers to a baby who seems to "regress" in sleep habits. They might wake up more often at night, or resist sleep all together. Most commonly, babies do a bit of both.
When it comes to how a baby’s sleep habits change over the first year of life, sleep regression might not be the best term. Instead, it might be more appropriate to think of it as "sleep development." A baby's sleep patterns naturally change over the first year of life as they grow, their brain changes, and habits form.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that for the first month or two of life, there's no rhyme or reason to an infant's sleep patterns. They’re adjusting to life outside of the womb.
Don’t fret if your baby doesn’t sleep during the nighttime hours. It’s normal during this adjustment period. But when your baby is around 2 months old, you’ll want to start reinforcing more stable sleep patterns.
If you're successful at getting your baby to sleep regularly by the 2-month mark, you may be rejoicing a bit. That is, until that first dreaded sleep regression starts at four months.
The 4-Month Sleep Regression
The first sleep regression usually happens at around 4 months. Your baby might experience a growth spurt around this time. Sometimes, these developments are called the "wonder weeks" because there’s a lot of wonderful brain development happening.
Your baby will go through an adjustment period during the "wonder weeks."
Sleep regression can occur when a baby:
- develops the ability to know when they’re separated from their caregiver
- learns to roll over
- starts eating solids foods
You may notice your baby eating more during this period of growth. This is also when your baby's brain develops separation anxiety.
Babies might wake up more at night and display a reluctance to go back to sleep, or even have trouble going to sleep in the first place.
To battle sleep regression, stick to the sleep routine habits you’ve established, like dimming the lights, a bath, or rocking.
Other Sleep Regressions
After that first sleep regression, your baby may also encounter sleep regression at ages 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months. They also might regress when they start to walk, and again at 18 months.
For all sleep regression, the AAP recommends the following:
- Make sure your child has a bedtime routine and a consistent place to sleep.
- Make sure you’re following a routine when your child wakes up at night.
- Give your child the opportunity to self-soothe first before comforting them.
- Try putting your baby to bed when they’re awake to help teach them how to go to sleep on their own.
Whatever sleep training methods you try, being consistent is key.
Resources About Sleep Regression
If you'd like to learn more about gentle sleep training methods, look for the following resources.
“The Newborn Sleep Book” by Dr. Lewis Jassey and Dr. Jonathan Jassey
A team of pediatricians wrote this book. It promises to get any baby to sleep through the night. The authors maintain that sleeping’s a skill parents need to teach babies, just like potty training or eating with a fork. It makes sense, right?
“The Natural Baby Sleep Solution: Use Your Child's Internal Sleep Rhythms for Better Nights and Naps” by Polly Moore
Every baby is different, so it might take some time to figure out your baby's exact sleep schedule and rhythm. This book can help you learn your baby's cues.
“The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Rest for the Whole Family” by William Sears
Dr. Sears pioneered sleep training. This book is the original of his series of books and resources.
A long-term study published in the journal Pediatrics found that behavioral sleep programs and interventions are both safe and effective.
If your baby is continuously having trouble sleeping and doesn’t improve, talk to your doctor. You also might want to work with an infant sleep specialist.
Sleep is an important part of health for babies and children (and parents!) that shouldn’t be overlooked.