It’s one of those things you never hear about when you’re gearing up to have your baby – a sleep regression.
No one talks about it, because how would that conversation go? “Oh, around 4 months of age your baby will inexplicably stop sleeping at night and maybe even during the day, too. Your bump is adorable! Have a name yet?!”
Really, though, around 4 months of age your baby will inexplicably stop sleeping at night, and maybe even during the day, too. Oh, they’ll also do it again at 6 months, and 9 months, and possibly 12 months if you’re really lucky. Or they may not do it at all. Or it may hit at a different time. Isn’t the unpredictability of early development fun?!
One of the best explanations I’ve read as to why a baby experiences a sleep regression was by Alexis Dubief on her amazing site Precious Little Sleep (formerly Troublesome Tots), where she noted that while we look at it as the baby moving backward in their development, it’s actually the total opposite. Imagine that you’re learning so many new things at once – you’re so excited and also so confused, and maybe even a little scared. How can you be expected to sleep peacefully each night? You can’t, especially when you’ve only been on this planet for four months. Hence, the regressions.
There is so much information on the web about regressions (and I definitely suggest checking out the Precious Little Sleep link above for the whys and hows behind them), but one thing I don’t remember seeing was information on what exactly to do, other than just live through it and wait until it passes.
Waiting until it passes is certainly a good strategy, because the super great news about sleep regressions is they do pass. But I am not very good at waiting. I always felt like I should be doing something whenever a regression hit, and now having survived five regressions between our two kids (and probably at least another one still in waiting for us as P approaches one year), I can say I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to surviving a sleep regression. I thought I would share them, in the hopes that they’ll help some other sleep-deprived moms and dads out there.
Some of these may seem kind of silly, but trust me they work.
Do not turn on ANY lights. At all.
This is actually a good rule of thumb in general for if/when your baby wakes up at night. Don’t turn on their lamp, their closet light, their ceiling light, a hall light – do not turn on any lights.
Turning on a light will cause their eyes to open wider, to focus, and to wake up even more than they already have from crying. Not to mention, one of your toughest jobs with a newborn is helping them set their internal clock until those circadian rhythms really kick in.
The flashlight on your cell phone is your friend. Turn it on, face the phone down so the light shines on the floor and use it to guide your steps in the room, find the rocking chair, whatever you need, then turn it off and rock/dance/sway in the dark until your baby is asleep again.
The one and only exception to this rule is if there is vomit or a horrible, blown out diaper situation. But even then, try to make do with the flashlight or if that simply won’t cut it, turn on a closet light but keep the door mostly shut so it’s just a small amount of light coming into the bedroom.
Note: if the regression is also happening at naps, you can still apply this rule. Minimize the amount of daylight in the room as much as possible.
No diaper changes. At all.
Again, unless there’s a blow out situation or your baby is soaked through, don’t change the diaper.
This is why overnight diapers exist in our world – they’re designed to hold a lot of liquid, and to draw that liquid away from the skin. If you’re concerned about a rash, though, you can use vaseline or another diaper cream to create a barrier.
Changing a diaper is one more thing that will further wake up your baby, and your number one goal when trying to survive a sleep regression is minimize the amount of time your baby is awake at night. Just say no to changing a diaper at night.
There have been a handful of times where, in an act of desperation because nothing was calming my child down, I did change her diaper to verify nothing was going on that I was maybe missing. Sometimes the diaper can be folded weirdly on their skin, or pinching them. So, if absolutely nothing is working to calm down your baby, you can break the rule. 😉
Find a bedtime routine, and stick with it. Be consistent!
Consistency is your absolute, 100% without a doubt best friend through a regression. If there is one thing I can say about all regressions, it’s this: don’t make any huge changes. A regression is not the time to try a new sleep training method, or rearrange your baby’s room thinking they hate where their bed is (ahem…. I have done this…. it didn’t work).
If you are in a sleep regression right now and don’t have a routine, you’re probably already feeling at a loss so adding in a routine will help create some stability. If you’re in a sleep regression and do have a routine, great! Stick with it. It’s your lifeline through this turbulent time.
A routine does not have to be complicated. I’ll tell you the nighttime routine we have used for both of our kids since they came home from the hospital:
- Bath (not that they’re dirty, especially as newborns, it’s more just starting to make a habit.), then pajamas
- Read a book or two, then turn on white noise machine
- Get some milk while being rocked, with the light on in the room
- Turn off light
- Give lovey, lay down in bed
That’s it. Figure out a simple routine that will work for your family, then make it happen!
During a regression, you’ll most likely hit a snag right at that lay down in bed part, or shortly after it, but hey that’s okay! Stay consistent on the routine, and when you come out of the sleep regression, you will have a baby that can go right to bed with no problems. I believe in this so deeply, I’m willing to bet on it. I credit our consistency during hard times to the consistency our child gives us back during the easy times. It’s a win, in the long run.
Bonus Tip: Remind yourself, every day, you’re one day closer to the end of the sleep regression.
It’s so important to mentally keep yourself focused on the endgame. Don’t get lost in hopelessness, or fear, or even anxiety (I’ve been to all of those places during my kids’ sleep regressions, and it’s the pits).
There’s an app called The Wonder Weeks that pinpoints specific leaps of development for your child based on their birth date. You’re actually supposed to go by the due date, but with both of my children it was more accurate by their birth date based on the signs I saw with them.
A few of the leaps – aka, wonder weeks – coincide with regressions. This is a paid app, but it’s entirely worth it for the countdown feature. It has a daily countdown, telling you when the leap is over. Every night, watching that number go down by one, knowing we were closer and closer to the end of the regression, was priceless to me. If you need a visual marker, I recommend buying that app.
Plus, you’ll learn what abilities and skills to look for during the sleep regression, which also makes it a little more bearable, too.
And that’s what I’ve got. I hope you found this helpful, and I hope if you’re experiencing a sleep regression right now that your biggest take away from this is that it’s coming to an end, and soon! You’ll make it. And at the other side, your baby may be sitting up (what!!), or crawling (hold up!!), or standing (omg, no!) or… even walking (whoa!)!!
As always, thanks for reading 🙂