Sleep and your four-month-old

I have many mums who come to me with their 4-5 month babies wondering why their little ones are suddenly waking up every hour or every 2 hours and sometimes even every 15 minutes.

Is this the dreaded four-month regression?

Well, my mentors describe the stage perfectly as a four-month Progression and not a regression. It is a pronounced developmental period and disruptions are expected and it is NORMAL!

Your little four-month old is discovering the world around him. He, at this stage, is going through both physical and neurological growth. There is a burst of cognitive awareness, which brings with it an increased sense of smell, taste and hearing. They are learning to sit up, use their hands to grasp, turn and pass objects, recognising their names, rolling over etc.

Feedings will be distracted. Their keen sense of sight begins to take focus on new things. Simple things like shadows, sunlight and bright lights will fascinate him, interest him. Food and sleep is the last thing they think about. And if he is distracted with his feeds during the day, he will wake at night to make up for his calories. There will also be times when your little one might just need more food to help him through his growth spurts. Waking up to feed is normal and therefore it is important not to wean off any night feeding, or stretch feeds thinking that it may help them sleep through the night. Sleep patterns start to change. Often many babies fight naps – you may see shorter naps or babies fighting naps, you see them get clingier.

It is therefore advisable around this time to not make dramatic changes. There is a reason why scientific evidence does not support sleep training newborns or young infants. With all the variability in feeding and sleeping patterns, we would also pose a risk to attachment and growing and developing brains. Distraction during feeds, trouble sleeping, being clingy, quick change in mood i.e. happy one minute, crying the next and/or quiet at times are some of the signs that new skills are emerging.

Babies can’t help themselves and it is Really OK to do what works at this time. If nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, patting to sleep is working at this age then go ahead and help them. If by doing all this your little one is clocking the stretch he needs at this age then you should not think twice about it being a bad habit. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Enjoy this time because before you know it, your little one will be all grown up and may not enjoy being cuddled all the time. I know I miss that with my little threenager!

It is important to note that naps too really start to consistently develop at around 6 months of age. And once the night sleep falls in place naps too will fall in place.

Habits can all be changed, as they get older. The best time to make any changes is 6 months onward. At this time they will be developmentally ready to learn independent sleep skills and you will also have long-term success.

While some babies may be able to learn the skills at 4-5 month of age, this is something that should be very carefully evaluated by a trained sleep consultant with specific training at this age.

So what can you do…

  • Firstly, remember that this fussy stage can last anywhere from 1-6 weeks.
  • Get him to sleep at the first sign of sleepiness and avoid getting him overtired by keeping him up too long. Fill in his day time sleep tank any which way you can. If naps are good night will better.
  • Have a good bedtime routine. It does not have to be long. Simple, consistent and predictable routines with a bath, massage, nurse, bed will suffice too. Simple consistent bedtime routines act as a cue for the baby that it’s time to go to sleep. In case he wakes up at night, keep your interactions minimal as you help him go back to sleep.

If you cannot wait and really need to get sleep back on track then please feel free to check my website and we can work out a gentle sleep coaching plan most apt for this stage. I am a certified Gentle Sleep Coach. You do not have to cry it out, you do not have to stop co-sleeping if that is what you want and YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STOP FEEDING. I work with parents of children ages 6 months to 6 years old. Babies under 6months I will consult with parents on how to set up healthy sleep habits from the start and if appropriate how to gently shape their sleep.


Napping Basics

If you are a mother to a new born or an infant, it is more than likely that your baby’s napping habits are your biggest concern.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at some key napping facts.

Night sleep develops before day sleep. The morning nap starts to develop around 12 weeks followed by the afternoon naps.
Naps improve a child’s mood and reduces the crying. Getting a good quality day sleep helps their brains grow and develop.
Moreover, sleep begets sleep. if daytime sleep is bad night sleep falls apart.
The big challenge here is that naps are constantly changing. This can lead a parent to believe that either their child is not tired or is ready to drop their nap. Parents can feel helpless, but if you know what to expect based on your baby’s age and development then it ceases to be such an issue.

In the early months babies need a LOT OF SLEEP! Sleep cycles in the first five months change on an almost weekly basis. Naps may become unpredictable and this is normal.

So what do we do?

Get them to nap any which way you can at the first sleepy sign. This could in a carrier or a pram. It is OK to do what works and soon the naps will even out.

Between 6 and 8 months babies take 2-3 naps per day – a morning nap, an afternoon nap and a mini late afternoon nap. Between 9 and 12 months, babies drop this mini nap, the morning nap shortens and the afternoon nap gets longer. This nap begins approximately two – three hours after the morning nap.

13-18 months is a tricky time not just for mums but also the children. It is around this time they transition from two naps to one. But before we start the transition we need to look for the following signs-

  • a) Does the child sleep 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night
  • b) Does he take longer to fall asleep for his morning nap
  • c) Or does he sleep longer in the morning and take a long time to fall asleep in the afternoon or refuses the afternoon nap altogether.

These signs are an indication that your child is ready to consolidate his naps. To help him make this transition we start to push the morning nap a little later. Like for instance pushing it till 11 for few days and then 11:30 then noon and so on, with the aim to having them asleep by 12:30 or 1:00. And importantly bring the bedtime closer to 7 pm to make it easy for him.

This nap pattern will continue till he is ready to drop this nap altogether and move to more of a quiet time, which is anywhere from 3- 4 years.

It is important we time the naps based on his age, observe his sleepy cues and are aware of the window of wakefulness – a fancy way of saying a the length of time a baby can stay awake between sleep times. For instance, an eight month old will be able to stay awake for approximately 2-3 hours which increases as they get older.

Follow their lead and don’t be in a hurry to drop their naps. 95% of children still need some form of daytime sleep till the age of 4 even. They will test our boundaries and nap times will become a regular battleground. It’s fine- have an abbreviated nap routine, create a sleep inducing environment and don’t give up.


Best Practices for Healthy Sleep

For most mothers with infants, sleep becomes the most precious and most elusive thing in the world.

Raising a baby is tiring enough but when you do that in a perpetually sleep-deprived state life can seem very hard and the days very long.

 To make things worse, there is no shortage of information and misinformation on how much sleep your newborn needs, what is the best way to get them to sleep, what to do, what not to do. For already overwhelmed parents, this information overload can lead to more anxiety.

Having been there myself in the not so distant past and having then trained to be a fully certified Gentle Sleep Coach, I can feel your anxiety and I may be able to help you objectively address your baby’s and your sleep concerns.

First up, let’s look at some facts:

  • Your newborn will sleep as much as he needs to and will get the amount of sleep that his body requires.
  • Newborn sleep cycles are much shorter in the early months. In fact, naps and night-time sleep won’t even begin to evolve until they get a little older.
  • Waking every few hours is normal and essential for your newborn, as he needs to eat frequently and wake as a means to have his primary needs met.
  • Your infant will naturally move towards longer stretches of sleep by 3 to 4 months.

Sleep is about your baby’s maturity but it also requires a bit of nurturing on the parent’s part. So what can you as parents do in these initial months?


Does your newborn baby nurse to sleep? That’s perfectly fine. She will only nap in the swing? No problem. She wants to eat every 90 minutes during the day? Great. You really are not going to create any “bad” habits in these first few months. Do what works for you and your baby now, so that you can rest and your baby can get the sleep (and feedings) she needs. You will not create any “BAD” habits in these initial months.

The good news is this phase is temporary. It’s not going to be long before your baby is sleeping longer stretches, and taking naps on a schedule.

These newborn months come with their own set of rules. During these times, babies go through a period of rapid growth. While it is normal for babies to wake during the night, some of them wake up more than the others. There are several gentle and natural strategies you can employ which will help establish good sleep habits for your baby. These strategies will help improve the length and quality of your baby’s sleep, and lead to better sleep for both you and your baby.

Good sleeping habits for your baby

For most mothers with infants, sleep becomes the most precious and the scarcest thing in the world. Read my experience here.

Believe me, I have been there.

I have spent sleeplessness nights wondering when my crying baby would go back to sleep. I went online looking for answers, desperately called family and friends, looking for that magic answer. Like most things baby-related, everyone had an opinion but none that worked for me.

Till I hit upon that simple truth. For you and I, sleep is a biological function that we take for granted but for the baby it is a learned skill.

A baby needs to be trained to sleep. A baby needs to discover sleep independence rather than dependence on rocking, cooing, shushing or any of the other methods most sleep-deprived parents try.

You would do well to remember that babies are creatures of habit. They can develop good sleeping habits or bad sleeping habits. I discovered that breaking the bad sleeping habits that my baby had developed was going to be challenging.

My quest for sleep, for both my baby and me, led me to the Gentle Sleep Coaching method. It’s important for me to point out here that I was not one of those mums who were tough enough to try the “cry it out” method. I couldn’t deal with the unpleasant prospect of leaving my baby alone and let him cry himself to sleep. When babies cry, they are essentially communicating their needs. You need to find a consistent and gentle response to these cries to help them feel loved, safe and protected.

I found that the Gentle Sleep method formulated by Kim West, one of the most renowned sleep specialists in the world, was perfect for my baby. The method is based on step-by-step changes in bedtime, napping, and overnight routine so that babies develop sleep independence, go to sleep on their own, and sleep more soundly and longer while feeling confident that mum and dad will be nearby and responsive.

The methodology also encourages setting guidelines for sleep hygiene. This is about creating a familiar space for your baby by establishing a calming bedtime routine. The whole process involved in the routine helps the baby unwind from an alert state to a calm drowsy one. As the baby starts to unwind they activate Oxytocin and the sleep hormone Melatonin that regulate the body arousal system. In other words, their little bodies are ready for sleep.

Adopting simple gentle and natural strategies will help nurture good sleep habits in your baby. Not only will it help improve the length and quality of sleep it will also reduce the amount it takes to settle the baby.

It is also vitally important to consider the appropriate age to sleep coach a baby.

You need to be sure that your baby is developmentally ready to learn or it will all end up in tears for both you and your baby. Most babies aren’t ready for sleep coaching until 6 months, because the ability to self soothe isn’t fully developed until then.

Generally, babies get the sleep they need to be healthy in the first six months. However, some babies can have difficult sleep patterns even in the early months. In this case, its best to do whatever you can to maximise their sleep in the early months even though these habits are not ideal over the long term. You can always alter these habits with a good sleep plan between 6 and 12 months of age. At 4-5 months some babies may be capable of learning some gentle sleep skills but only after a proper assessment by a trained sleep consultant with specific training in this age range.

Sleep is vital to health and development.  When your baby gets enough sleep she will grow, learn and stay well. Nobody puts you to sleep at night, so your baby needs to learn to do it too.

Kavitha Nair is a former sleepless mom and now a certified Gentle Sleep Coach for children from 0-6 years. Post the discovery of the Gentle Sleep Program, she discovered sleep again and a new passion – to help other sleepless moms and dads get through one of the toughest challenges of parenthood.