Your 4 Month Old Baby Is Not Broken (even when sleep is)

Have you ever felt like you have somehow managed to “break” your baby when it comes to sleep?
We have!  

Or have you ever felt like you must be doing something wrong because your baby is still waking at night when someone else’s baby is sleeping through the night?  
We’ve been there too!   

Maybe you’ve even felt like you’ve done something wrong because you’ve been told you’ve created bad habits when it comes to your little one’s sleep?
Guess what, we’ve also felt this way.  

We know that when it comes to baby sleep, parents can be left feeling all kinds of emotions from frustration and defeat to sheer exhaustion but we want to clear a few things up today.

First things first, your baby is NOT broken just because it feels like sleep has fallen apart. You are an amazing mama, and neither of you are doing anything wrong!  

Around 4 months of age is the most common time for parents to start reaching out for sleep support - sleep training or attachment based - because this is when we see the first big changes when it comes to infant sleep. Often two and three month olds are known to sleep more soundly than babies who are 4 months old!

We remember what it was like around the 4 month mark with our own babies, it was almost like they just forgot how to sleep. Naps started getting shorter and they usually only really napped if we were holding them or they were moving somehow. Then they started feeding through the night more frequently and needing to be supported back to sleep in ways they previously hadn’t.

Regressions in sleep happen as a result of developmental progressions. When it feels like sleep is falling apart  it is often because your little one is being propelled through important changes that are essential to healthy growth and development. This is true for the changes we experience at 4 months of age. From the disappearance of the stimulus barrier newborns are born with, to the changes in breastmilk supply,  to baby working on mastering new skills, there is a lot going on! While the changes that are happening are permanent, the changes that are happening in terms of sleep are not!  

We have to remember that sleep is not linear. Sleep will regress and then improve again, the amount of support your little one needs to sleep will change, and how much they sleep and when will forever be adjusting.

What we’re trying to say here is that if your baby’s sleep is regressing, you are not doing anything wrong and it does not mean your baby is broken. Additionally, it does not mean that it is time to sleep train! We only support families to get more sleep without sleep training, so if sleep training does not feel right for you there are other things we can do (and that’s why we’re here!).  

Before we provide you with some strategies to help with change in sleep we want to talk a bit about night wakes and sleep training. All babies will wake at night, some more than others. Sleep is a biological function and it is not something that is within our conscious control. All of us, from babies to adults have partial arousal through the night as we move through sleep cycles. For us it might mean rolling over and going back to sleep without noticing or perhaps you grab a drink of water, make a quick trip to the bathroom or adjust the covers. When a baby wakes during these partial arousals and has a need - be it hunger, thirst, comfort, missing you, etc. - they will call for you! When babies are sleep trained they still have these partial arousals and still have the same needs as babies who are not sleep trained, they have just learned that no one is coming.
So we know sleep is a biological function, we know that all babies wake and that this is normal, and we know that sleep is not linear and will change as our babies develop, but what can we do about it?

 Let’s break it down a few steps for survival and setting yourself for success. We cover this in our Baby Sleep Course as well!  

  1. Self-care. It always starts here. Taking care of yourself is essential in being able to show up for your children. If we do not take care of ourselves it becomes impossible to be the calm for our children. Read all about self-care and gentle parenting here.
  2. Lean on your village of attachment. Parenting is hard so please do not ever hesitate to ask for help! We aren’t meant to do this alone. It takes a village and that’s how it’s meant to be! 
  3. Fundamentals of sleep. We know it may not seem like the answer but ensuring the foundations are in place for sleep can make a world of difference. From sleep environment to sleep science taking it back to basics is a step we can’t skip!  
  4. Find your own rhythm. Forget the age-based schedules or generic one-size-fits-all approaches. You know your baby best so the most important thing to do is to tune into your baby, get to know their cues, become familiar with their temperament, embrace sleep totals that are different than someone else’s baby and find a rhythm that works for you and your baby! Stop watching the clock and watch your baby! Build in routines and find a natural flow.
  5. Create a menu of sleep associations. We promise, you are not creating bad habits or sleep crutches. We all have sleep associations and to be honest, the more sleep associations the better! Children need cues and guidance to transition from awake to asleep. When changes happen one sleep association may stop working for you so it can be so helpful to find multiple ways that are helpful in supporting your child back to sleep.

We do not have control over the changes that happen in our children’s sleep but the 5 steps we have walked you through in this blog can be helpful in surviving changes while still being responsive for your child. Remember that dependence fosters independence so responding to your child as they move through developmental progressions is truly an investment in the relationship you have with your child. When sleep feels broken, remember there is always a reason, but it is not that your baby is broken.  

Sarah & Elli

Categories: Motherhood, Naps, Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Parenting, Regressions, Sleep Associations, Sleep Without Sleep Training