Sometime around 3-4 months of age, your baby’s sleep patterns may change. The baby that was sleeping several hours a night may wake every 2 hours. This is often called the 4-month sleep regression. According to the online dictionary, regression means a return to a former or less developed state. This is the opposite of what your baby is doing. Babies are constantly learning and developing and growing. It’s exciting and fun. The downside is it can affect their sleep, their moods, and their feeding patterns. Let’s break it down here:
Your baby is conquering some serious milestones during this time. They may be working on rolling over, they may start to recognize faces around them, they may be working hard to understand language and what you’re saying. These are just a few of the amazing things they are learning at this age. Because of these developmental changes, sleep can be disrupted. This is ok, usually, once they have these skills mastered, they will go back to sleeping better.
2. Growth Spurts
Like some kind of cruel, primitive joke, your baby may also hit a growth spurt during this time. You aren’t new to this…your baby has had several by now. Growth spurts bring lots of feeds and sometimes a really cranky baby.
This is usually the time when breastfeeding parents will complain to me that their baby is not staying on the breast for long, they are too distracted by everything going on around them. Cat walked into the room? Have to stop and look. You’re wearing a pair of shiny earrings? Oooh, that’s new. Big brother is trying to eat lunch? What’s he having? Breastfeeding can become a chore at this age. Sometimes, you just can’t win that battle and your baby makes up for those feedings at nighttime. Eventually, the world becomes a little less exciting at feeding times, and you figure out how to keep him more engaged. At least for the time being.
4. Circadian Rhythm
This is about the time your baby’s sleep cycles are changing and maturing. Babies are not born with circadian rhythm, this is something that develops around 3-4 months. With this, they begin to go between sleep cycles, just like we do when we sleep. The difference is we can easily put ourselves back to sleep. Did you wake up to go to the bathroom? Maybe need another blanket if you’re cold? Adjust the pillows? And back to sleep again. As adults, we take advantage of the fact that sleep can come somewhat easy for us. Not as easy for your baby. They may wake up between sleep cycles (which are like every 60, 90, 120 minutes) and have trouble getting back to sleep. This is when they summon you, and now everyone is awake.
Melatonin helps us sleep. Your baby is not born with melatonin, but fortunately, they get melatonin through breastfeeding. In fact, levels of melatonin increase throughout the night and are highest in breastmilk around 3 am. Babies that are not breastfeeding have lower levels of melatonin. In actuality, breastfeeding is helping your baby sleep, not keeping them from sleeping. If your baby wakes, it’s ok to feed them. Maybe they are in a growth spurt or cut a feeding short during the day because they were too busy with everything going on around them. Maybe they are burning more energy learning how to roll over. These are all good things, so go ahead and nurse them during the night if you need to, and be confident the melatonin in your breastmilk will help put your little cherub back to sleep again.
If you find yourself in the middle (or just starting) a phase of sleep disruption, try and remember that this is happening for positive reasons, and it will pass. It is all part of the baby’s vast development.