How to survive a baby sleep regression

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If you’re reading this, you are probably tired, exhausted, desperate and will do ANYTHING for your child to sleep again. Sleep regressions are a mother’s worst nightmare. Whether your child was sleeping well OR your child’s sleeping just got even worse, you are probably begging on your knees for some restful sleep again.

What is a sleep regression?

You probably have heard about regressions from just about every other mother out there.

The 4 month sleep regression, the 6 month one, not to mention the 9 month and 18 month sleep regressions.

Why are there SO many regressions? And how an earth am I supposed to survive them all?

baby sleep regression

Well truth be told, there is only one TRUE sleep regression, that has actual science behind it. That is the 4 month sleep regression.

This is because at around 3-4 months the way a baby sleep dramatically changes.

During the newborn stage, a baby only has two sleep cycles.

  1. Deep sleep- Which is stage 3 of their sleep cycle.
  2. REM sleep- Which is known as rapid eye movement.

Around that fourth month, it begins to switch. Your baby goes from only having 2 stages in their sleep to now having 4 stages.

This reorganization of sleep can cause a little mishap for your baby which can also be known as the “4 month sleep regression”.

The reason why this is the only true sleep regression is that this is the only time your baby’s sleep actually changes.

When you hear about all the other “sleep regressions” they usually happen when your baby hits a developmental milestone, or maybe is feeling under the weather or is entering those toddler stages and testing the limits.

Parenting is one of those things that seems to be always ongoing.

Just when you think you have mastered one thing; another problem or setback will be thrown in your path.

I think that is just the way it is sometimes. So, don’t get me wrong, your baby will have “regressions” but when they are past that 4 month stage it is something that shouldn’t cause too much of a headache.

How can I survive those dreaded sleep regressions?

The key to getting through sleep setbacks as painlessly as possible is making sure your little one has some sleep skills.

A lot of times when mothers reach that 4 month stage and all of a sudden their baby’s sleep takes a turn for the worst, that seems to be the time they start looking and seeking out help to sleep train their baby.

When your baby’s sleep cycle actually changes, they gain two more stages of sleep. Both of those stages being a lighter form of sleep.

This is why that 4 month sleep regression consists of your baby falling asleep for a short time and then waking up. Now your baby has a lighter stage of sleep, they may be more easily awoken.

Those constant waking’s in the night are usually linked to this exact cause as well. Your baby wakes and then doesn’t know how to go back to sleep.

Baby with lack of sleep

Believe it or not, you enter the light part of your sleep cycle every night too. Most of the time you probably don’t even know, and if you do wake usually you aren’t crying to be rocked back to sleep.

That is because you know how to get back to sleep on your own.

The best advice I can give you is to just do your best to ride it out but also help your baby develop good sleep skills.

A baby that has the ability to go to sleep by themselves will be a baby that will sail through any type of sleep setback. That doesn’t mean they won’t have any, it just will be a hundred times less painful.

What do I do when a sleep regression hits?

This is quite a loaded question. It really does depend on your own circumstance and also the age of your baby.

BUT with that being said, there is one thing – you need to be consistent and hold true to the rules.

Now if your little one doesn’t have any sleep skills that is ok! It is never too late to start.

I can promise you that teaching your child good sleep habits will only be a greater blessing in the future.

I am to explain a few different stages where a “regression” or setback can hit.

4 months

As I already have mentioned, at this age your baby goes through a completely different reorganization of sleeping. They are growing and developing and are no longer in that super sleepy newborn stage.

They acquire two more stages of sleep in their sleep cycle. The reason why at this age it can present a problem is that your baby’s sleep is no longer always in the “deep sleep stage”.

They now start to experience sleep where their cycle is light, and they can be woken more easily.

This is especially tricky if your baby is used to nursing to sleep, having a binky or has any other sleep prop associated with falling to sleep.

If those things aren’t there when they wake that is when they have trouble falling back to sleep. Check out my article on sleep props and how to avoid them!

What to do

If you haven’t already, now is the PERFECT time to sleep train. You might as well, right? Look at your situation and try to figure out if your baby is becoming dependent on sleep props.

When your baby begins to enter some lighter stages of sleep, they will become more aware that once you set them down in their crib asleep, they will realize they are no longer being rocked.

Or the binky fell out and there is no one to pop it back in. Implementing some beginner sleep training habits will be helpful to your baby’s situation.

If you have already begun some sleep training, that is even better! Keep up that good work and don’t let this feel like you have failed or want to give up. Keep chugging along and stay consistent with whatever sleep training methods you have found work well.

6 months

At this age, your baby is starting to become so much more aware of everything. Maybe they are beginning to master sitting up, and love to roll everywhere.

These are exciting moments, but these developmental milestones can sometimes cause some sleepy issues.

Do your best to get through these little hiccups.

Remember motherhood is a lot of learning along the way. I guess that is what keeps us on our toes.

What to do

Keep your baby in a consistent routine and avoid reverting back to any old ways or habits.

Also, around the 6 month mark is often when a baby starts to try to figure out how to get to sleep.

If your baby has been dependent on a sleep prop up until this time and now you feel like it is no longer working, this is seriously the perfect time to start sleep training.

Are you having to rock your baby to sleep for 30 minutes now, because the quick 5-minute rocking it isn’t cutting it?

Or maybe you are having to nurse for longer for your baby to finally drift off to sleep.

Whatever it may be, I bet it seems like you HAVE to do these “tricks” to get your baby to sleep, yet they still don’t seem to be working as good as they used to.

Good news though, this is a good sign. It means your baby is actually looking for other ways to get to sleep independently but just doesn’t know how to do it yet.

This is the perfect time to jump and teach your baby some good sleep habits.

9 months

Now your baby is maybe crawling or cruising. They might be pulling up and becoming pretty mobile.

This is a lot of physical and mental development which can cause a little disruption in sleep.

What to do

If your baby has been sleeping relatively well up until this point, stick to what you have been doing and small setbacks like these won’t last too long.

Don’t be so quick to run in and create any bad habits.

Obviously, you need to make sure that your baby isn’t sick or experiencing any other issues that could be interfering with sleep.

If that is the case, by all means, do your best to help comfort and console them.

BUT be cautious that you don’t undo all of your hard work and create any new bad habits.

12-18 months

Now as head toward the toddler stage your child is developing and growing so fast. You have walking, maybe some talking, and lots of changes.

Maybe your baby is cutting some more teeth or transitioning to one nap. That is a lot of change.

No doubt your child may experience some setbacks or disruptions in their regular sleep schedules.

What to do

The key to remember with this age is that your toddler is going to test the boundaries and see what they might be able to get away with.

They will try to figure out if the rules still apply now, they are a bit older.

Don’t let your feisty little toddler convince you that they now need a completely new way of getting to sleep.

You know they can sleep well so don’t be fooled.

sleeping toddler

Of course, if they are experiencing some discomfort from teething or feeling unwell definitely cuddle them. Or maybe they woke in the night due to a bad dream.

Don’t ignore your child’s needs.

Attend to them in any way you can, just don’t let those ways slowly evolve into bad habits that will become SO hard to break.

If your toddler is transitioning to fewer naps a day just accept the fact it might be a rough week or two while they adapt to that change.

Adjustments to schedules are hard for both you and your child.

Just bear in mind it will take a little time and just keep as consistent as you can in all other areas.

Survive and remember those younger years don’t last forever

Surviving is sometimes a mother’s best tool. Motherhood is HARD and some parts of it are just not fun.

Pushing through those tough challenges and doing our best to survive is sometimes all we can do.

Remember these regressions and setbacks aren’t forever, and neither are those baby years.

Before you know it, your baby will be heading off to their first day of school or going off to college.

I know as a Mum who loves her sleep, being deprived of a good night’s rest does not sit well with me, but I also won’t have my baby forever.

Regressions are the worst I’ll be honest with you, but if you can be prepared and help prepare your child with good sleep skills, those setbacks will be a breeze.

Have you experienced a sleep regression with your baby? What ways have you found helpful to be able to survive them?

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