Around 4 months of age babies often experience noticeable changes. This 4-month milestone marks one of the most pronounced developmental periods in a child's life. It usually starts around of 16 weeks of age but can start later especially in babies born early.
Schedules, feeding and sleep often get off track at this time, making days and night more challenging. However, your baby will also show marked progress in brain development and awareness of the world around him.
He is discovering the world around him as he learns how to manipulate objects. He’s making connections between his actions and the reactions they produce. When he laughs, you laugh; when he drops something, it’s still there. His world is becoming more organized as he discovers the patterns and changes around him.
This new awareness takes some getting used to. Feeding, whether breast or by bottle, now has fierce competition with the dog as she walks by or locating the source of noises. As any breastfeeding Mom can attest to, nipples don’t stretch that far! Everything, whether sight, sound, smell, touch or taste is demanding his immediate attention and eating is a low priority.
Sleep also may become challenging. Naptimes are either reduced or fought every step of the way. Night wakings occur at increased intervals. And if that’s not enough, this cognitive development stage comes around the same time that sleep cycles change, causing transitions can be very stark and easy to wake from. And he will likely need your help getting back to sleep.
This sleep-deprived, over-stimulated baby of yours may also be fussy, clingy and demanding. You may wonder if there is something wrong. There is nothing further from the truth, everything is just right. This cognitive leap usually only lasts 1-3 weeks, after which you will find yourself with a more perceptive, interactive baby.
How do you survive this 4-month progression?
There are so many changes happening in your baby’s world, now is not the time to introduce rigid sleep requirements or expectations; it’s a time to hang in there. Your baby will have a better ability to settle in a few weeks. At the moment your goal is to help your baby get through this transitional stage with as much sleep as possible. Figure out how your baby will best sleep during the day, even if that means using a swing, stroller or car ride. It’s ok to be feeding, rocking or walking your baby to sleep. Do what works.
Your baby still needs a nap every 1-2 hours, even if he’s fighting them, so watch carefully for his sleepy cues and try to respond to them quickly.
Not the time for sleep coaching
Sleep often gets off track around this time but it is a very challenging time to do any behavioral sleep coaching or shaping. Any attempts at this time which often results in weeks of struggling with additional frustration and crying. Often results cannot be seen until the child is 2-3 weeks past the onset of noticeable developmental changes. A gentler approach would be to wait until your child is past this developmental period if you need to take action to improve your sleep or at least 18 weeks of age if you don’t notice any marked changes. A supportive sleep coaching plan implemented at an appropriate time often brings improvements in a shorter period of time with less crying. It is also fine to wait until your child is older – it’s never too late to improve sleep habits and there is more research that supports sleep coaching after 6 or 12 months then there is before 6 months.
Babywearing and cuddles
During his wakeful time help him explore his world while offering lots of reassurance through extra snuggles and soothing words. Wearing your baby in a carrier is an excellent way for him to experience this new world while having the comfort and encouragement of having you close.
Even though your baby may seem disinterested in feeding be consistent in offering them. A quiet room is ideal to get in as much as possible while you have his attention.
You may find that he wakes up more frequently to eat at night. He is experiencing a time of growth and development and may need more calories. Some breastfeeding Mother’s may experience a reduced milk supply around 4 month. This it is not the time to limit night feeds.
Keeping bedtime routines simple and consistent will help him recognize the pattern of night-time sleep. At night keep wakings dark with the least amount of distractions possible while doing what you know will help him get back to sleep.
And your mantra for these few weeks? My baby is growing. My baby is developing. My baby will be back to his sweet self soon.
You may be experiencing more challenging sleep during this time but keep in mind that after this 4-month PROgression your baby will emerge being more aware and engaged with the world around them.
Article by Andrea Strang, KinderSleep
Thanks for your article Andrea. My son is currently going through this transition at just over 3 months and it has been a rough time. There are enough articles out there that make me feel guilty about the techniques I’m employing to survive this period (i.e. nursing to sleep). He is waking every 1/2 hour sometimes and I see no alternative but to bring it back into our bed, even though I had felt proud that we moved beyond co-sleeping. Thanks for saying that all bad habits can be broken, and that we must do what we can to get through this. And also to remember all the positives – he is developing in so many wonderful ways!
Tammy, This is a wonderful age however there are some challenges. Sounds like you are doing a great job. Hang in there and enjoy 🙂