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Four Month Sleep Regression

Auggie had a bedtime complete with routine before he turned 4 months old. He had gone from getting up the typical every 1-2 hours as a newborn (& taking 40+ minutes to nurse. Seriously.) to every 3-4 hours with an occasional 5-6 hour stretch (& taking only 15 minutes to nurse!). It was great. I even mentioned it with his 4 month picture post…I should have known better than to so clearly tempt fate.

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I have decided I have a Developmentally-Type A-Baby, as it all went away the very week he turned 4 months old. We escaped colicky/purple evening cries, but we clearly did not evade the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. Every 30-90 minutes, he would wake up crying. Every night around 9:30 he would begin screaming, without even being awake. It was upsetting, to say the least, to have my baby transform into a howling non-sleeper. I was worried about him despite all the reading I’d already done in an attempt to prepare for this phase. I knew the science behind it. I knew it was normal. Nevertheless, this worry grew to encompass Mike and I as days passed…and we realized why sleep deprivation is considered torture.

However. I am a woman of action, even with no sleep, so I contacted every mom I knew who had mentioned sleep issues or training. I bought and read two books  within 48 hours. I started implementing a variety of things in my own hybrid training program. We kept to the bedtime routine but moved it from 8 to 7. I did everything to break his nursing-to-sleep association, thrilled when an expert said all bets were off after 2am so I could just give him the boob, bring him peace, and put him to bed at least part of the night (it’s NOT an easy habit to break). I made sure lights were dim and avoided conversations once bedtime routine started; just books, prayer, songs, then into bed sleepy but awake.

I always secretly hoped he would stay asleep longer “this time,” prayed the gamut of prayers: pleading, asking, commanding, complaining. But we were lucky (blessed?) to get one good 3 hour stretch a week. It was ROUGH. Our conversations were constantly short, often misunderstood, and yet we would take the time to clarify understanding each night to make sure we were good; we both knew sleep deprivation was making everything hard. This intentional communication was also (take a guess) tiring, despite its importance.

I wanted to move Auggie to the nursery as soon as this started, and after a few weeks of debating if it was best (CDC or FDA or someone official says keep baby in your room for the first YEAR) plus being too damn tired to actually get his bassinet and sound machine moved in there, we did it. We kept him in his bassinet at first because research (right?), and honestly it worked a little. He started doing 2 hour stretches for the most part, although bedtime itself remained tough. It was better but still not good. So motivated once again with this strange confidence that comes from “why the heck not nothing is working anyway” stage of parenting, I moved him to his crib. Well, that? He hated. Too much space to move around in! Unfamiliar! And while I anticipated that, it was still a bummer. I wanted sleep more than anything. Not just mine; I wanted my family to sleep. It was my mission. It was time for the one part of sleep training we couldn’t be consistent on yet: could we let him cry it out? So far, it had been a resounding and unified no. If my baby was actually crying, not fussing but crying, I had to go to him. Mike felt the same. But it was the one thing we hadn’t tried. It was there in the back of my mind, wiggling forward.

Then came Auggie’s 5 month day. Part of me would joke that he was so determined to develop on schedule that maybe he would just sleep better now. Part of me fully believed he would be 10 years old and still waking up every 2 hours. Equally logical predictions, I feel. That day I had book study with my mom and sister in law, Jen. At the end we prayed. Jen prayed for Augustine and it was different; I could feel it. She prayed in a way where she addressed the need and then claimed it as a done thing – thanking God for the better night’s sleep ahead – and that was that. I have heard prayers like this before, but in all my nightly laments, it hadn’t gone there.

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That night was also a decider in whether we could do CIO. Emboldened by the prayer, and by the clarifying-a-miscommunication conversation Mike and I were trying to get through, I let Auggie yell for longer than usual. I should also note, it was clear to me for maybe the first time or maybe a true change, that he wasn’t crying. He was yelling. He wanted his way. This was confirmed when the pre-determined two minutes passed and I got up to go give him his pacifier and calm him – but before I could get to his door, he paused. HE PAUSED. I waited, he squawked, paused, yelled again and I made a decision.

I turned around and sat back down.

I knew that he’d turned a corner developmentally. He knew to yell to get us to come in. Mike and I sat there, watching him on the monitor, dumbfounded. Eventually the fuss game turned to tears, so I went in, gave him pacifier and hummed a song (while leaving him in his crib instead of picking him up) and thinking our typical night was about to ensue, I went back out once he was calm. But the night wasn’t typical. He did four hour stretches of sleep. FOUR. It was miraculous.

So far it’s becoming our new normal. He wakes up twice or maybe 3 times a night, 3-5 hours a stretch, to feed. It’s beautiful. I am happy to go in and pick up my boy and snuggle him close for those 15 minute moments of stillness. I always loved holding him and nursing at night, but the regression took the joy to an anxious place. It’s made me appreciate the 4 hour stretch instead of envying the early all night sleepers that seemingly all of my friends have.

I’m sure that this journey is familiar to many parents, but I still wanted to write this part of our story. It has shown me how strong you can be off of no sleep. It has also shown me how weak. It has shown me how deep parental love is; how embedded with welfare decisions that don’t come with guarantees. How impossible it is to be selfish – I actually cried one night because I just wanted to be selfish for one day. One hour even! But it isn’t part of my life right now. And as a very selfish person, I think this is a hard-earned good thing. I’ve learned there are no black and white answers with parenting; I can’t be perfect at it, and there are A LOT of things that I cannot control. Robbed of my two favorite coping mechanisms, I’m learning to learn who my son is, and what he as an individual needs. There’s freedom in that.

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I hope that this post brings a laugh, some nostalgia, and some perspective to anyone who finds it from a google search on this infamous regression. For further reading, you must turn to this. It is the best thing about sleep training on the internet. :)

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