Just when things are going smoothly with your new baby, BAM! A sleep regression hits and it feels like everything is falling apart. Sleep regressions are a normal and very important part of a babies development in the first year, but they can be hard to deal with. Understanding the science behind them can make them a bit easier to bear, and help you to rationalise and remember that ‘this too shall pass’ when you’re awake in the middle of the night! Here’s our guide to baby sleep regressions…
What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression or a leap is the name given to a period during which a baby shows signs of being unusually wakeful and unsettled. The baby might cry more than usual, wake more frequently, struggle to fall back to sleep after waking and sleep for shorter periods than usual. It is called a regression because their behaviour might remind you of the way they behaved when they were younger, before their sleep consolidated into longer periods and they began to self soothe.
Despite the name, please be reassured that they are not actually going backwards, they haven’t forgotten how to sleep and nothing is wrong. It’s a normal bump in the developmental road.
What causes a sleep regression?
Sleep regressions tend to happen right before a breakthrough – so right before your baby takes their first steps or says their first word you might find yourself tearing your hair out because their sleep has gone haywire. At this time their brain and body is going through a huge shift and learning a massive new skill, they have a lot of processing to do, so is it any wonder they struggle to settle?
A sleep regression is a sign that they are developing, growing and getting ready to show you something amazing.
When do sleep regressions happen?
Sleep regressions are predictable, and roughly fall into a schedule for most babies. According to the ‘Wonder Weeks’ app, the clock is started from a babies due date (NOT their birth date) because just as their development in the womb follows measurable and expected progress, that progress continues after their due date in much the same way. The Wonder Weeks app is a brilliant tool to track where your baby is on the path, when their next sleep regression might happen, how long it will last and how to soothe them.
Typically sleep regressions happen throughout the first year, with the most noticeable happening at 4 months, 8 months and 12 months.
Firstly, remember this is normal and positive. Yup, you might be up a bit more through the night, and your baby might feel like harder work during a sleep regression, but if you know that this is temporary, every baby goes through it, and something exciting will come out the other side, you should be able to coast through it (with the help of a coffee and a lie in!)
Your baby will appreciate extra soothing and skin to skin contact during this period. You will not be making a rod for your own back, creating a bad habit or spoiling your baby by meeting their need for your support. Pick them up, walk around with them, put them in a sling or lay them on your chest, sing to them and do what you can to comfort them.
Help them settle to sleep by creating an environment filled with their familiar sleep cues – a cosy baby sleep bag, a Dream Cloud nightlight playing a favourite tune, a room darkened by a Total Eclipse blackout blind. Whatever they are used to, keep doing it.
And when the nights feel long and your eyes and arms feel so tired, remember, you’ve got this, and your baby is developing into an amazing human with your support.