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Sleep Regressions or Sleep Progressions?

Your baby has been sleeping beautifully, settling wonderfully, ah you sigh, you’ve got this. You’ve totally nailed this sleeping malarkey right? Then bham! Out of nowhere your little one starts fighting naps, decides a midnight party is on the cards and fusses during feeding, oh and never mind the countless night waking’s. You might be thinking “What on earth has happened? What have I don’t wrong?” The simple answer is nothing. You have done nothing wrong.


The term sleep regression is one that is used rather lightly, and honestly a word I don’t particularly like because when you look at the word ‘regression’ it actually means ‘a return to a former or less developed state’. We should be calling them Sleep Progressions right? Because your baby is progressing developmentally and what your baby is experiencing is completely normal! Their sleep cycles are starting to mature and they’re beginning to transition through all sleep stages from REM-NREM3-REM-NREM3 to NREM1 – NREM2 – NREM3/4 – NREM2 – NREM1 – REM

They may also become really distracted around feeding. They may latch off the breast or not seem very interested in their bottle. Try using a feeding necklace or feed in a darkened room or shortly after they wake from a nap.


Naps become a bit of a joke too right? Equally, they may need less sleep during the day and wake more easily soon after falling asleep, sometimes startling awake after only being asleep for about 5-10 minutes (this is when they are settling into a deeper sleep – which can feel like ‘falling out of bed’) try hovering around and gentle shushing them so they fall back to sleep. Pink noise in older babies (over 6 months) might help with background noises (Zhou et al, 2012)


Let’s take a look at the well-known 4 month sleep regression for example:


Babies around 3-4 months of age are a lot more aware of their surroundings. They’re developing new motor and sensory skills - like hand to mouth co-ordination, finding their feet, tracking people and toys across a room. They’re more awake, they’re giggly and gurgling. They’re also developing new physical strength and their salivary glands are starting to mature, hence all the drooling which we can so often assume is teeth, whilst it’s not uncommon for babies to cut teeth around this age – the question is. Is it just teeth? Or is it normal?


So why does sleep go out the window then during a sleep regression? This occurs because the brain is trying to ‘master’ this new skill; in other words, sleep will not be prioritised until this happens. Sleep regressions are most common around 4 months, 8 months, 12 and 18 months. If you look at these age ranges you will see such huge developmental leaps including things like, rolling, crawling, walking, talking and even separation anxiety


So how do you cope with a sleep regression? I love how Lyndsey Hookway worded it ‘you don’t start decorating when you’re having a massive home renovation - you wait until the dust settles before doing that’ and it’s the same with sleep regressions. You are not making a rod for your own back if you are being responsive, if you carry more, bed share, feed to sleep, rock, lie with or even if you cuddle your baby or toddler more. You’d have much more capacity (mentally, physically and emotionally) if you do what you can to get through it. We can’t pour from an empty cup right? It will pass and it does pass I promise you that. Getting additional support can help. Perhaps a doula, grandparent, family member or friend can offer some respite?


A great app to download is the Wonder Weeks app


*Remember feeding (daytime or night time) is not just about food. Babies will feed for comfort and connection too

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