Baby sleep regressions, ugh. I have dealt with my share of sleep regressions. If you look it up there seems to be a 3 month, 4 month, 6 month, 9 month, 12 month, 18 month and 2 year old sleep regression!
Well, I am exaggerating a bit, but you can find information on all of these ages and sleep problems that go along with them. Breastfeeding through sleep regressions can seem exhausting but there are ways to survive.
What is a sleep regression?
In my opinion, it is anytime your baby has had a somewhat established sleep routine and suddenly starts waking repeatedly and skipping naps.
You are left exhausted and wondering why? Freaking out that you did something to mess up this previously improving situation. There is almost always a cause but we don't realize it right at that moment.
It could be teething, it could be illness, it could be learning or mastering new skills, it could be physical growth spurt or a mental growth spurt.
We usually wonder if we are doing something wrong, if we need to change something. And, if we are breastfeeding it can get blamed. We might be told we are soothing our baby too much, or creating a bad habit.
I don't believe this, although it might seem like it when the only way to get your baby back to sleep is nursing. My philosophy is to use this special gift of breastfeeding to get your baby back to sleep, because they probably wouldn't sleep anyway, even if you stopped nursing as much.
Disclaimer, I am not a sleep expert, and I really don't know much about baby sleep, other than the many hours I spent googling it with my first baby.
But I am also a mom of three children who all slept well, then not well, off and on for the first year or so of their lives.
I also breastfed through all of this, never wavering (okay that's a lie) or blaming the breast for them not soothing themselves back to sleep. Therefore, I am going to give my tips for surviving this time. Whatever age your baby may be when the dreaded regression hits.
My first baby slept like a typical newborn. Not great, but we started getting longer stretches of sleep by about eight weeks. I was well rested, and then bam at three months it all changed.
By four months I felt like I was in a permanent sleep regression. I have heard that around four months baby's sleep patterns change and that is usually the cause of the first major sleep regression. The four month sleep regression is pretty well known for this reason.
Now, since it was my first baby, I did totally freak out and wonder what I had done to mess this up. I probably experimented too much with trying to fix things, and while we got through that period of time, her sleep was never great the first year.
My second baby was a massive sleeper from the beginning. I was in newborn heaven with a baby sleeping very long stretches at night. I think we weathered the four month regression okay, but at some point after six months he started waking a ton.
Some nights he would wake every 30 minutes to hour after I put him back down. ALL NIGHT LONG. This continued off and on whenever he had a developmental spurt until he was almost a year old.
By the time I got to my third baby I stopped trying to figure baby sleep out and just rolled with it as it came. We had good nights and bad but by then I knew it was temporary and would eventually get better.
As you can see, I do have some experience with this in various forms. I am not a fan of crying it out or sleep training, so if you are looking for that kind of advice you will need to look somewhere else.
Here are my tips for surviving sleep regressions without any cry it out/sleep training:
Keep up your routine the best you can.
When our babies are waking all night long the typical routine can be thrown out the window. I found sticking to a bedtime routine, doing the normal wind down, swaddling or sleep sack, white noise and breastfeeding to help somewhat.
They knew it was time to go to sleep even if they were going to end up waking up an hour later. And when they woke I tried to stick to our normal routine of nursing and right back to sleep.
Go to bed a little earlier to make up for lost sleep.
This goes for you and your baby. If your baby is missing naps or waking at night, keeping them up later is not going to help. I have heard of parents keeping their kids up late in the hopes they will be too tired to wake up, or sleep later in the morning.
Nope, haven't you heard sleep begets sleep? The more rested they are the better they sleep. Over tiredness leads to more waking. Another quote I have heard that I like and which makes me laugh is "Early to bed early to rise. Late to bed early to rise."
Try to decipher the problem and help if you can.
I don't really recommend driving yourself insane trying to 'fix' it but if your child is ill, or teething, or has an obvious cause of discomfort, you can relieve night wakings by treating it.
Many times it is simply developmental and while you won't know it at the time, one day your baby will have a new skill after waking every night for a week.
My husband and I had to basically take turns with our baby when it was like this. So I would deal with the repetitive wake ups, and then in the early morning hours he would take over while I got a few hours of sleep in. It's not perfect, but having help can make a huge difference. Find a way to get yourself some sleep if you can.
And my two biggest tips!
Keep on breastfeeding and co-sleep.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to get your baby to sleep. Now your baby might not stay asleep but why not use this power to lull your baby back to sleep happily, rather than dealing with screaming and tears?
It makes me so sad when I hear mothers worrying about their babies sleep, and refusing to sooth them because they have been told it is creating a bad habit.
When my son was waking every 30 minutes to hour, for hours on end, I kept on nursing him back to sleep. Yes, it seemed crazy, it did not seem like it was working, but in the end it got both of us the most sleep possible during this time.
Which brings me to the next part. Co-sleeping.
There are different definitions of co-sleeping, meaning you can have your baby right next to your bed in their own safe space or in your bed, also known as bed sharing.
I always had my babies right next to my bed in their own sleeping space for the most part. But, during sleep regressions I would bring my baby in my bed.
Please research and decide for yourself if this is for you first. In my case my babies slept better next to me and for longer stretches during sleep regressions. And, they could nurse with us both falling back asleep quickly.
Read more about co-sleeping from La Leche League here and a great interview with a sleep expert, James McKenna here.
La Leche League also has a great book about making bed sharing safe called Sweet Sleep.
You will survive!
Usually these periods of intense wake ups would only last a week or two, but that feels like a lifetime when you are exhausted.
Once they were done there was almost always a new skill or reason I could see after the fact.
And believe it or not, all of my kids eventually outgrew this and became amazing sleepers.
Typically sleep regressions last between one to four weeks. So hang in there and do what you have to do to get through it. If that means co-sleeping, nursing all night long, or whatever it is, try to cope the best way you can. Your baby will sleep again eventually!
Wednesday 21st of July 2021
Thank you so much for this article! It’s 2am and I am nursing my 6 month old boy through his sleep regression (previously sleeping all the way through). He is waking every 2hrs for the last 4 weeks but I just can’t let him scream it out. It’s just comforting to hear someone else embraced it with nursing and co sleep. Thank you!!
Friday 1st of May 2020
Thank you so much for this article. sleep has been a big problem for me. it lovely to know that I am not on my own. I have been breastfeeding and being drink this tea called Titty tea wich been kept me clam and relax also the Lou been sleeping better. will try a new routine and tea I feel better. for anyone who like to find out about the tea this the link https://www.wildwomenteaclub.co.uk/collections/pregnancy-and-postnatal-care/products/titty-tea-breastfeeding-blend
Thursday 9th of April 2020
My baby is 3 and a half months. I’ve tried my best to get him on the bottle, as I physically can’t cope with no sleep any longer. He wakes every 45-60 mins at night. I’m suffering with migraines. I love that I’ve fed my baby this long but I’m seriously miserable and have no energy in the day what so ever.
Thursday 9th of April 2020
So sorry you are getting so little sleep. Do you have anyone who can help you to take over and let you at least get some uninterrupted sleep? That is what I had to do on occasion. A lot of times I would handle most of the night and in early morning have my husband take over and get a long stretch of sleep. Even if your baby won't take a bottle they can try to soothe the baby other ways while you sleep. Good luck! Hopefully it will not last too much longer.
Sunday 14th of April 2019
Thank you! I am the first woman in 3 generations of my family to breastfeed and co-sleep. Needless to say, I have been looking everywhere for guidance. This post has really helped me feel like we’re all going to be okay, sleep will come again, and one size doesn’t fit all. Thank you :)
Tuesday 16th of April 2019
I am glad it gave you some reassurance! Good luck, it's never easy when we aren't sleeping well.
Monday 22nd of October 2018
Thank you for this article. I am a first time mom in the 4 month sleep regression, and I had all of the above doubts and fears. My son slept great from about 2-4 months- waking about once a night and going right back down- then at 4 months- BAM! He is up every 2 hours- sometimes very forcefully! He does sometimes self soothe- but not every time. Knowing I am not "doing something wrong" if I nurse him to back sleep and that it will end someday really helps!