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Regressions: What they are and how to make it through them

Courteney Dennett

Courteney Dennett

Regressions: What they are and how to make it through them.

I remember vividly when my daughter hit the dreaded four month regression. I had no idea what a regression was or how to get through it. She became a completely different baby, slept a lot less, cried a lot more, and I was completely unprepared for it. Not every baby will hit all of the most common regressions. For some babies they come and go almost unnoticed and for other babies (like my daughter) it feels like you will never sleep again. I felt like as soon as we would move through one regression the next one would hit, and I just couldn’t catch my breath. Once I understood why sleep regressions happen, I felt much more capable and in control navigating them with my daughter. 

What causes a regression in sleep:

A sleep regression is usually experienced during a period where your baby is learning and developing a new set of skills (rolling, crawling, walking, talking, etc). Separation anxiety, nap transitions or other significant life changes such as moving, transitioning to daycare, can also cause a sleep regression. During these periods of development or change a baby spends 50% of the night in the lightest (REM) stage of sleep, instead of the usual 25%. This is because the brain is working actively during the night to commit these new skills to memory. 

Common sleep regression challenges:

  1. Long Nights: As your baby moves through a regression and spends more time in the light stage of sleep you may see more frequent nighttime wakeups, increased difficulty getting your baby to sleep, earlier mornings, and shorter naps. 
  1. Active Sleeper: You may notice that your baby becomes a noisier, more active sleeper because they are spending more time in the lightest stage of the sleep cycle. 
  1. Separation Anxiety: If separation anxiety is one of the causes of the regression you may see tears when you enter the baby’s sleep space, during the bedtime routine or when you are putting them down for bed.
  1. Crib Practice: Your baby may practice new skills like sitting, crawling, standing, walking and talking in their sleep space during naps or night time. 

My tips on how to get through a regression: 

  1. Independent Sleep/Sleep Associations: Does your baby require assistance to fall asleep? There is nothing wrong with using a sleep prop if it works for your family! It just may feel a bit more exhausting during a regression.  I was feeding my daughter to sleep when we went through the 4 month regression, which meant that if she got up every hour or two, I had to go in and feed her back to sleep. This very very quickly became a big problem for me, I felt so exhausted and defeated. Once she learned to fall asleep independently, regressions became much more manageable for me and my family. A baby who can fall asleep independently usually has the ability to self soothe and they are less likely to come to a full wake or need assistance falling back to sleep. So hopefully a few less wake ups for parents/caregivers as well! 
  2. Separation Anxiety: Face separation anxiety head on and start early. Don’t sneak out of the house when you are leaving to try and avoid the tears (I have been guilty of this), instead create a short goodbye routine and stick to it every single time you leave. 

Chair method for separation anxiety: If suddenly your baby who was previously able to fall asleep independently, but no longer will, you might consider the chair method. You start by sitting in the chair next to the crib. If your baby needs extra comfort you can hold the baby’s hand or rub their back until they are drowsy or sleeping. Each night you move your chair further away or shorten the amount of time you are rubbing their back/ holding your hand until you can slowly start moving your chair towards the door. Eventually you should get back to your wonderful independent sleeper! This method usually works well for older babies who understand the concept of object permanence, they know their parents/caregivers exist when they leave the room. 

  1. The Pause: Remember that it’s normal for your baby to be more active and vocal throughout the night during a regression. Try to take a pause before going into their room. They may still be asleep, or they may be able to self soothe if they don’t come to a full wake. You know your baby best, so pause as long as you feel comfortable. 
  1. Practice, practice, practice! Allow your baby to have as much free time during the day to practice their new skills. Be intentional with some of the practice time, help facilitate the skills that they are learning. This might help to limit the amount of time they practice during sleep hours. 
  1. Sleeping Conditions: Tools like a dark room, white noise and the right room temperature can help promote a good night’s sleep. Consider what your baby is wearing to sleep, is it appropriate for their size, age, and are they able to move freely and safely in their sleep space. For more information on safe sleep space visit  AAP- Safe Sleep Guidelines
  1. Night Time Practicing: If your baby is repeatedly practicing new skills during sleep times, such as standing, use the pause method again. They may stand or sit for quite a while before laying back down to sleep! If your baby is a bit stubborn (like mine) and won’t lay back down on their own. Calmly go in and lay them down safely on their back. Chances are they may pop right back up, but the key is to avoid making it into a game! Resist the urge to go back in and lay them back down right away, or they will expect you to do that each time. Remember to pause and give them a chance to do it on their own.
  1. Consistency: Try to stay consistent through a regression. Stick to routines and schedules as best you can. Try not to create any new sleep habits or make big sleep changes if you think your baby is going through a regression. If you need extra support through a regression or you feel you have moved through the regression but sleep is still a challenge use this link to find a mama coach in your area!

Remember that sleep regressions are temporary and are the result of significant progression in the brain. Most babies are able to learn and master new skills in 7-10 days, however it may take up to a few weeks. Once your baby has moved through the regression their sleep usually returns to normal, even if that feels hard to believe in the middle of a regression. At the end of the regression tunnel you’ll get to see all the amazing new things your baby is capable of. For more information on age specific sleep regressions check out my instagram page @themamacoach.courteneydennett for my regression of the week posts 

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