Your baby is sleeping through the night…finally! Then, all of a sudden, she starts waking up again during the night. Not to eat, but still, she wakes up and therefore she wakes you up. You think there must be something wrong, but actually, this is a very normal phase, and it’s called sleep regression.
I had no idea this even existed until my daughter started waking up at night when she was 9 months old. At this time she had finally been sleeping through the night for about 3 months, sleeping for a whole 12 hours! I, like you, thought I was home free and I was blessed with a good sleeper.
When I started doing some research, I found that this is actually something that happens several times in the child’s first 2 years of life. I will talk to you about when they may (or may not) happen, what they are, and what you can do to get through them.
What is sleep regression?
Sleep regression is when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well either starts waking up during the night or shortened (or skipped) naps for no apparent reason (for example they are not sick or out of routine). Sleep regressions usually last 1-4 weeks.
When does it happen?
The first one is around 4 months old. This isn’t actually a regression, but more a permanent change in your baby’s sleep routine. I never noticed this one because my daughter was still getting up several times during the night to feed. With this sleep regression your baby is learning to sleep like an adult and may start having shorter naps and being awake more during the day.
Around 8, 9, or 10 months your baby is making huge leaps in her physical development. She is learning to crawl, maybe even pull herself up and cruise around furniture. She is also experiencing increased of brain development during this time as she is absorbing everything you are saying and learning what words mean. At this age your little one is most likely teething as well. All of these things make for a baby who wakes more in the night and possibly shorter or skipped naps. This was the first sleep regression that I noticed and that caused me to do more research.
At about a year old your now toddler may start refusing her second nap. Many parents don’t notice this one as much because they just transition their baby to one nap a day, which may work for some babies. If you try to transition her to one nap a day and she is too cranky, go back to 2 naps a day until about 15 months of age.
We are at the 18 month sleep regression. This one is where your little one is learning that she has a voice and is an independent person. She is learning that she can say “no”. Separation anxiety also comes into play here. She may be distressed when you leave the room at bed time or nap time. Teething can also be a factor as this is the age that toddlers may be getting their molars (thankfully my little ones are already in so this isn’t an issue for us).
The final sleep regression is at 2 years old. Again, at this time your little one is going through a lot. She may be starting to potty train, she may be moving to a toddler bed, and she could even be getting a sibling. This is also the age where your little one may start having night terrors. I don’t look forward to this one, but thankfully it is the last one.
What can you do to get through a sleep regression?
One of the biggest things you can do is start a bedtime routine early on. Once your baby learns the routine she will learn that it is bedtime. For example, in our routine we get a bath (if it’s bath night) or get on a clean diaper and pjs, clean up her toys, drink her milk, give kisses, read a book, then go to bed, and I put her to bed awake. This has helped because she knows the order of things, and I kid you not, when she is done giving mommy and daddy her kisses she goes to her room to pick out a book. This has not eliminated the sleep regressions, but I think it has really helped.
Remember that these are temporary (except the 4 month regression). They should only last 1-4 weeks, 6 weeks at most, so you will get your peaceful nights back eventually. Don’t get frustrated and undo all your sleep training. If you don’t rock your baby to sleep, don’t start now, because you may not be able to undo it in a couple of weeks. Stick to your routine the best you can.
But, offer comfort when needed. If your baby wakes up really upset and she can’t calm down, you can comfort her and rock with her for a little while until she calms down. If she falls asleep once it’s ok, but try to lay her down before she falls asleep if possible. There will be times that she fusses a little, and you may not need to comfort her at this time because she needs to learn to comfort herself.
Offer extra feedings if necessary. These feedings can be during the day or at night. If she has eliminated nighttime feedings, don’t start them again, but if she still eats during the night you may need to add an extra feeding. During growth spurts babies will want to eat more, and this is natural, so giving some extra food won’t hurt.
Ask for help if you need it. You can ask your partner or your family members to help with the housework or during the night. Sometimes it can get rough when you are dealing with sleep regression, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Have an earlier bedtime. When she skips naps or takes shorter naps you little one may get overtired and cranky, so an earlier bedtime can help with this.
Sleep regressions can be difficult. Because you are losing sleep it can cause you to be tired and cranky as well. Just remember that these regressions (except the 4 month regression) are all temporary and will get better with time.
How did you make it through sleep regressions? Are you going through one now? How is it going?