Most new parents expect to have some sleepless nights with their baby—we’ve all heard the horror stories and the jokes about guzzling coffee. But what are they surprised by once their little one is here? We asked Pam Edwards, a sleep consultant in Grande Prairie, Alta., what her clients need the most help with when it comes to their newborn’s sleep habits.
The four-month sleep regression
Newborn sleep can be bliss—they’ll easily fall asleep just about anywhere, through grocery store trips, car rides, parties, etc. But this all changes when the four-month sleep regression hits. All of a sudden, the same baby becomes less portable, and when you try to put her down asleep—POP!—she’s awake. (Check out these tips on how to move your baby to the crib without waking her up.) This is a normal cognitive change that occurs around the three- to five-month mark. Your baby’s sleep is becoming more like an adult’s, which means she now has distinct sleep cycles and when she first falls asleep, she cycles into a light sleep state. So we’re helping her to fall sleep using our usual, no-fail tricks—perhaps by rocking, nursing, or holding her—and as soon as we go to put her down, she wakes up, because she’s only in a light sleep. This is why focusing on independent sleep skills is so important at this age. If a baby has the ability to put herself to sleep initially, she will have the ability to fall back asleep (with practice!) at the end of those new, distinct sleep cycles.
When it comes to newborn sleep patterns, the only thing that’s consistent is that there is no consistency. Parents say to me, “One day something works, the next it doesn’t—what gives?!” While this can be frustrating, it’s very normal. Sleep needs change so much during the first year. They go from needing five naps a day to two, and from being awake for only 45 minutes at a time to four-hour stretches. Be prepared to change with them. Watch for signs of change, and be flexible.