Regressions: What’s Common & What’s Normal?
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about the 12-month sleep regression.
“What can you tell me about the 12-month sleep regression?”
“Is there a 12-month sleep regression?”
“How many sleep regressions are there? I think my baby is going through the 12-month-regression right now.”
“Naps are getting really hard with my 12-month-old. Is it time to drop to one nap?”
I’ve been hearing A LOT about the 12-month sleep regression lately.
Today, I’d love to unpack regressions a little more.
One thing that’s for certain in life is that change is inevitable.
Your baby will grow and change. They will wake up from a nap, and I’m not kidding you, look like they’ve grown another centimeter.
Along with these physical changes come major developmental and intellectual changes too.
MANY of these changes cause interruptions in sleep, in the form of a regression.
I’d love to dig a little deeper and talk about the different regressions, what causes them, and how to handle them in regards to sleep. We will also talk about what’s common versus what’s normal when it comes to these regressions and sleep.
The DREADED 4-Month Sleep Regression
This regression is actually the only regression that is wholly related to the physiological development of your child’s sleep. It is THE sleep regression. Between 3-5 months of age, your baby will have a biological change to their sleep cycles, and this is the actual cause of what’s known as the 4-month sleep regression.
When your child is born, they only have two sleep cycles. We, as adults, have four sleep cycles. When your child’s sleep begins the shift from two to four cycles (you guessed it, around 3-5 months) it might cause more wake-ups as they rise and fall between cycles. More sleep cycles = more opportunities to wake up. This is difficult for many parents simply because their baby doesn’t yet have the skills to put themselves back to sleep on their own, so guess who they call out for to come to help them?? Mom or dad.
Many parents then revert back to whatever it was they had to do in the first place to get their baby back to sleep (feeding, rocking, pacifier, etc.).
One way to combat this is to start from the beginning with practicing independent sleep skills (Not sure how to do this?? Simply practice laying your baby down awake for a nap and see what they do! They might actually fall asleep. They might also need your help. Newborn sleep is sporadic, but the more you can practice, the better they will get!) even as a newborn so that when your baby does wake up in the middle of the night due to the regression, they are building on the skills they’ve already started to develop.
If you haven’t yet started teaching independent sleep skills, now is a great time, since you naturally have more opportunities with more wake-ups. There’s the silver lining, right??
Babies at this age still will need a night feed or two, but if you’re practicing independent sleep, they might only call out for you if they’re truly hungry, and not just because they’re needing your help to get back to sleep.
If your baby is beyond 16 weeks and you are ready for some help with independent sleep, book a call with me here.
The 6- & 8-Month Regressions
I’m not going to call this one, or any of the following regressions a “sleep” regression because these other regressions are due to other developmental gains.
Anywhere between 5-9 months, you may notice other bumps in the road due to developmental milestone acquisition. Give or take a few months and your baby is learning to roll, sit, crawl, and maybe even pull up to stand. That’s a whole lot of physical development in a few month’s time that can all cause interruptions to sleep.
If you’ve noticed your baby’s sleep is a bit “off” and they’ve simultaneously learned or are learning a new skill, it’s probably due to that development.
How can you handle it?
Help your baby practice, practice, practice during the day so they don’t feel the urge to do it at night when they’re supposed to be sleeping.
Give it time. These regressions due to physical development usually pass within a few weeks. Stay consistent. Keep your routines and expectations the same. Try not to revert to bad habits, as those will be harder to undo as time goes on.
The 12-Month Regression
Pulling-to-stand, walking, separation anxiety, and language development are usually to blame for this regression. Continue to practice during the day with the physical milestones and language, and stay consistent with your routines and expectations.
Start to teach your baby that “Mommy is here. Mommy always comes back.” to ease their separation anxiety. And know that this is totally normal and that it too will pass – try not to feel too bad and remember it’s just a phase. Easier said than done. Sometimes it’s hard being your baby’s favorite person!
Naps can be hard at this age too, because your little one likely only needs about 2.5-3 hours of daytime sleep, but can’t yet go a full 5 hours between periods of sleep so they still need two naps. You might have to cap them to make sure your baby is getting enough sleep at night but also what they need to carry them through the day until bedtime. It’s a tricky line to walk.
The 18- & 24-Month Regressions
By now, your baby is probably on one nap. These regressions are also due to language development and separation anxiety rearing its head again. Also, learning to walk if that is a new thing for your baby. Basically, any milestone that your child hasn’t yet reached is coming, and it will likely interrupt their sleep. Again, practice as much as possible during the day and stay consistent with routines and expectations.
What’s Common vs. What’s Normal
First, let’s define these terms:
Common – something that occurs frequently
Normal – something that occurs all or most of the time (in this case, for most children)
Sleep regressions are normal and can happen every few months, as outlined above. If given the opportunity to learn solid, independent sleep skills, a child’s sleep may not even be affected by a developmental milestone, language development, or separation anxiety. However, if it is common that your child is waking at night, this may be a sign that their independent sleep skills aren’t yet solidified.
What questions do you have? Leave a reply below!
By: Steffi Edwin -5/21