Sleep Regressions: A Horror Story

I’ve written already about the advice people gave me when I was pregnant—the ever-present warning that I would shit while in labor—and the ways I came to realize the place that advice comes from. We want to help. We want to turn back the clock and fix things for our past selves. We want to form a bond. We want to forget that we are humans and humans sometimes make dumb choices, like toddlers who need to do everything themselves despite not understanding things like ketchup or windows all that well.

Here is the warning no one gave me that I pass on to all parents-to-be: Beware the four month sleep regression! Beware!

When I was pregnant with Tiny Mr. I, I had terrible morning sickness and constant sciatica. People told me a difficult pregnancy meant an easy labor. I was in labor for twenty-two hours and he had a fourteen-and-a-half-inch head. People told me a difficult labor meant an easy baby.

I should have told people to shut their mouths.

A thing about newborns: They don’t sleep like adults do. They only get two sleep stages, active and quiet, and they go into active, “REM-like” sleep first whereas we work up to it. They sleep light but they sleep often—falling asleep’s not the problem, someone waking them in that active stage is. The biggest problems with newborn sleep are having to wake up and feed them in the middle of the night and some jerk ringing your doorbell in the middle of a nap despite the sign. It’s not great, but it’s doable, and as they get older they start being able to go longer between feeds, start stringing together sleep cycles, and maybe they even make it through the night. You might think you got an easy baby.

Then…they hit four months.

At four months, Tiny Mr. I started waking up more. Turns out this was because he was developing adult-like sleep cycles and it’s totally normal. Except he didn’t know how to go back to sleep and we, his loving parents, assumed that he was merely having a growth spurt and needed to nurse more. (I should mention here that even before he became a nightmare sleeper, he was a crummy eater. Two hours just to eat some times. The lactation consultant’s final verdict—after checking latch and supply and position multiple times—was “He’s just bad at this.”).

So: wake up, cry, eat (for at least an hour), fall asleep again. Repeat. We were back to the bad old days.

Then it started getting worse. He was waking up four or five times a night. I was losing my ever-loving mind. I slammed into PPD. I wrote a book I don’t even totally remember at this point. People commented at this age that Tiny Mr. I had huge eyes—he does, but they were shockingly large because he was so tired all the time, he went around holding them as wide as he could.

O, what big eyes you have! Maybe go to sleep?

Somewhere in here, someone told me about the four month sleep regression, and I realized how wildly we’d gone off track. There are as many ways to get a baby to sleep as there are ways to start a novel. While our dreams of side-car cribs and letting him settle into his own nap schedule are some other baby’s perfect sleep plan, they were not Tiny Mr. I’s.  Much like a book, my babies needed structure and focus. A sleep routine, a schedule, space to sort himself out, but plenty of hands-on attention and a firmness that, no, we were going to bed now. It took an embarrassing number of books, meltdowns, and a series of visits with a sleep specialist—because I was absolutely out of my mind at this point—but around 11 months old, Tiny Mr. I finally began reliably sleep through the night.

Cue child #2, Itsy Mr. E: We pounced that baby with a sleep routine the moment I could stand up again. And whether he was naturally a better sleeper, or if being prepared for the four month sleep regression made the difference, Itsy Mr. E sleeps like an angel.


Got some advice you wish someone had told you? Post it in the comments!









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