To be totally honest (and perhaps overly self-confident ) I’ve been pretty impressed with myself lately. I have a three-year-old son and gave birth to our second child during a pandemic. My husband and I are both working from home (sharing a desk/office space) and with our two children home full time, we are toggling our work schedules so one of us is with the kids while the other works. I felt like I had it all under control (considering we’re in a pandemic and wildfires trapped us indoors at times, but hey 2020) and I felt like a real boss. I have a newborn and yet I have not been bogged down by the exhaustion I felt the first time around. Our daughter has turned into a person - you know what I mean, when they can smile and make eye contact and you realize that there is someone inside that tiny little body. And those first giggles that punch you in the stomach with that feeling of love only a parent knows. This stage is amazing. They’re just cuddly and chubby and can’t get away from you yet. It’s wonderful. And then, that adorable mini human decides to stop sleeping. Like completely stop. I’m talking 15 minute increments of sleep here and there all...night...long. And life as you knew it is upended. The dreaded four month sleep regression has taken over my home.
I no longer feel like a boss, in fact I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Not only are the recent sleepless days and nights taking their toll but the past four months of sleeping in three hour increments to either feed a newborn or pump have all of a sudden come crashing down on me. I have zero patience with my older child, I am buried in laundry, I can’t remember a damn thing, I am hanging on by a thread. I am so strung out that I am finding myself frustrated with my baby, a tiny little baby who just wants to be held. ALL.THE.TIME. She was sleeping well, even when she did wake up during the night she was still happy. But now she is screaming when she wakes up, she is panicking to be on me, and I mean ON ME like I am a human pacifier and sometimes that isn't even enough for her. I (and my nipples) have had it. I need my body to be mine, I need a break from having someone physically attached to me 24 hours. And I need sleep that can be measured in consecutive hours, not minutes.
And yes I feel awful typing all of this, the guilt is overwhelming, but being the go-to parent can be relentless. No, I’m not a single mom, and my husband is as helpful as he possibly can be, so why am I complaining? Unfortunately he doesn’t create breast milk and his body was not the home for our daughter for 40 long weeks. We do supplement with formula because after three bouts of mastitis my supply has been inconsistent and my daughter has a hard time nursing when I have mastitis. Cue dad and some bottles cause mom is at the brink.
I could regurgitate all of the techniques I’ve read about for sleep training and I know that at this age you are supposed to put them down for bed drowsy and not sound asleep but I am admittedly terrible at this. If she falls asleep while nursing I go into full-on stealth mode to get her laid in her crib with such ease that she doesn’t sense any movement then I hightail it out of that room before I trip over anything in the dark and wake her up.
Every evening I’m preparing myself, mentally and physically for the long night ahead. I set up pacifiers in the easy to reach spots, I lay out another diaper to grab in the dark for a quick change because the last thing I want is to have to turn on a damn light! I prep and line up bottles in case my milk doesn’t seem to be enough. This is truly making me feel like I’m going crazy.
And it turns out I’m not too far off base with that statement. A lack of sleep does make you more emotional and act more irrationally. (isn’t sleep deprivation a torture technique?!?) Studies show that a lack of sleep can lead to greater activation of the brain's emotional centers and disrupt the brain circuits that tame emotional responses. One of the studies found that "the emotional centers of the brain were over 60% more reactive under conditions of sleep deprivation than in subjects who had obtained a normal night of sleep." Well, at least there’s a reason why I feel the way I do. But can someone please just hand me a pillow and show me to a dark room? I’m only asking for a few hours.
Time is really the only cure for a sleep regression. Babies go through so many stages in such a short period. All stages, good or bad, are short-lived. If your child is going through a sleep regression and you’re feeling at the end of your rope, just know that this too shall pass (hopefully sooner rather than later).
Sleep regressions generally appear at cognitive and physical milestones around 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months of age (again, generally). (Gosh, that feels like A LOT of long nights.) There’s no way to predict if your child will struggle with sleep regressions, maybe some stages will affect them and others won’t but it’s best to be prepared. Because we know that sleep deprivation impacts our emotions and control of emotional responses then perhaps when your child is four months old is not the best time to make the decision about changing your job, or selling your house, or confronting your estranged brother. (Or, heck, I even struggled with deciding on a nail polish color.) Set yourself and your child up for success by trying to have a clean emotional slate at these stages of life so you can focus on your child and her immediate needs (cause none of us have any worries or stress right?!). Having a better understanding of how a sleep regression can negatively impact your mental state can help you not lose yourself in the midst of it all. After all, our main focus as parents is helping our babies through these developmental stages while not breaking ourselves.
Remember, this is only a stage! It will end. And once you get over this stage, your little one’s brain has done some serious work and you can enjoy their new-found skills!