The Four-Month Change – It’s Not You, It’s Your Baby’s Brain

Four months is a time of really major change for most babies.  It’s the end of the “fourth trimester” as each baby emerges from the newborn “eat, sleep, poop, eat, sleep” phase and enters real life.  Ellie threw us (but particularly me) for a loop when she turned four months.  Basically, her sleep habits (particularly in the daytime) changed drastically and I  struggled for several weeks to figure out the “new” Ellie.  I blogged about it here.  A couple months after Ellie turned four months, I found this blog post with some wonderful information about 4-month0olds.  In that blog post, she links to this blog post about sleep regressions (which she doesn’t like the term for) and 4-montholds, which I really wish I had read before Ellie turned four months.

IMG_1450 (800x600)Ellie, at four months (love that peacock dress! And remember the hippo in a tutu?!)

I try to remember to send these links to all the new moms I know because sometimes just having a little information makes it a lot easier to roll with the changes.  When everything I’d known about Ellie and her sleeping habits changed around four months, I thought I was doing something wrong.

Here is, verbatim, the email that I sent to the attachment parenting group that I’m part of when just turned four months old,

Last week, Ellie (who just turned 4 months) decided that she was not willing to take a nap unless she was being held.  And so for almost a week, either my husband or I have had to hold her in order for her to get any sleep during the day.  My husband is a teacher so he was home for three days last week, which made life MUCH easier. And yesterday’s snow day was a blessing too.  But all of this holding is wearing me down and I didn’t realize how much the break that I got while she napped meant to me.  Dr. Sears says that it takes a baby about 20 minutes to drop into a deep sleep and so if we rock her for that long, she will at least stay asleep when we put her down.  But that only lasts for maybe 5 minutes before her eyes have popped open.

So here’s my question – is this my fault?  I tried my best to get her to take naps by herself and she was doing great until last Thursday when all of a sudden, she just changed.  Is this just a stage?  Do I just have to get through it?  Is there something I can do to help her learn to sleep by herself again?  I wear her in a Moby wrap a lot but she rarely is willing to fall asleep in it and when she does, she only sleeps for a few minutes.  Even when we’re holding her, we’re happy if she sleeps for 45 minutes.  So she’s definitely not “consolidating” her sleep like she supposedly should be doing now.

She thankfully is still sleeping fine* at night.  It’s just daytime naps that are hard.

Thanks for any advice you might have.  I’m starting to feel a bit desperate.

See that question? “Is this my fault?” To a person, the answers that I got back from that group were full of love, grace, and truth.  They said, “No, it’s NOT your fault. There’s nothing wrong with her or you. Your baby is lucky to have a mama and daddy who is trying to meet her needs. This is very normal for a four-month-old.” One mom suggested that I read this article about wakeful four-month-olds. Another mom even said, “What? Babies can nap without being held?” 🙂

Basically, I just needed someone to tell me that it was OK, that things would get better, that I wasn’t spoiling my child by holding her, that what she needed was for me to respond to her needs, that eventually I would be able to put her down, and most importantly that I wasn’t a failure as a mother.  For Ellie, it took her until she was around 9 months old before she was napping consistently on her own.  That year, I read 140 books because I was sitting still so much!  (You can read about all those books in these posts: fiction, memoir, Ruhlman/Gladwell, sewing/cooking/DIY, parenting/marriage, learning about almost anything, and my top four favorite books.)

So, if you have a baby approaching four months and you’re starting to see some changes, let me say to you:

It’s OK.  Every** baby goes through this.  The sleep part is hard, so hard, but wow, a four-month-baby is so much fun in so many other ways! You haven’t done something wrong. Respond to your baby in the way your mama-heart tells you is right and good.  You will get through it and definitely ask for help if you need it.


Two caveats:

*In that email, when I wrote, “Ellie is still sleeping fine at night,” please don’t interpret that to mean “sleeping through the night”.  She was still probably nursing at least 2-3 times during the night, if not more.  It’s just that her night-time sleep didn’t really change.  She wasn’t one of those mythical babies who slept through the night at six weeks.  For many babies, however, they do sleep for longer stretches at night at first and that tends to change as well around four months.

**Technically speaking, every baby goes through the four-month change but I do have to say that I didn’t even notice it with Mark.  The poor guy was just carted around everywhere with Ellie and I didn’t have the luxury of worrying about his naps the way I did with Ellie.   I did notice that he started napping on his own around five months.  I was anticipating an Ellie-like nap experience, so I was thrilled when he started napping on his own so soon. 🙂 It’s all about your expectations in so many ways!

005 (800x533) (2)Mark, during one of those treasured “out of my arms” naps, at four months

This entry was posted in Ellie, Mark, nursing, parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Four-Month Change – It’s Not You, It’s Your Baby’s Brain

  1. Mom says:

    Look at those lips!

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