3 Month Sleep Regression
Were you pleasantly surprised when you brought your sweet bundle of joy home from the hospital and realized that it didn’t take much effort to get baby to sleep? Sure, other people’s babies are fussy and don’t sleep, but not your little one! You may even have the opposite problem of a fussy baby.
Your baby likes to sleep so much that you have to wake them just to make sure they are eating enough and gaining an appropriate amount of weight. That is until one day, it seems to change on a dime. Your one-time great sleeper doesn’t want to go to sleep. They’re waking frequently at night. They no longer just go to sleep without effort on your part. So, what happened?
Welcome to the 3 month sleep regression. It’s actually not so much of regression as it is an emergence from the so-called 4th trimester. At around three months old, a baby begins to transition out of that sleepy newborn phase, when they’re largely unaware of their environment (the 4th trimester).
They become increasingly aware of their surroundings. Couple this with the fact that baby’s sleep stages become more like adult sleep stages at this age, and many parents notice marked changes in their baby’s sleep habits. The 3 month sleep regression. So, what’s a parent to do?
Here are 6 tips to help your baby through the 3 month regression.
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1. Take Baby Outside
Around three months old, baby’s brains are maturing rapidly. They become much more aware of their environment. This explains why your baby, who used to go to sleep so easily, now fights sleep. They’re checking out their surroundings.
There are a lot of interesting new things to take in, after all! One way to work with this stage of development and fight the 3 month sleep regression is to take your little one outside during the day, exposing them to daylight. Repeat this in the evening at dusk.
This uses baby’s newfound interest in their surroundings to help teach them that our activities change with the time of day. You are helping set baby’s circadian rhythm in a healthy way.
2. Ample Rest During the Day
Did you know that an overtired baby is much more difficult to get to sleep?
Your nighttime woes could be caused, in part, by an overtired little one. Again, developmentally babies are going through big changes around three months. Most notably, they are becoming more aware of their environment and of you.
Often, parents find it more difficult to get their baby to nap during the day because of all the new exciting stimulation they’re discovering. Don’t let this contribute to the 3 month sleep regression. Some parents may take this as a sign that their baby doesn’t need that morning nap anymore. Before you know it, you end up with an overtired baby who won’t stay asleep at night.
Don’t give up on the naps. By three months your baby’s nap schedule should be pretty predictable. Most babies need 9-10 hours of sleep at night and two to three 1 ½ – 2 hour naps during the day.
Getting your little one to nap during the day may require more effort now, but it’s worth making sure they are getting the day time sleep they need in order to protect their nighttime sleep and save you from the 3 month sleep regression.
3. Reduce Night Feedings
When babies are firstborn, they may need to wake as many as 3-4 times per night to feed. Always follow the advice of your pediatrician, but by the time they are three months old, most healthy babies should only need 1-2 nighttime feedings.
Some 3 month sleep regression issues occur because baby is waking up too frequently to feed. This is disrupting their sleep, making it much more difficult for baby to go back down after eating. To reduce nighttime feeds, slowly start spreading feedings apart until you get down to the desired one or two per night.
You can also try topping baby off before bedtime to see if this helps with the 3 month sleep regression.
Another feeding issue to be aware of is to make sure baby is getting enough to eat during the day. Remember that they are more aware of their environment and can be easily distracted, especially in daylight. This can make daytime feeding unproductive. Your little one may start something called reverse cycling.
In reverse cycling, baby is distracted and curious during the day and will barely eat. Then, they begin waking at night to get in the bulk of their calories. This, in turn, can cause the 3 month sleep regression.
4. Don’t Pick Baby Up Right Away
At three months old, baby’s sleep stages become more like that of an adult. This means that baby is cycling through sleep every 60 – 120 minutes and then briefly waking up. This is a big cause of the 3 month sleep regression. Humans do this as a check on their environment to make sure we’re still safe during sleep.
As adults, we do this 5-8 times a night but don’t even realize it because we’re so good at putting ourselves back to sleep. You may hear your baby cry or make noise and assume they’re up to feed. Instead, try waiting a brief period to see if they’re just cycling between sleep stages.
Don’t pick them up right away. This is not cry-it-out. A three-month-old baby is too little for that type of sleep training. If your baby is obviously awake, attend to them, but just be sure it’s not sleep cycling first.
5. Put Baby Down Sleepy, but Awake
Again, baby’s sleep stages are becoming more like an adult’s at this age. How you put baby to sleep can contribute to the 3 month sleep regression.
Remember, we wake between sleep cycles to check on our environment. If you were nursing or rocking baby to sleep and then set baby in their crib, they go through a sleep cycle and wake-up crying because their environment has changed. You were there and now you’re not!
A baby who falls asleep in their crib, will wake, notice the same environment, and will more likely drift back to sleep on their own, unbothered. This doesn’t mean you can’t rock or feed your baby before sleep. Simply try to put them down while they are drowsy, but still awake. The goal is that they fall asleep in the same environment that they’ll be waking-up in during the night.
6. Establish a Bedtime Routine
It’s not too early to establish a bedtime routine with your three-month-old. In fact, research has shown that a consistent bedtime routine can be more effective than any type of sleep training you may do with your child.
A good bedtime routine signals that the day is over. It relaxes baby and lets them know that it is now sleeping time. This is an excellent way to combat the 3 month sleep regression. Here is an example of what a good bedtime routine might look like. Remember, consistency is key!
- Slowly lower baby’s level of stimulation about an hour before bedtime.
- Give your baby a warm bath.
- Try a baby massage with lotion or oil.
- Read a story with baby even if their attention span isn’t very long.
- Sing a lullaby and rock with them.
- Lay baby down drowsy, but awake in their crib.
Although the first year of a baby’s life is filled with ups and downs, sleep can be one of the most frustrating parts of the ride. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged or beat yourself up if you’ve made “mistakes.” The 3 month sleep regression won’t last forever. Focus on what you can do to help give you and your baby better sleep and know that regressions do come to an end. You are doing great and your baby will sleep again!