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What is Sleep Regression? Why does my baby not sleep for long duration? Why does my baby wake up often?

What is a sleep regression?
As the name suggests, regression means a demotion or return to an earlier state. Sleep regressions are when a baby who has started sleeping in a set routine suddenly starts waking up very often. Babies find it difficult to fall and stay asleep during sleep regressions.

Why do sleep regressions occur?
The research is ongoing, but the following reasons have been indicated to cause sleep regressions.

1) Physical Development –
Sleep regressions occur when the baby goes through physical developmental milestones and is learning and mastering new skills. It is believed that babies process and practice new experiences in sleep which leads to them waking up often.

2) Cognitive Development –
Cognitive leaps also cause sleep regressions. Mental leaps enhance the baby’s awareness; which in turn causes some anxiety leading to the need for parental closeness and frequent reassurances. This is why babies find it difficult to separate for sleeping and wake up often to ensure closeness.

3) Overtiredness –
Overtiredness can also be associated with many developmental milestones. It can lead to sleep disturbances.

4) Other causes –
Other causes affecting sleep include illnesses, change in the environment, travelling, teething, separation anxiety etc. But these are individual and experienced at different times by each baby.

When do sleep regressions occur?
Some of the “infamous” sleep regressions with their corresponding developmental milestones are as follows…

How to cope with sleep regressions?
Sleep regressions can be very challenging for mothers and parents. Breastfeeding can work as a blessing during these times as it comforts the baby, soothes the baby and helps her sleep better. Here are certain coping strategies that help mothers survive these regressions.

  1. Breastfeed on demand and co-sleep with the baby.
  2. Remember that it’s a phase and it will pass.
  3. Nurse lying down in order to catch up with some sleep and rest.
  4. Trying out different techniques to soothe the baby will help find something that would work. It could be music, a particular nursing position, nursing in a carrier, walking or rocking the baby etc.
  5. Skin to skin can often soothe the baby and induces a sense of security.
  6. Sticking to the bedtime routine helps maintain predictability and familiarity.
  7. Take help from the non-breastfeeding parent and other family members.
  8. In the case of the 4 months sleep regression, many mothers start doubting their supply thinking that the baby is unable to sleep and is waking up often due to hunger. Statistics have shown that around the 4 months mark, many women stop exclusive breastfeeding. This is when they either fall into the top-up-trap or start solids. It is important to remember that when a baby is having a pee count of 6+ and has satisfactory weight gain, she is getting enough. The 4th-month sleep regression is not the time to introduce formula or solids.

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