Why is it that just when you think you have this whole sleep thing conquered and you're finally getting those coveted eight hours, the sleep regression comes? Sometimes its onset is at about four months, sometimes six months, sometimes 18 months, and sometimes it just happens out of nowhere. After you rule out fever, teething, a dirty diaper, or any other possible discomfort, you can consider it officially a sleep regression. While there may be ways you can try to help get your baby back into his routine, there are definitely things not to do during sleep regression.
Baby Center described sleep regression as "temporary periods when babies or young children don't sleep as well as they have in the past." There are many physiological reasons your baby might lose their steady sleep habits, but it's not really considered an official regression until it's happening for a week or two. Some parents will notice their baby is waking more often than usual and then a week after that starts, the baby hits a new milestone, like crawling or pulling themselves up. Baby Center listed other possible causes as everything from separation anxiety to their sleep cycle shifting to a change in temperature in the room. Regardless of the cause, it can throw off a very hard-won sleep routine and make you feel like you are starting from scratch again.
The Baby Sleep Site considers five hours of sleep, without feeding, to be a full night's sleep. A tired mama is not always a patient mama and sometimes we will try to do the easy thing in the moment to get us through the night. However, it might be helpful to keep in mind this list of things to avoid so that your short-term problem doesn't become a long term one, because you need to get them back on track. Sleep, for mom and baby, is hugely important for successful parenting.
1. Don't let them sleep in your bed
Yes, this might be an okay way to go as a one time thing if the kids are afraid of a big storm or have a really high fever, but in general, Dr. Ken Feuerstein, a pediatrician in New York, tells Romper that once you let them in, it's hard to get them back out.
2. Don't punish them
Babies don't understand timeouts and you can't take away their screen time, but even something that might seem to be an age-appropriate punishment, like withholding toys, doesn't really work. Dr. Feuerstein suggests using positive reinforcement for older children, so get out those stickers and reward charts and get ready for some reinforcing (aka bribes).
3. Don't give up your bedtime routine
Even if you feel frustrated and like they will never get back on track, keep following your bedtime routine. Baths, books, cuddling, however your family chooses to introduce sleep, stick to it. As the Sleep Lady said, babies really like consistency and routine so continue to do what you've been doing.
4. Don't ignore them for hours on end
Though some sleep training advocates recommend letting babies cry it out, Dr. Feuerstein suggests if your child is crying for a long period of time, go in periodically and check on them. He says to spend a few minutes and then leave. This will give them a sense they are safe. But don't stay too long or let them manipulate you to take them out of their crib.
5. Don't rock them back to sleep
As easy as it might be to settle into your glider and rock them to sleep, try to let them continue to develop and maintain their own sleep cues. Baby Center reminded parents to not encourage bad habits and to put your baby in their crib while they are drowsy, but awake so that they can learn to fall asleep on their own.
6. Don't give them pharmaceuticals
Do not use Benadryl to get you through the regression, says Dr. Feuerstein. He says the same goes for Xanax, shots of alcohol and any other drugs. (And yes, these are actual questions he's gotten from parents in his practice).
7. Don't panic!
When it's 4:30 a.m. and you need to be up for work in two hours, it's understandable to be desperate to get the baby back to sleep. And when you haven't slept a solid night in days, sometimes you can lose perspective. As the Precious Little Sleep site says, "this is temporary. It’s a bad week. It’s shorter than having the flu, right? You can do this!"
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.