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Why Hello There World!! Or…The 4 Month Wakeful Period…It’s For Real!

Why Hello World!!

I’m a member of a Facebook group of fellow April 2011 mamas – it’s great fun to chat with others who are going through the same things you are and to watch (at least virtually!) as our babies go through all the many milestones of their first year.  The first April babies are just beginning to turn 4 months (hard to believe!) and right on cue the following sorts of posts began appearing some days ago…

“Baby has started waking up at night again (or waking up more) – what’s up??”

“Baby will not nap…and if she does, she’s right back awake in no time.”

“Nursing/feeding baby has become an Olympic sport!  He twists and turns and bats me away and it seems like he’s hardly eating anything.”

“Why is he suddenly eating more at night again?  I thought the newborn days were behind us?”

To which my fellow veteran mamas reply…”It’s the 4 month wakeful!”

You don’t really expect me to sleep do you??

Eleanor is certainly no exception to these behaviors.  We bed share so I tend not to notice as much how often she wakes/nurses at night.  But we’ve had a few nights where she’s actually woken up – and stayed up – randomly in the night.  Naptime/bedtime is harder too; there’s lots of sleep fighting – that little brain just doesn’t want to shut down for fear of missing something good!   More night nursing isn’t too much of a surprise given that Eleanor is frequently more interested in whatever is going on in the room during the day than in nursing.  She seems to eat just enough to not feel hungry.

While these new behavior patterns are certainly frustrating at times, it is comforting to know that they are both normal… and a phase.  Sometime around the 4 month mark, babies become so much more aware of what’s going on around them; their mental processes are becoming more sophisticated and they begin to crave more stimulation (like toys and of course our wonderfully goofy faces).  Plus many babies are becoming more physically active – rolling, spinning around, kicking arms and legs – they are just weeks and months away from sitting and even crawling.  Once they become more comfortable with their new mental and physical abilities, they’ll settle back into their old routines again.  In the meantime it helps me to remember…

This usually induces sleep…
  • The only “normal” sleep is whatever your baby does.  Many babies are just settling into some sort of predictable nap and night sleep routine when the 4 month wakeful hits and predictable goes out the window.   This doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong as a parent and that your child will never sleep through the night.  Rather, they’ve just hit the first big patch of developmental milestones – and developmental milestones disrupt sleep!  I don’t know about you but I always have more wakeful nights when I’ve got something big and important going on in my life.  So why shouldn’t baby?  As adults, we might seek the comfort of a good book or late night infomercial to lull us back to dream land.  Baby needs us to help her turn off her busy mind and drift back to sleep.
  • Like most other things about babyhood, this is just a phase.  Sure it’s hard to wake up and stay up with a restless baby multiple times a night.  But they really will start to sleep longer stretches again.  In the meantime, I really can’t say enough about safe bed sharing or co-sleeping as a way for everyone to feel well rested.  Even if bed sharing isn’t for you, having baby in a crib or pack and play by your bed can minimize the amount of time you have to be awake.  The faster you get to baby to settle her back down, the less time she has to fully wake and the less likely she is to stay awake (meaning you don’t have to fully wake either!).  Eleanor starts to wake quite a bit but rarely gets all the way there since she’s right beside me meaning I can catch her before she does.
  • Letting go of or shifting expectations helps.  As a type-A person, I’d be crazy by now if I’d stuck to the expectation that Callum would “sleep well” after the first few months.   Instead, I repeatedly reminded myself it was normal for babies to wake.  That in fact I never go a night without waking to at least roll over (talking pre-baby here!) and to expect my 4 month old to do so just doesn’t make sense.   Callum eventually learned to get himself back to sleep most of the time – I’ll save discussions of sibling envy and sleep disruptions for another day 😉 – and I’m sure Eleanor will too.  In the meantime, I expect that she’ll need me at night, and that’s ok.
  • Sleep and eating patterns are often interconnected.  There are some who will tell you that babies of X age or X weight don’t need to eat at night.  Well, it likely is true that they can physically go without food.  But it’s also true that if they haven’t consumed enough calories during the day, they’re going to need to eat at night.  Distracted eaters are very likely to make up for lost time at night.  It’s also worth pointing out that by this point, many mamas have started to spend longer periods away from baby as they return to work and other activities.  Many nursing babies will “reverse cycle” and want to nurse when mama is near.  I think bottle fed babies likely do the same – all babies want extra mama snuggles.  Certainly you can encourage baby to eat throughout the day, but in the end…babies are pretty smart about what they need food wise, even if they don’t always eat on the schedule that would be most convenient for us.
  • You can help a distracted eater be less distracted.  Eleanor has pretty much always been a down to business sort of nurser (evening cluster feeding aside), but lately her nursing has taken on new twists and turns – quite literally.  If there’s any action in the room at all, she wants to check it out.  Nursing as soon as she wakes up (before she has time to really wake up) tends to work well.  Nursing in a dark, quiet room helps as does nursing laying down.  A nursing necklace can also help direct attention to eating.  Bottle fed babies have the same distract-ability problems so the same tricks apply.

What’s really great about the 4 month wakeful (yup, there’s a “great” side!) is that it means our little babies are learning so much new and exciting stuff everyday.  I marvel at the personality Eleanor is developing, how serious she looks as she tries to figure something out and how these huge grins overtake her face when she discovers something fun and new.  Those moments of wonder make sleep struggles and nursing acrobatics seem rather trivial – it’s the wonder we’ll remember years down the road.

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Published in Parenting Sleep