Should you sleep train your 4-month old?

I get (and I know you get) all kinds of questions about sleep training 4-month olds. "My mother-in-law/pediatrician/dog/dentist's accountant says I should sleep train my 4-month old!"

And it makes sense that people ask that question, because things have been getting progressively better on the sleep front and then it gets bad again at four months. So we think there's a problem and that we can fix it by doing something about it. Indeed, we feel that it's our job to fix it by doing something about it.

No, you should not sleep train your 4-month old.

And here's why: The reason babies go through the 4-month sleep regression or stop sleeping at 4 months or start waking up to cry or just can't fall asleep or whatever is happening with them is that they're going through a normal developmental phase. That phase makes it difficult for them to sleep stretches of more than a few hours. I liken it to the inability you have to sleep when your mind is really working on something (good or bad) so you keep waking up to think about it.

It has been researched and studied, and my two favorite resources are Bed Timing by Isabel Granic and Marc D. Lewis, and The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij.

Which means two things:

1. While the night waking may be a problem for YOU, it's actually normal and part of normal growth and development for your baby. Therefore, an issue to be managed in a whole-family sense, not a problem the needs to be solved. You still need sleep, so think about ways to get it even if your baby isn't sleeping through.

2. This is the worst possible time to sleep train because your baby's body is wired not to be sleep trained right now. So you will end up trying and trying and feeling like a loser and wondering what's wrong with you and/or your baby, when it's just bad timing. You are a smart, competent person.

So, yes, you CAN sleep train at 4 months. There's all kinds of stuff that you CAN do. But just because you can doesn't mean you should.

If you wait 2-4 weeks you baby will be through the developmental spurt and will be back to sleeping. If you feel like you want to sleep train at that point, 5-6 months is a far far better time to do it than four months is, because you have a fighting chance of success. And we all want success.

I know there are pediatricians who tell people to sleep train at four months, but remember that most pediatricians don't have any special training in infant sleep. And if they went to medical school before the research on four months came out, they may not know it. So if you're getting pressure from a pediatrician to sleep train at four months, ask them what they think about the research of Granic, Lewis, van de Rijt, and Plooij, and have a conversation. If they can present some compelling evidence for sleep training right then, ok (and please let me know).

As always, if someone offers you advice you don't need (including me), just smile and nod and say, "Thank you for the suggestion!" and then go home and do whatever you want to anyway. You're the best parent for your child.

12 thoughts on “Should you sleep train your 4-month old?”

  1. And how about your fourteen month old? Cuz there’s no sleep in these parts. However, as this is not my first rodeo, I know that if I do exactly nothing, by 18 months to 2 years, he will be sleeping 11 hours through the night. And I will have done nothing (except get up overnight every single night of his life).So, how can I find someone to take him overnight so I can get six uninterrupted hours of sleep? Is there a way to get grandparents magically to volunteer and follow through on taking the child for one night so I can sleep? I heard it takes a village. I need some villagers.

  2. What is with the spam comments on here?!Thanks for addressing baby sleep again, Moxie. I hope many desperate parents of 4 month olds find their way here.
    Do what works and makes you and your baby happy. Ignore the voices of doom that make black and white statements of “IF you do THAT, then THIS will happen….”

  3. FWIW, my ped strongly advised waiting until six months to sleep train. And our baby never had a 4 month sleep regression because HIS SLEEP NEVER GOT BETTER. He woke up every 2 hours, more or less, until we trained him at six months. I never ever thought I would do CIO but we did and at six months we did and it took 2 nights to get him from 2 hour stints to 4 – 5 hour stretches. Now at 18 months he pulls 10 hour stretches at night – he’s always been in the tail of the curve when it comes to sleep consolidation and he’s always needed a little less sleep than average. But! We survived and I would totally sleep train at six months with the next one if need be.

  4. I did sleep train my 4-month old, who is now 5. He was a shitty sleeper so I didn’t notice any regression, and sleep training did work for him. But my goal was not to have him sleep through the night, rather it was to learn to fall asleep in the crib on his own and to consolidate his sleep a bit. I still woke to nurse him 1-2 times per night until he naturally dropped those feedings at 9 months.

  5. Timely post. I was just feeling the “I should have…” after hearing about someone’s success at training her baby at 4 months. I’ve gone back & forth on whether to train my 8 month old (meaning nightweaning in my case), mainly because it seems easier to get up once or twice in the night. I’m worried that if or when I do train, I’ll feel guilty for not having done it sooner! So, this helped with that. Thanks.

  6. Agreed – a timely post. I hate everything about sleep training except the result, and yet I’m finding myself reading and trying to decide when to train my 6 week old twins. (My 3yo didn’t sleep through the night until a year, and is still a lousy self soother, so I don’t have much to learn from). These babies seem like they could self soothe maybe, but based on our car rides, they are certainly tension increasers. But rocking down two ba ies each feeding = 1.5 hour sessions and not much time for sleep before the next feeding. Anyway – anyone notice that when, in a sleep deprived state, you read a sleep training book, it sounds like “if you we’re doing it all right, your baby wouldn’t cry. They’re crying? You’ve made them sleep deprived, destroyed their cognitive development… It’s all your fault”. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t *actually* say that, but…

  7. I’m reading between the lines here and assuming by “sleep train” you mean CIO?Because they actually aren’t the same thing, and there are things that fall into the category of sleep training that you absolutely CAN do at 4 months (and that, btw, don’t make you a monster).
    Should you expect your [mid-sleep-regression] 4 month old to start sleeping through the night because of this training? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t mean it’s a wasted exercise.
    Here’s what I mean:
    Your baby starts to wake 3-4 times per night. You can go the “any means necessary” route (and if you need to do that, go for it). You can also absolutely decide what you want the sleep scenario to be at your house and start reinforcing that. No, it probably won’t make them sleep any longer right in the moment, but it can sure set the stage for better sleep after the regression is over.
    For example, if the sleep scenario you want at your house is “baby in the crib in the baby’s room”, you can put the baby down in his crib in his room at night (after you’ve soothed him to sleep however you usually do that). When he wakes up, 2 hours later, stay in his room and soothe him back to sleep (which could roughly translate to “do some soothing-type-stuff while you wait for the baby to go back to sleep”). Rinse and repeat. By the time the sleep regression is over, you have a pattern in place. You soothe baby -> baby goes to sleep –> baby sleeps in crib in own room.
    Now you might be too tired or unwilling to do this. Fine. But if you can swing it, it’s not a bad time to start establishing the habits you want to promote. And I might argue that when your baby has been keeping you up nights for 4 months, you’re maybe less tired than if your baby has keeping you up for 14 months. It’s a gamble, of course, because some babies sort of figure it out on their own without you going through nighttime 4-months sleep-regression habit-forming. But I’m in the camp of preferring to head off problems at the pass rather than wait and solve them if they come up. YMMV, of course.

  8. One thing I find rarely mentioned when it comes to sleep training/scheduling is it numbs me to the real needs of my baby. I find myself stop trying to figure out what is wrong. Baby #3 is definitely affected by these regressions. At 4 months I told myself to wait it out which I painfully did. At 5 months, some of the literature suggests not needing a night feed. So I would feed at 10pm or so and refuse to give another feed until 6/7am thereby having to listen to crying. Finally I decided to listen to my nagging intuition which said she really was hungry around 4/5am on that schedule. So I would feed a small bottle and she’d be down for another 2/3 hours. All this to say…even in sleep training don’t forget your mother intuition. All the research on sleep and babies have nothing on the power of your intuition.As I’m writing this I’m coming off of a 5am wake up though which was definitely not appreciated as she woke up her two older brothers as well!

  9. I love you Moxie, I really do. All your encouragement is a great blessing to parents far and wide! And on a completely different note, hasn’t it been a while since we had a primal scream day? Am I the only one feeling the need?

  10. I love you, I really do. Previously delightful four month old. Asleep for 17 minutes, longest stretch since I put him down three hours ago. Plot lost.

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