Q&A: 4 1/2-month-old not sleeping

I need to create an easier way to search for topics by age. Today's question is a classic. Zakhele from South Africa writes:

"I would like to find out what is bothering my baby. He is 4 1/2 months old and everything was all good with his sleeping up until recently. He started this new thing which me and his mom don't understand. He was sleeping the whole night including weekends, and now he only sleeps on weekends the whole night and during the week it's a mission. I was wondering whether there was something wrong with or not, bcoz his mother takes him with her to work and she feeds him every 4 hours during the day and we give a bath at 9 pm every night and then she feeds him between then and 10 o'clock and then we go to sleep. I don't know--do you think what's affecting him is bcoz he does not feed well, and he plays a lot now and sleeps less even during the day? Sometimes, like yesterday, he didn't sleep at all during the day. I worried bcoz he is not like this. I mean the past 4 months were the happiest months of our lives and we were even boasting about it to our friends that our baby manages to sleep on his own the whole night without any hustle. Please help doctor do have any suggestion for me and my wife?"

You said it--you were boasting about it to friends, and that's what made him stop sleeping.

Just joking! (But it kind of seems that way, doesn't it?)

I think it sounds like he may be about to go through a developmental spurt and gain some new skills. There's one that happens right around 19 weeks, and another one that happens at 26 weeks. While the baby's brain is working on learning and practicising the new things for that spurt, their bodies can't really stay still. It's like those times when you have something big on your mind--sometimes you just can stay still, and you have to get up and walk around to get the excess energy out. The same thing happens to a baby. It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Once the baby's brain works through the new skill, he'll go back to sleeping again.

There's not much you can do about it until he goes through the spurt on his own. The only suggestion I have that might work (and I really mean "might," as it has no effect on many kids) is to try to tire him out physically during the day. Play the kinds of patty-cake and motion games that will get him excited and trying to move with you, or dance around with him a lot.

You could also try an earlier bedtime. In the US, 10 pm would be a really late bedtime for a kid, starting at around 3 1/2 months or so. We tend toward bedtimes for babies at that age in the 7-8:30 pm range. But I have no idea what time you are getting up in the morning, so 10 pm might be the perfect time. You could always play around with the bedtime and move it earlier if it makes you feel like you're doing something productive.

Basically, though, I think you're seeing what happens when your baby's mind and body starts developing. Everything just goes haywire for a few weeks, and the only thing you can do is stand back and watch. It'll get better again (and then worse, but then better, and then worse, and then at some point he'll move out of your house and it won't be your problem anymore). So while you're waiting for this sleep regression to resolve itself, just don't mention anything about it to your friends.