After the unpredictability of the first weeks of a baby’s life, three months is a time when things begin to settle into a more predictable pattern.
Your baby’s circadian rhythm is beginning to develop (so he understands day verses night a little more), he is awake and interacting more, and sleeping more predictably.
Life suddenly begins to look a little less chaotic.
It seems cruel (for both of you) that soon after entering this blissful settled period, that one of the most challenging periods of an infant’s development kicks in.
You feel thrown in the deep end once more.
Some refer to this stage of baby development as the four month monsters or four month sleep regression.
Or for those following The Wonder Weeks, (Leap 4 – Wonder Week 19), it’s recognisable by changes to your baby’s sleeping, feeding and behaviour.
Whatever you call it, most parents notice pretty big differences in their baby’s behaviour between 4-6 months of age.
You may even start to doubt that you understand your baby as well as you thought! Rest assured, all of these changes are a normal part of baby’s development, as demanding as they are!
Here are six ways that babies change, and what you can do to get through:
#1: Your baby seems distracted when feeding
If you’ve finally reached the point of more relaxing breastfeeds, you’ve probably been able to read a book or surf the web on your phone, while your baby quietly feeds for 45 minutes or so.
But the abrupt change to feeding behaviour at this age can come as a bit of a shock. Almost overnight, babies can’t focus on feeding and become distracted at feeding times.
Until now, your newborn lived in a bubble, interested in her small world and oblivious to everything else. But in a rush of brain development, that bubble bursts and everything else appears.
Now, your baby is no longer able to screen out irrelevant or unimportant stimulus. Feeds are interrupted or abandoned altogether, as sounds, movements and sights distract her. She is practicing her new skills: turning her head to locate a sound or visually track moving objects. Popping on and off the breast in response to distractions, babies often seem disinterested in feeding longer than the bare minimum during the day.
It will help to know that your milk supply is not to blame for this change. Babies at this age become very efficient milk extractors and can take lots of milk in a very short time. Catching up overnight means they can relax and enjoy the feed without distractions.
For now, limiting distractions during feeds will help. Turn off the TV, put down your mobile device, give your toddler some quiet toys and shut the cat in another room. Minimise conversation and use low voices. If you’re out of the house, look for a quiet baby care room at the shopping centre, a seat away from the playground at the park or head inside at a barbeque lunch.
Things usually settle by around six months, as your baby’s brain further develops, and is able to screen out irrelevant information.
#2: Your baby has a short attention span and is easily frustrated
After previously enjoying playtime, where your baby was reaching and grabbing toys on his play gym, the novelty has now worn off.
Your baby becomes frustrated when he doesn’t succeed and bored when he does.
Some babies want to be upright all the time, and won’t tolerate any time on the floor. Others don’t like tummy time, or lying on their back.
Some will get cross when they roll over and end up in the wrong position.
The limited movement options at this age seem infuriating, as though he knows he is only a few short months away from sitting, crawling and cruising.
Understanding his frustration and helping him through this stage is important. Try to offer him something new to do or see frequently through the day. You can set up different play locations around the house, and rotate him from the tummy time mat, to the play gym, to sitting on your lap for a story and back.
But don’t expect him to stay entertained in each play station for much longer than ten minutes!
When you need to do other things, pop your baby in a sling or carrier. As you move around the house or garden, the constantly changing view will entertain him, and you can chat to him about what you are doing.
#3: Your baby seems hungry for more milk
As this rapid brain development gets underway, you will probably notice a change in feeding habits.
Breastmilk is an important aid to brain development.
One 2013 study showed that breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone.
The frequent demands for breastfeeding, shorter feeding length and increase in night feeds often causes breastfeeding mothers to worry about their milk production. It’s really important to remember that these changes are normal and do not mean an end to breastfeeding, nor do you not have enough milk.
Breastfeeding is more than a source of food. This rapid brain development means your baby needs more of everything he gets from the breast. More energy, more relaxation, more comfort, and more reassurance.
By continuing to breastfeed in response to your baby’s feeding cues, you can be confident your milk production will adjust to meet his changing needs.
#4: Your baby shows interest when you’re eating
Many people see these changes at four months as an indicator that babies need solids.
In fact, one study found that many parents relied on two main signals from their baby in determining if she was ready for solids:
- A strong interest in food, e.g. watching closely when others eat or reaching for food from an adult’s plate
- Disturbed sleep patterns at night
Yet neither of these typical developmental behaviours is associated with infants being ready to start solid foods.
The recommended age to introduce solids is around six months. There are no benefits to babies in beginning solids earlier – there are actually risks which need to be considered before making that choice.
The indications of being ready to introduce solid foods are:
- Able to sit upright and have good head and trunk control
- Able to reach for food and bring it to his mouth
- Loss of tongue-thrust reflex – which stops food being pushed into his mouth.
As the time for introducing other foods approaches, you will see her learning the skills she needs to eat and digest them. You will notice:
- increased dribbling as saliva production increases
- movements of hand to mouth, as she gains the coordination she needs
- awareness and interest when others are eating, as she learns through watching
Her digestive system is still not ready to process foods, even though she might swallow if you puree them finely enough.
Babies are healthier if we wait until they are developmentally ready to eat, and by waiting until they are, you can skip all that pureeing! Find out more in our article, 6 Steps To Introducing Solids… The Simple Way!
#5: Your baby is waking more at night
It’s natural for babies to wake for breastfeeds during the night (find out the importance of nighttime feeding). It’s also natural for adults to want uninterrupted sleep!
The myth of self-settling and the negative attitudes to night feeding has led to the judgement of parents by how soon their baby “sleeps through the night”. As depressing as it may be to hear, studies have found that “sleeping through” for a baby is around 5 hours.
When development happens, night waking will increase. Not only do babies wake for feeds, but they also wake as they try to roll in their sleep, and their busy brains process the input of the day. Once awake, they need help to return to sleep in the quickest way possible: feeding at the breast.
Child infant developmental stages do lead to sleep disruption and continue to do so beyond infancy. Sleep training is not appropriate under 6-12 months of age, and ignoring the increased need for night feeding can lead to reduced milk production and poor weight gains.
Instead of trying to get your baby to sleep longer, read these 6 Things To Do When You Need More Sleep.
#6: Your baby is growing off the charts!
Development of the brain and central nervous system isn’t measured on charts. When your baby’s growth slows, don’t assume there is a problem with your breastmilk. Brain development, new mobility and increased activity simply mean energy is being used elsewhere, and not stored as fat.
Remember that your baby’s weight and length are only part of the information used to assess your child’s growth and development. Growth happens in spurts – weight may increase one week, with length catching up the next.
Breastfed babies reach a weight gain plateau at around 4 months of age. After the rapid growth in the first three months, it seems that growth in weight and length pause, while the brain and nervous system catch up. When in doubt, offer more chances to feed, keep an eye on those wet and dirty nappies and consider ways to increase breastmilk intake, before adding formula feeds or early solids.
“Four month monsters” used in the title of this article has been used in humour. In fact, this can be a fantastic stage of your baby’s life as they begin to show their unique personality and interact with the world — and everything in it. It’s a very demanding time, but also a time to be relished, for the next stage is mobility! Suddenly, all those hours on the couch constantly breastfeeding are fond memories as you begin to chase your baby throughout the day!