Why Sometimes the 4th Month is Harder than the 1st

Yesterday was a total sleep implosion. Naps were all puny, and she needed to be rocked to sleep for all of them. Diet Cry It Out did not work AT ALL. When I went in to comfort her for the third time at bedtime, she fell asleep on my shoulder and was sound asleep when I put her down. Not surprisingly she woke up about 30 minutes later.  By then she and I were both so exhausted that I took her to my bed.

For some reason this mini sleep regression has hit me really, really hard. I know it’s a (hopefully) temporary set back. I know this is how things work with children. The rational part of myself knows all of this. And yet, it felt crushing to be back to where we were a couple of weeks ago after having such great sleep improvements last week.  I felt like I had finally been given this lovely little reprieve, evenings back to myself, mornings back to myself, time in my day to be someone other than a mom, to think and eat and watch TV without also entertaining or feeding a baby.

And then yesterday it felt like it was all taken away from me without reason or warning, like the parenting gods wanted to remind me that every time you think you have a routine or rhythm with a new baby, something will happen to disrupt it.  And it sucked. Really, really bad. 

And it got me to thinking about something I’ve realized. A lot of attention gets paid to that first month of parenting, and rightly so. Everything is new and you’re still recovering from labor. You’re feeding the baby constantly. There is no distinction between day and night. It is a doozy.

But in some ways I’ve felt like this past month has been the hardest. It’s strange because in a lot of ways it’s also been the best. Ryley is a little person now. She is so interactive and smiley and happy most of the time. I desperately love every minute of my time with her. I’ve figured out her likes and dislikes for the most part, know how to soothe her, know the general rhythm of her day.

But she’s still an infant. She still requires pretty frequent feeding and changing and holding. It’s still a lot of work to take her anywhere. Nights as I’ve made clear are not anywhere near normalized. I don’t remember what it was like to have more than 3-4 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

And the difference from the first month is that by month 4 everyone pretty much expects you to have your shit together. Month 1 it is totally acceptable to spend the entire day unwashed in pajamas, order delivery or take out for every meal, leave dishes in the sink and laundry piled in the hamper. But by month 4, this type of behavior is no longer expected or approved of. You’re supposed to wear real pants in public with a zipper and maybe even a button. People think you should look relatively put together and somewhat rested (or at least have makeup on to conceal those dark circles). 

Month 1 you have SO much help, from friends, family, your husband if he gets a paternity leave. The refrigerator/freezer is full of meals. People offer to help with laundry or errands or even just watch the baby while you nap. But by month 4, as moms we’re supposed to be back in total control, take care of the baby but also able to keep the house clean, make dinner, go to the grocery store, pay the bills, go back to work.

By month 4 we’re supposed to be back to “normal”, physically and emotionally, despite this massive, seismic change that just happened in our lives. We’re supposed to be super human.

And I’m really not complaining as much as it may sound like it. I don’t expect help at this point. I know that every other mom in the world does it on her own too.  I know that I’m writing this as a mom of one baby, and that other women do this with 2 or 3 or 19 if you’re Michelle Duggar. I know that everything I say is times a million if you’re also taking care of a toddler. I also know that so many moms out there work so much more than I do. I have it easy in so many ways.

But some days this whole parenting thing is still almost as hard as it was in those first, early, blurry newborn weeks, and on those days I wish I could stay in pajamas, hand the baby to someone while I nap, let the dust bunnies and dishes and laundry pile up, and eat Chinese takeout for dinner for the 4th time in a week.

Maybe the best take away from all of this is for us new moms to be kind and understanding to one another, whether it’s week 4 or month 4 or year 4. Parenting is one of the few things in life that can be simultaneously your favorite thing in the world and the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to balance it with also being a functional adult.

I think we also need to be kinder on ourselves. I know so much of the pressure I talked about here is self directed. I need to learn that it’s okay if I need to take a day off from everything other than being a mom, to let the house get a little dirty and save cooking the Blue Apron meal for another day. 

Sometimes we need to stay unwashed in our pajamas, to ask for help, to be okay with not being perfect.

8/17/2016 09:37:57 am

ahh I feel for you! the 4 month sleep regression hit us BAD. it lasted a couple weeks, nights where the baby woke up almost every hour to either be nursed or comforted back to sleep. and I felt the same way u did, that it was harder than those early newborn weeks! it felt like a majorrrr step back. but it ENDED eventually! it was terrible going thru it, I was miserable, my husband was miserable, we were sooo snappy at each other bc of the lack of sleep. please remember to go easy on yourself during this time and each other until this regression passes and it WILL PASS! hang in there! btw what helped us a little bit during this time was using the magic merlin suit…our baby would wake up the second we put him down in the crib after having been nursed/rocked back to sleep….in the sleep suit he would at least not feel that he was being put down so he wouldn’t wake up when he hit the crib…


8/19/2016 05:41:41 am

Sam, I know! The 4 month regression absolutely sucks! At least ours seems to be on its way out right now. We do use the magic sleep suit! I think it definitely helps. It hasn’t been as “magical” as some reviews I’ve read (where the baby wears it once and then immediately sleeps 12 hours every night), but I do think it helps her longer than she would without it!


8/18/2016 11:18:18 am

I’m someone who likes order and I have been so frustrated and resentful (and exhausted and sad) when we can’t hit a groove. My sister reminded me that sometimes the only consistency is inconsistency and this helped relieve some of the pressure I was putting on myself to make sense of nonsense. Give yourself grace!


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