Updated: Sep 25
Teething gets a lot of the blame when it comes to sleep troubles. In most cases, teething is not the culprit when good sleep turns bad.
Teething usually only causes notable discomfort for the few days prior and few days after the tooth breaks through the gums.
If your little one doesn’t seem too bothered by teething pain during the day, then it’s not likely the cause of poor sleep at night.
For the purpose of this article, let’s concentrate on 4 month olds.
At four months we commonly see some big shifts in your baby’s sleep patterns. This also coincides with them starting to mouth everything and anything they can get their hands on.
It’s easy to see how parents pair these two occurrences and conclude that their little one must be about to get their first teeth and this is what is causing the changes in their sleep.
The truth is that most babies don’t cut their first teeth until 6-7 months and there’s a lot more going on developmentally that is likely to blame for poor sleep, even if those teeth do come in earlier.
If you think about it, your baby will be ‘teething’ for close to the first three years of their life and that doesn’t mean you’re destined to three years of bad sleep. Good sleep is possible and a baby with healthy sleep foundations and habits will likely have little to no sleep disruptions due to teething.
So why is your baby chewing on everything if they’re not teething? For the first 18 months babies explore the world using their mouths. They are testing new and different textures and flavours. Oral gratification starts as soon as your baby is born. This is a survival instinct as they rely on their sucking reflex for sustenance.
Around four months they still crave oral gratification and now they have enough coordination to finally put things in their mouths themselves. So, all that chewing is more a form of exploration than due to teething pain. Although, the chewing definitely does help when those first teeth do make an appearance. It also helps them learn how to move their tongue around their mouth in preparation for eating solid foods and talking.
Ok, so why the bad sleep all of a sudden?
Have you heard of the 4 month sleep regression? This is actually a progression in your baby’s sleep. Their night times sleep cycles mature, becoming more organized yet shorter 2-4 hour cycles.
If your baby doesn’t know how to fall asleep independently they can wake after some or all of these sleep cycles looking for your assistance to go back to sleep.
You can read more on the 4 month sleep regression here.
Another common cause for sleep disturbances at this age is their physical development, more specifically rolling.
Between 4-6 months a lot of babies learn how to roll. Due to this most babies will be unswaddled for the first time. This can be a difficult transition as your baby learns to sleep with their arms free, especially if they still have some lingering startle reflex.
Once they are unswaddled you may then find that they are rolling in their sleep and waking themselves as they haven’t quite worked out how to sleep on their tummies.
Find out more on when and how to unswaddle your baby here.
So before you chalk your sleeping woes up to teething and hoping everything goes back to normal when those pearly whites pop through, consider what else might be going on in your little one’s world that could be having an impact.
My Better Sleep Guide (4-8 months) will help you establish strong sleep foundations and set your baby up for sleep success!