How can I get my baby to sleep past 40 minutes?

When a baby starts to shorten their naps or catnaps it can be confusing, frustrating and exhausting! You may have had a baby who was sleeping brilliantly and then all of a sudden they start to wake after about 40 or 45 minutes. Why?! What happened to your beautiful sleeping baby?

Catnapping is very common. It’s developmental and so most babies will catnap. Developmental catnapping usually starts around eight to ten weeks of age. Around this age babies have a lot going on. They are beginning to want to engage more in their environment and with the people around them and they also start to sleep a bit differently from day to night. All these big developmental leaps increases brain activity, which can cause babies to be more wakeful.

All this extra waking can also mean that some babies may start to snack more in the day rather than have nice big full milk feeds. This snacking can increase if you are following the feed/play/sleep routine which can then lead to babies going to bed with empty tummies which doesn’t help them have longer naps.

So, how do stop your baby from catnapping and help them have longer sleeps? Here are my top 5 tips that can help:

1. Put your baby to sleep in their bed. Babies need to wake up where they fall asleep and as they grow they become very attached the how and where they go to sleep. If a baby falls asleep in your arms and then at the end of a sleep cycle, opens their eyes and they are in the cot, they will wake right up and cry. They don’t know where they are. So settling your baby off to sleep in their cot will help stop this.
2. Feed your baby when they are hungry not just because they are awake. As babies grow they don’t need to be fed every time they wake, as they just won’t be that hungry. Wait for them to show you they are hungry then feed. That way they will have a big full feed, not be distracted and go back to bed with milk in their tummies. A lot of new parents are advised to do a feed/play/sleep routine with their baby.
3. Don’t accept that 45 minutes’ sleep is all your baby needs. This is definitely one of the pitfalls you can fall into because often a baby will wake up after one sleep cycle and look like they have had a wonderful, refreshing sleep. If you do get them up at this stage, it will only be about 30 to 45 minutes before they start to get tired again and you will be on that awful cycle of up, down, up, down all day.
4. Resettle instead of getting up. So instead of getting our baby up when they wake, resettle them back to sleep. Or at least try to resettle them. Give yourself enough time and remember it can take up to 30 minutes for your baby to go back to sleep. Don’t lean into the cot, get yourself a chair or stool and position it so you are comfortable.
5. Pick your battles. If your baby is very upset, pick them up and if you have to rock them to calm them, then do that. Resettling a catnapping baby can be pretty tough. So, if you feel you are getting nowhere, then give yourself and your baby a break. Most catnapping babies eventually grow out of it. So even if you do nothing, your baby’s day sleep will get longer as they grow, eat more food and move more.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.