How do I stop my baby from catnapping?

Baby catnapping can be so frustrating! You have probably just gone from having a baby who was sleeping two, maybe three hours, per nap, and now they are waking after 45 minutes or even less. What just happened? I mean, how can you possibly get through that increasingly long list of jobs, when you have a baby who will only sleep for the length of time it takes you to have two sips of warm tea, throw down a piece of cold vegemite toast and be just about to step into the shower!

The first thing you need to know is that catnapping is very common. Most babies will catnap, and this usually starts at around eight to ten weeks. When you consider why this might be and what might be going on, it emerges that babies sleep cycles tend to increase around this age and they start to sleep differently during the day to the way they sleep at night. There can also be a big developmental leap happening, which increases brain activity, and causes babies to be more wakeful. Some babies may also start to snack when being fed if they are on a strict schedule or if they are following the feed/play/sleep routine and this can lead to them going to bed with empty tummies meaning they just want have those nice long sleeps they used to have.

So how do you manage a catnapping baby? Here are some tips that can help:

  • Feed your baby when they are hungry.

Make sure you are feeding your baby only when they are hungry, not just because they have woken from a sleep. A lot of new parents are advised to do a feed/play/sleep routine with their baby. That routine just won’t work as your baby grows. From about 8 weeks, babies don’t need to be fed every time they wake. In fact, waiting till they are hungry can help your baby feed better and be less distracted on the breast.

  • 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.

  • Resettle the baby back to sleep.

So instead of getting our baby up when they wake, resettle them back to sleep. Or at least try to resettle them. I know this can be difficult particularly if you have to lean over a cot and pat endlessly for hours, so let’s make it easier:

    • Don’t lean into the cot, get yourself a chair or stool and position it so you are comfortable.
    • Don’t do it for hours. I recommend keeping the baby in the cot for the amount of time they are supposed to be asleep for, so about 90 minutes.
    • 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. But try and do the last bit of settling in their cot.
    • Don’t send yourself spare! Resettling a catnapping baby can be tough. It can be demoralising, and it can be futile, at times. So, if you feel you are getting nowhere, then give yourself, and your baby a break. Most catnapping babies eventually do 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.