How to End the Baby Catnapping Cycle
Baby catnapping is one of the most common sleep problems mums contact with me with every single day. Questions like “How can I get my baby to sleep longer?” are the first to fill my inbox and unless we do something about it, it becomes a sleep habit for most babies that lasts for years. Luckily there’s a simple solution, here are my 5 tips to help you end those pesky micro naps once and for all.
The biggest problem with the catnapping cycle for small babies is that they sleep for a very short length of time, then wake up super hungry and chow down without the energy to have a full feed. They then start falling asleep once again on the breast or the bottle. These small feeds are known as ‘snacking’ which older babies and toddlers do as well. Snacking perpetuates the catnapping cycle.
When your child has a ‘snack feed’, they only have a small amount of milk or food in their belly to sustain a small amount of sleep and then they’ll be hungry 20-40 minutes later but will again, only eat or drink a small amount because their belly isn’t completely empty, they just ate!
A catnapping, snacking baby is a hungry and overtired baby who is not taking her full 2 cycles of sleep. Depending on your baby’s weight, 1 sleep cycle will vary in length between 35-45 minutes but most babies need 2 of these cycles merged together (70-90 minutes) to be fully rested and rejuvenated. This means your baby needs to be able to resettle herself between those 2 sleep cycles so she’s fully rested.
A baby who sleeps well during the day is a baby who takes full feeds and sleeps even better at night. A baby who is catnapping and not getting adequate daytime sleep will be overtired, difficult to settle and feed and will wake frequently through the night and rise early in the morning.
To encourage your baby to sleep longer, try these FIVE tips
ONE – Start a Sleep Schedule or Routine
From 3 months I recommend starting a consistent baby sleep routine and gentle baby sleep training so when your baby wakes after 20 minutes, instead of offering a feed and perpetuating the catnapping/snacking cycle, you can help your little one resettle to sleep for another 30-45 minutes or longer. You can actually start encouraging these longer naps earlier than 3 months with a gentle rhythmic routine, (these can be found in my eBooks) as long as your baby has regained her birth weight, is growing steadily and has plenty of wet nappies, she will respond well to lengthening her nap time.
Often a baby who has had a 20 minute catnap won’t look overtired, in fact she will often look fully rested with a big gorgeous smile on her face but don’t be fooled sweet Mama, the catnap has just taken the edge off her tiredness and she hasn’t had nearly enough sleep. She’ll prove that to you later by getting very tired and fussy in the early evening.
When Sophia was first born, she would only ever catnap and snack for 2-5 minutes at a time, before falling back to sleep for 20 minutes and then waking up screaming, needing more milk. She did this every day, all day and night for 3 months and I was exhausted, drained and on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The day I started Sophia on her gentle baby sleep routine, she finally stopped catnapping and I began to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Please remember that although we want to encourage full sleep cycles it’s the job of a small baby to sleep and feed frequently to help you establish your milk supply and to help them grow so it’s important to balance both your needs and your child’s needs.
Catnapping really takes hold when your child is put to sleep or allowed to sleep before she’s really tired enough to establish a full sleep cycle. How can this be? I get it, most parents will jump at the chance to have their child sleep as soon as they want and need to and although for some people this can work, for many babies, as soon as they reach that 3-4 month mark, their need for sleep will change and it can be helpful to gently start stretching these times out for them, so they have a full 90 minute nap as opposed to a 20-40 minute cat nap, which means you can have a rest too and feel secure knowing your little one is getting adequate sleep throughout the day.
So, how do you know when your child is ready for their proper sleep? Every child is different and their sleep needs vary according to their age, size, nutrition and level of activity. Because its impossible to know each individual child’s exact sleep needs I’ve created a general toddler and baby sleep schedule based on different age groups to help take out as much of the guess work as possible. All my age specific sleep routines are outlined in my 2 eBooks, Sleep Like An Angel – Sleep Secrets of the Mindful Mama and Blissful Baby and Sleep Secrets of the Mindful Mama and Blissful Toddler.
The benefit of having age specific routines is that they encourage your baby or toddler to sleep for longer periods of time by making sure she’s sleepy enough by the time bedtime rolls around. This reduces the risk of catnapping and falling asleep for shorter intervals. If you don’t set the routine for your baby’s sleep, your baby will likely do it herself and it will usually entail lots of catnapping and snacking intermittently throughout the day and night.
TWO – Proper Infant Nutrition
As I mentioned above, for babies and toddlers to sleep well they need to have nice full bellies with either milk and/or a balanced combination of healthy fats, iron enriched protein and vegetables. When your child is receiving adequate nutrition you will notice a huge improvement in her sleep, not just during the day but also at night and you will notice those early morning wake ups become less frequent. The tricky thing with infant nutrition is that there are several different perspectives on what little ones should and shouldn’t be eating. I tried a couple of different approaches with Sophia and she is quite a healthy little girl but after a lot of research I’ve found the way I will wean and feed my next child that I think will see a vast improvement with overall health and energy, I just wish I had known about it earlier! In my eBooks I detail both approaches I took with Sophia and what I’ll do next time so you can decide what feels right for you and your child.
THREE – Start to Use My Gentle Sleep Guidance Strategies Found in My eBooks
Some people call it baby sleep training but I like to call it Gentle Sleep Guidance because I don’t like the idea of training a small person, instead, as mothers, it’s out job to guide our babies, and sleep is no exception. With gentle sleep guidance you’ll help your baby resettle herself between sleep cycles. If your child can’t resettle herself back to sleep, she will need your help to do it both during the day and at night. In my eBooks I have some simple ways to help you teach your child to self settle throughout the night and in between napping cycles. When your baby first wakes up calling you after one sleep cycle, give her a few minutes in case she resettles herself, then go into the room, be very quiet, try not to make too much eye contact and gently tell baby it’s still sleep time, pat her gently on her chest and use a rhythmic “shooosh” sound to help her resettle.
FOUR – Make Some White Noise
The problem with most households that have sleeping babies, is that they’re too quiet! If you’re tiptoeing around and cursing the neighbours’ dog for barking during your child’s sleep then relax my beauty, you don’t have to do that. Noise during your child’s sleep is actually helpful, it helps them settle more easily and also helps them be able to settle outside of the home, so next time you’re out at the shops your child will be able to sleep as opposed to getting overtired and upset because they’re only able to sleep in complete silence. If your house has too many unpredictable and loud noises it can be helpful to use white noise or baby sleep music to create a consistent amount of noise.
We’ve always used baby sleep music with Sophia, and we used to use white noise a lot too, it made a huge difference to her quality of sleep and also helped her settle more easily. For her day time naps I would leave the white noise or sleep music on for the entire duration of her nap and at night, I would turn it off at around 10pm or whenever I went to bed. If your child has become used to a quiet house during naps, it might take a couple of sleeps to get adjust to some extra noise but they’ll adapt very quickly which means you can stop cringing over creaking floor boards!
FIVE – Swaddle your baby
So we’re talking about little babies here but as long as your child is not rolling while swaddled, swaddling will help minimise the startle reflex which will help them feel secure enough to keep sleeping. Sophia started to roll at 6 months but was not rolling while swaddled until 8 months (which was when I removed her swaddle). Lots of mothers tell me their baby hates being swaddled. Most babies will resist it but will show you how much they love it by sleeping peacefully for a much longer length of time.
Catnapping can derail baby sleep very quickly and we can’t expect things to change if we keep doing the same thing. Helping babies sleep for longer lengths of time is simple but very tricky if you don’t know what to look for, so if you’re ready to try something new, I have the most effortless and gentle baby sleep solutions to help guide you both. Check out my eBooks for all my routines and more detailed guidance on how to help your baby learn to settle herself the gentle and respectful way.
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