Coping With A Baby That Cat Naps

Baby Cat Naps Sleeping

Image by Crimfants

My History With The Cat Napping Baby

With the exception of our first son, once our babies reached four months old, their sleeping during the day turned into cat napping. By cat napping, I mean that they sleep for somewhere between 30 – 45 minutes then wake up.

Those of you who have little ones with most likely be familiar with the sleep cycle of babies. Babies sleeping at this age consists of alternating active and quiet sleep periods of 20–50 minutes each. When baby wakes between these cycles, sometimes they can’t go back to sleep.

(Check out these websites if you are after more information on sleep cycles Raising Children and Baby Centre. )

As I noted at the start Thinker our first baby didn’t fall into the cat napping category. After an initial steep learning curve, we got to know each other and he soon worked himself into a routine of 4 hourly feeds with at least 2 hour sleeps between them. He also started sleeping through from 3 months and never really woke over night again.

So when Little Rascal, our second son came along and at about 3 months starting waking every 45 minutes during the day, I found this a bit of a shock and a little frustrating. At 4 months he started sleeping though at night, but during the day he was still waking at 45 minutes, tired and unhappy.

From when he was 4 months old, each time he would wake, I would sit by his cot, patting, gently rocking him, just placing my hands on him, etc – anything really to try and get him to go back to sleep. I tried for long periods of time and then would eventually give up and carry him around until it was time for another feed.

Not long after he turned 6 months, Little Rascal started sleeping for longer periods and most importantly it would be over the golden hour, so I knew he had made it through a sleep cycle. These sleeps gradually built up to over 1.5 hours twice a day and I started to feel a little more sane. Having a baby with you almost constantly during the day is exhausting and doesn’t allow for a lot of work to be done.

Then when our daughter came along and she slept well for the first three months, I thought we might be spared the cat napping. But it was not to be. You could almost set a clock by her 40 minute wake times. This time I was determined not to be so obsessed about sleeping. When she woke, I would go to her and would try for a 5 -10 minutes and see if she would go to sleep. I could usually tell if she would and if it looked like she wouldn’t then I would just get her up and start over.

By the time 6 months had come around, Possum also started sleeping longer and fell into two decent sleeps a day. It did take her until about 7 months until she slept through at night, but she fed quickly over night and would go back to sleep without any problems.

Baby number 4 followed almost the exact same path as baby number 3. This time I anticipated that from 4 – 6 months, there would be little great sleeping in the day, so when it happened, there was not the frustration that I experienced with baby number 2.

Our beautiful baby number 5, has inherited the cat napping gene too, but he has been waking at erratic time intervals from 30 – 50 minutes. Another difference with him is that with a small pat for 5 minutes or so, he is actually going back to sleep most of the time – not always though!. This week we have even had sleeps exceeding 1.5 hours without waking which is truly exciting. In terms of night sleep, he is regularly making it from 7pm until 5am or 6am if a I am really lucky.

Strategies For Coping With A Baby That Cat Naps

As my experience has grown with the cat napping baby, I have created a few strategies for myself so that I can cope and not go crazy with a baby that is awake a lot during the day:

Feed, Play, Sleep With Flexibility

I am a firm believer in the feed, play, sleep routine for babies, but trying to follow the feed, play, sleep routine for babies in a large family is difficult.

Baby number 5 can wake at 6am and should really be going back to sleep at around 7.45 – 8.00am, but that is the time that we head off to school. We walk to school, but he is generally so excited by so much to see and all the kids, that he doesn’t drop off until the way home and may have 30 minutes in the pram.

Alternatively we may have been out all morning and baby gets little to no sleep, so as soon as I start the feed, he falls off to sleep. I let him feed like this for a while then place in the cot asleep. Not desirable, but it happens frequently and there is no point stressing about it.

Accepting That The Baby Is A Cat Napper

My first experience with a cat napper as I noted above, was with our second child. I was determined that I could “make him” go back to sleep. This didn’t happen for me and it really just left me feeling exhausted and frustrated. Since that experience when I start to see the signs that the baby is cat napping, I accept that for the next couple of months that there may not be much consistent day sleep.

I have decided not to spend hours trying to get babies to go back to sleep, I will try for a short time, listen to their cry and determine whether or not they are likely to go back to sleep and if not, get them up and move on. We are generally both happier with this.

Preparation Before They Go To Sleep

If I need to complete a task that is difficult to do with baby around then I try to prepare in advance as much as I can. For example, I can generally cook our family meal in 30 – 45 minutes. So while baby is up, I will set everything up so that once he has fallen to sleep, I can quickly get to cooking it, so I can maximise my time whilst he is asleep.

Use A Baby Sling / Carrier

Often our baby is still very tired after his quick 30 minute nap and thankfully he likes being placed in the baby carrier. I will go about my business (eg vacuuming, doing the washing etc) with him in it and quite often he will get another short nap in. This really helps as he will then feed better next time round.

Get Out And About

I will come home after school drop off in the mornings, put baby to sleep and see what happens. If he has a short sleep and won’t go back to sleep, I will use this time to go out and run errands if there is any to be done. Days can seem very long with a wakeful baby, if I don’t break it up with outings.

Stop And Enjoy

It is easy to keep working through the day, so taking the opportunity to just sit on th floor with the little ones and playing can be a great way to recharge.

This Is What Some Babies Do

Babies sleeping can sometimes seem a competitive sport amongst mothers and it is easy to become obsessed by it like I did with my second child. But I like to remind myself of a quote from Robyn Barker’s fantastic baby bible “Baby Love”:

During the first six month’s of a baby’s life a routine is more for adult convenience rather than something that is essential for a baby’s well being.

As long as baby is happy and I am happy all is okay. And it is always helpful to tell myself “That this too will pass!”. When enduring this stage of my babies life it can seem never ending, but they do grow up so quickly and it will eventually be over.

Did your baby cat nap? How did you cope with the short sleeps?


  1. says

    Oh this brings back memories… Both Miss J and Miss F (the twins) were cat nappers! Trying to get them into any kind of livable sleep and feed routine was ridiculous!!!
    I got very good at tandem feeding and picking things up with my teeth.. lol
    I love the last quote about early routine being for the parents convenience – and I think you have an absolutely fantastic attitude in saying as long as you are both happy that’s all that matters.
    I hope Baby number 5 settles into longer sleep cycles soon… It sounds like he’s well on the way :-)

    Alisons last blog post..Warrior Wednesday

  2. says

    Heidi would not sleep for longer than an hour hour for about the first 6 weeks. It was a nightmare because when she was awake she cried. We called in a sleep nurse who visited the house and set up a routine that still works (with some modification) now that Heidi is 4.5yo.

    Wrap her up very tight.
    Put her in the cot on her side, facing the wall.
    Pat her back gently but in a firm way (not light strokes).
    And go ‘shhhhhh’ – the ‘shhhhh’ sound was so that either parent could do it and she would not be able to identify our voice.
    After a couple of minutes stop saying ‘shhhh’.
    After a few more minutes stop patting her back and just leave your hand still on her back.
    Finally remove hand from back and tip toe from the room, if she wakes come back and repeat.

    Low visual stimulation – she is facing the wall.
    Calming sensory input – the patting, light touch is usually stimulating, thus the gentle but firm pats.
    ‘Shhhh’ sound as well as being non-specific to a person also masks many background noises.

    Of course now we know about the autism and it all makes so much more sense. But back then it was just basic baby sleeping technique that the nurse told all parents who were in the same boat as us.

    Thank god it worked.

  3. says

    My 4-month-old girl is doing this exact thing with one dismal exception – she also night-wakes (3-6 times) and wants feeding each time she wakes. She goes down easily and sweetly for her naps and usually one nap a day (no predicting which one, although more often than not it’s the first) she’ll sleep 1.5-2 hours and wake fully rested, sweet as can be. All other naps will be 40-45 minutes (and yes, you could set the clock by her) and resettling has never yet worked. It is frustrating sometimes, especially as, like you, I have older children to attend to and she has a tendency to be a little fragile by the end of the day from inadequate sleep (although remains a good-tempered little person, bless her). But TBH, if she was sleeping well at night, I would pretty much suck it up and relax about it, as you are. The night sleep is so dire though that unfortunately I don’t see that as an option, because I am convinced one affects the other.

    Both my older girls were also catnappers from 6 weeks to 6 months, but the secondborn was a beautiful night sleeper from 3 months onwards. Number one was, if anything, *worse* than the newest one, both day and night, and by the time she was 8 months old I was nearly insane with exhaustion. So, having been here once before, I am going to try a concerted, all-out effort to help my third girl manage sleep transitions. Here’s hoping!

    Kathys last blog post..Menu Plan Monday – Baking Week

  4. PlanningQueen says

    Alison – Me too!

    Marita – I use the placing him on the side technique and find it works well. Hopefully we will get there soon.

    Kathy – The night waking is tough and your right it is much easier to deal with a wakeful baby in the day, if you have had some decent rest. Good luck with managing the sleep transitions. Hopefully in a few weeks we can be comparing success stories!!

  5. Rosie says

    I have a 4 week old who only cat naps most days this was posted at the perfect time for me.


  6. says

    Nicole, thank you for this article. My eyes filled with tears of relief when I read it. For so long I thought I was a hopeless first time Mum because my little boy (now 2) has always been a cap napper. I often blamed myself for not having the perseverance or heart to try and spend an hour resettling a crying baby. So many of my friends would mention that their baby slept (and still sleep) for 2 or 3 hours, while my chappie survives quite nicely on one hour at the most. I think I will now stop worrying and feel thankful that I get to spend so much more time enjoying him! :-)

  7. planningqueen says

    Rosie – Glad it helped!

    Megan – It is so easy to become obsessed about your baby’s sleeping routine. One of the best bits of advice I received was

    “It is only a sleeping problem, if it is a problem for YOU.”

    If you and baby are happy and contented then it doesn’t matter what other people think. Enjoy your baby – it doesn’t last very long!

  8. Alison says

    Wow what a great article to come across. My second son now 12 weeks is a catnapper, a huge shock after my first son was a huge sleeper, I even had to wake him sometimes for feeds! I use the sling a fair bit to allow him to get another nap in. I am hoping he settles down to more established naps around the 6 month mark. I never though I would say this about a child, but I am actually looking forward to when he needs LESS sleep!

  9. Claire says

    What a great article. I read it with such relief. My son was a fantastic sleeper, day and night until he hit four months. He used to have 2-3 decent day sleeps of min one hour, with a nice 2-3 hour sleep in the middle of the day. How things change in the blink of an eye! Now, at nearly 5 months the most he sleeps during the day will be 45 mins. Sometimes he only does 20! Thankfully I just started to accept the fact and like the advice given, make sure I plan my time well and geting out of the house really does make a difference. I’m so glad to hear that other mothers are experiencing the same thing and that its only a phase. Also what was such a freshing change was the opinion that you didn’t need to watse time and energy trying to get a baby back to sleep that clearly doesn’t want to! If he’s happy (which he is thank goodness!) and I’m happy, we are making the most of our time together.

  10. Kylie says

    Thankyou so much for your wonderful article on catnapping. My first son was a wonderful daytime sleeper and so when our second son came along and was continually catnapping I became so anxious that he would never sleep through the night and be a cranky baby. Thankfully he is not a cranky baby and I have come to accept that he quite happily functions on a 2 hour feed, play, sleep routine. I have let my anxieties about catnapping and a routine go. How can I expect to have a 3 month old on a routine when I don’t live by one? And if he is happy, then why shouldn’t I be!!They grow up so fast that this phase will unfortunately be a distant memory before too long.

  11. Meg says

    God bless slings I say, I have another catnapper and couldnt survive each day without it. Also a swiss ball, sometimes I get him up from his nap, chuck him in the sling and bounce away while watching some rubbish on television, soon enough he’s asleep again, I put him down again and get on to do other things.

  12. Danielle says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this WONDERFUL article (I realise no-one has responded to it since last November, but I only just found it!). My 4.5 month old is a day-time catnapper (thankfully she only wakes once or twice at night for feeds), and it does my head in wondering whether there is something I am doing wrong. The difference with my angel is that she wakes HAPPY after her 30 mins and can then stay awake for almost 2 hours! It really is unfathomable how she can cope with so little sleep during the day and smile and giggle when she is awake! Your article reminded me that yes, as long as we are happy, what is wrong with this? It is only the other mums whose babies sleep for more than one cycle during the day that make me feel bad. I am going to bookmark this article and read it everday…

  13. hayley maclean says

    Thank you so much! I was starting to go insane thinking I was doing something seriously wrong! I keep hearing from moms who have babies who sleep 2 hours twice a day. My DS sleeps is a catnapper. I was trying to let him cry for a full hour etc… He loves the sling, but is too heavy for it. I think I’ll just get a bigger better sling and let him do what he does!

  14. says

    You’d think by my 3rd kid, I’d not have to look for “advice” online, but my littlest one, 5 months, is a daytime catnapper. Sleeps 2-3 times a day for about 25 minutes each time. Goes to bed between 6-7 every night. Wakes anywhere from 7-9 a.m. I have read Pantley’s book and Weissbluth’s book. I keep thinking to myself: Some babies are just this way. But it is nice to read of other moms who’s babies are just this way too.

  15. Lou says

    Great to hear other mums ways of coping with this- my first was a dreadful catnapper- and didn’t start sleeping over an hour for a long time- after he started only having one nap a day (I think when the sleep cycle naturally gets longer)- he is 2 3/4 now and no day sleeps. Number two is 4 1/2 months old and about 9kg- he wakes 3 times at night and has 3-4 45 min naps, started doing this at 3 months. He wants feeding when he wakes up- I am getting exhausted. I think he is a bit heavy to sling- I have been rocking him in the pram when he wakes which has stopped working too now. Any ideas? He is always grumpy whn he wakes.

  16. Danielle says

    Hi Lou, I just purchased a ‘magic sleepsuit’ and it has been a lifesaver! I can now get my 5 and a half month old to sleep over an hour 3 times a day and she also sleeps longer at night when she wears it (it is summer in Australia so sometimes too hot for her to wear it). It isn’t expensive and I seriously thought it was too good to be true, but it works! If your baby is that hungry maybe he needs to start solids?

  17. Fiona says

    I am a first time Mum. My 12 week old will not sleep during the day. H e will catnap for half an hour in the morning & that is it until about 7 at night. During the rest of the day he progressively gets crankier & crankier. Early in the day if you hold him, walk him in the pram or put him in the swing he is bearable but by 1-2 pm he just cries. Nothing I do calms him down. You can see that he is tired but he just won’t nod off. I am going out of my mind. I guess I can accept that he won’t sleep during the day & that is how he is but I can’t cope with the tears throughout the day. Most days I actually look forward to when it is 7pm as I know this is when he will usually go to sleep & I can have a break. Any suggestions to at least get him to cheer up a bit or even better to go to sleep?

  18. Natalie Rankin says

    All these stories sound so familiar. My first now 3 cat napped 45min cylces from 6 weeks to 6 months appox. I tried everything to help him go back to sleep but nothing worked, he even cat napped on long journey’s in the car. I thought I was doing something wrong and stressed myself out. Then my 2nd daughter came along and followed along the same path starting 45 minute cyles from 6 weeks. This time I just let her do whatever she wanted re: sleep. It worked so well, we could go out for activities with my eldest and she would have her nap in the pram and by the time she woke we could get home. I’m expecting number 3 and would love a text book baby re: day sleep but if its not to be I definately wont be wasting my time stressing and in time I know bubs will have longer sleeps.

  19. Ally says

    my baby boy is 11 weeks old and has cat napped during the day since he was born he is happy during the day but i still cant help but think he should be sleeping more. i put him down for a sleep and he will wake up not long after, he usually sleeps between 20 mins to 40 mins at a atime and will have a few of these. he sleeps good during the night and only wakes up once or twice which is goos and will go back to sleep after he has his feed. i think as mothers we still cant help but wonder weather out little ones are getting enough sleep, but as they all mostly seem like they are happy throughout the day, why should we worry, After reading this article i am definatly going to stop stressing weather my boy is sleeping enough. i will just let him sleep wahtever he likes. thankyou to everyone for their comments

  20. Lou says

    Hi, just an update on my boy. He is 5 and a half months old now- a week or so ago he got a cold and started sleeping longer because he was unwell. He also got badly affected by his spilling and started on reflux medication. He is much happier and still sleeping better during the day. Not sure if he just grew out of cat napping or if the illness broke the habit or his reflux was the problem. He still wakes twice at night and we are trying to get him to take solids but that is another story! He is a 10.5kg fully breastfed cherub now.