Coping With A Baby That Cat Naps

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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?