5 solutions for babies who catnap

Does your baby only catnap for about forty minutes each time? If you’re concerned about it, you can be rest assured that it is actually developmentally normal, healthy, and protective against SIDS. Your baby is also likely meeting their unique and changing daytime sleep needs with these short naps.

There is no evidence to support ‘awake windows’ or any prescribed amount of sleep a baby should have in 24 hours. All babies are different. However, if your baby is grumpy most days, or regularly fussing at bedtime, resisting sleep, waking early in the mornings, or the nights are fragmented, here are a five solutions to try to extend their naps.

1. Embrace contact napping

Often parents are made to feel that these kinds of naps are going to start bad habits, or they feel guilty that they should be doing something else rather than sitting down with or lying with their baby. For some reason, our culture holds the belief that being productive is doing domestic chores, and that nurturing our babies and meeting their attachment and relational needs is not. Not to mention the benefits for mummas too! Rest is a neccesity

Most little ones sleep better and longer when they’re cuddled up close to their caregiver. It’s human nature.

If you prepare for it, you’ll find that it can be enjoyable, restful, and a lovely part of the day for both of you.

  • Ensure you have everything you need beside you: a drink, your phone, charger, TV remote or a book.
  • Use the time to meditate, listen to a podcast or music, watch a Netflix episode (use headphones if your little one is sensitive to noise), or catch up on some emails.
  • Have some sleep yourself if your bed is set up safely for co-sleeping, and never nap on the couch holding your baby.

2. Consider a floor bed

Using a floor bed is a sleep solution that many parents discover to be a total gamechanger. It can simply be a queen size mattress on the floor in the nursery, or take the base off your own bed.  Having it on the floor rather than elevated means that you can leave your baby while they nap.

You would lie down with your baby on a mattress (following SIDS safety guidelines for bedsharing and ensuring the room is baby-proof if they’re mobile). Either stay there and nap with them, or ninja roll away when they’re asleep and go about your day.

3. Ditch the idea of independent naps

You don’t HAVE to get your baby to sleep alone in their bed. The idea of independent sleep for babies is yet another claim of the sleep training industry that is quite modern and not backed by science.

Sleep is sleep in any location. Sleep is not better quality in a cot. A nap in the car is still a nap. A nap in the pram is still a nap. A contact nap is still a nap. Worrying about where they sleep will lead to stress and frustration. Babies are hard-wired to want to be close to their caregiver for co-regulation and for their safety.

4. Resettle before they wake

One strategy that works for some parents is to be near their baby before their usual wake time, and be ready to help them resettle before fully waking. For instance, if your baby routinely wakes at around the 40 minute mark, be ready and beside them a few minutes before to pat them, put a hand on them, or pop the dummy back in if they have one.

You may need to stay and continue resettling them in whatever way that works until they move back into a deeper sleep. If they don’t fall back to sleep, or you’ve been trying for more than 10 minutes, just get them up and try again next nap time. What you don’t want to do is to get stressed about it. It might not work for your baby, or sometimes it will work and other times it won’t. Babies like to keep you on your toes like that!

5. Get them moving

If your baby likes movement to help them sleep, it’s okay for them to have naps in the car, pram, or baby carrier. You may need to keep moving past their usual 20-40 minutes to extend them. It’s also a good way to help them to resettle if they’ve only had a micro nap. For example, let’s say they fall asleep in the cot, but only sleep for 15 minutes, or they drop off for 5 minutes in the car on the way home, you could try to put them in the pram or baby carrier and go for a walk to see if they’ll go back to sleep.

For some babies, once they’re awake they’re awake, and that’s fine. They may need another nap sooner than usual, so watch for their tired signs instead of the clock.

The takeaway about catnapping:

  • Catnaps are developmentally normal and healthy. They may naturally extend in time without you doing anything.
  • Trust that your baby will get the sleep they need, and often short naps are enough for some babies. All babies have unique sleep needs, and there’s no ‘normal’ or recommended amount of sleep they should be getting.
  • Naps can happen anywhere. Sleep is sleep in any location.
  • Reframe your baby’s naps as your downtime too, rather than trying to do everything while they sleep. You might find doing the laundry boring, but your baby thinks it’s fascinating, so move them around the house with you as you get on with doing what you need to do.
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