The Catnapping Newborn

If there was ever going to be something that shows us just how different our babies are, it has to be how varied naps can be – especially during those first few months!

There is a lot of pressure to have our babies on a schedule from day one. The key word we want to eliminate here is pressure. Putting pressure on ourselves to get the sleeping schedule in place so early puts way too much pressure/stress/anxiety on us as parents and inadvertently means that we miss out on the joy of just *being* with our new baby. You are not a failure if your baby doesn’t sleep the ‘suggested’ amount. 

Some babies will naturally sleep longer than others. Some babies will have 2-3 hour naps and some babies will have 20-60 minute naps. Some babies will have a mix of both. All of it is normal. 

Developmentally + biologically, it is normal for naps to start consolidating and becoming more consistent at around 5 months. Up until then, the catnaps are normal and very very common! It’s all well and good to know that, but it can be pretty frustrating, disheartening and confusing when you hear your newborn wake up after 45 minutes – crying – and you KNOW they need more sleep. So, what to do?

      • Firstly, understanding why our newborns sleep the way they do is so important. In a couple of weeks, we will have a new guide available in our online store – ‘Homecoming; what to expect in the Fourth Trimester’ will take you through everything you need to know about understanding your newborn – in bite sized, easy to read sections. God knows that the last thing you want to do is have a bunch of words thrown at you when you already need to adjust to broken sleep!
      • Knowing exactly what a catnap is. It’s usually a nap that lasts between 20-45 minutes or less – I’ve had a few babies who consider 5 minutes a sleep! Generally, catnapping babies are unable to re-settle after these short naps, meaning they can’t put sleep cycles together for a deep, restorative sleep. Catnapping normally starts when your baby is around eight to ten weeks old. There are a couple of different reasons why catnaps happen. Firstly, babies, in general, are biologically programmed to wake more often and easily than adults. Due to an inbuilt survival mechanism, they spend more than 50% of their sleep time in REM (light sleep). At this age, your baby has started to figure out the difference between day and night. In theory, this is a good thing as it means they’re developing their circadian rhythm or internal body clock— ie. the thing that will eventually allow them to sleep deeply throughout the night (hallelujah!) However, this means that their sleep cycle changes. 
    • Offering your baby a nap. In an ideal world, we want to be practicing the eat/play/sleep method. *IN AN IDEAL WORLD* Don’t sweat it if your baby falls into the play/eat/sleep category. Our son fell into the latter and he is an excellent sleeper and has been since 4 months old. 
    • Know that one day is sleep perfection and the next is sleep chaos! One day may feel like you have it down pat and the very next may feel like even being at home is hard. This doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong, it simply means you have a newborn baby. Brain development, adjusting to life outside the womb and growth spurts are all factors in your baby getting to know this new world that stop them from showing any type of consistency on a day to day basis. 
    • Working on gentle foundations.  

– Where possible, pop your baby down for their naps awake. Aim for one nap a day where your baby can practice learning to fall asleep on their own. This doesn’t mean leaving your baby to cry. You can be right there helping them get to the point where their eyelids are starting to get heavy before letting them do the rest on their own.

– Ensure your baby’s designated sleep space is conducive to sleep. Swaddle your baby nice and snug (we recommend the Love to Dream Swaddle Up or the Sleepea 5 Second Swaddle), make the room as dark as possible (if you have too much light peeking in, the Gro Anywhere Blind is the solution), have some white noise playing (an old iphone will do the trick, but if you prefer to have a sound machine, the Marpac Rohm is our pick), find the right temperature (between 19-22 degrees celsius. We find that the temperatures displayed on baby monitors are nearly always inaccurate. The Gro Egg is much better at reading the correct temperature).

    • Helping them resettle into the next sleep cycle.  If your baby is waking every 45 minutes or less, it’s worth trying to resettle them. This may involve holding them as they cry or fuss or simply staying in their sleep space to soothe them with your presence. We recommend only doing this for a maximum of 20 minutes as anything beyond that and your baby is likely more than ready to get up.
    • Get out and about. While it’s nice to have some time to yourself while your baby naps in their own sleeping space, if you find your baby is very resistant to napping every now and again, pop your baby in the pram/car/carrier to have that sleep that so clearly need. It’s also important for your baby to get some natural sunlight exposure every day, as it’s vital for the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

Catnapping isn’t always a cause for concern – especially for babies under 5 months of age.  If your baby is otherwise happy and healthy and you’re already working on developing a solid sleep routine, the occasional catnap isn’t going to hurt. In most cases, this will correct itself naturally over time as their awake time increases.

However, if your baby is five months or older, regular catnapping – all throughout the day – can be a sign that other issues are at play. These can include poor sleep habits, illness, hunger, teething or being too hot or cold. It is very normal for infants to have a small catnap in the afternoon to get them through until bedtime, but if all your babies naps are short, it might be worth looking into setting up some more structured nap routines. If your baby is regularly waking up throughout the night due to poor day sleep or is unable to make it through to the next nap time without getting the grumps, you may need to seek the advice of a professional who can help you get things back on track. 

The team at The Sleep Dept is always more than happy to help guide you through this process. Head over to our Contact Page to get in touch.

We hop this blog post helps to ease the uncertainty of catnapping. How your baby naps is not a reflection on you, simply a normal phase your baby is going through. You got this!

*Image from Pinterest

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