|Erica Neser is a UNICEF-trained Breastfeeding Consultant
and Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association
of Infant Massage. She has a BA degree in Psychology, and
is trained as an Aromatherapist, Postnatal Depression Group
Leader and Infant CPR Instructor. She has been featured
in radio talks, contributes to baby and women’s magazines
and often speaks at parenting workshops and to groups of
health professionals. She has been working as a breastfeeding
consultant and teaching baby massage at two busy baby clinics
for ten years. She is the co-author of the IAIM (South Africa)
Baby Massage Parents’ Manual. She lives in Stellenbosch
with her three young children, who have all learnt to sleep
DEALING WITH A CATNAPPER
Many young babies sleep like angels in mummy’s arms,
but only for ten minutes in her cot. This is normal. Think
about it from baby’s point of view: babies are ‘programmed’
to survive – and to survive, they must do everything
in their power to stay close to their food source (mummy),
warmth (preferably mummy) and safety (preferably mummy).
‘In arms’ is the only place a baby knows that she is safe. If you were living in the wild, would
you put your baby down under a tree and go away to hunt
and gather …?
Now you may be thinking – but I am not living in the wild – I have a life, I have things
to do, my back hurts! And this is understandable. We do
not live in clans in the wild. The loss of the clan or extended
family is quite a pity for modern mums. It means that you
have to care for your baby 24/7! So we have to find ways
of meeting baby and mum’s
Many mums expect that babies sleep three to four hours
at a time, wake to feed, and then sleep another three to
four hours. Unfortunately this is not the case with most
babies. It is more realistic to expect short naps several
times a day. 30-60 minutes of sleep counts as a nap (the
average sleep cycle of a baby is 45 minutes).
Some babies are born catnappers. You can turn a long napper
into a catnapper by interfering with her sleep, but you
cannot turn a catnapper into a long napper. However - before
you jump to the conclusion that your baby is a born catnapper,
first try the suggestions below to see if you can lengthen
Over stimulation and
overtiredness can lead to catnapping
overtired causes chemical changes in the body to fight
fatigue, and these interfere with baby’s ability
to be calm and to fall and stay asleep with ease.
Being overtired can also make babies fussy, whiny,
clingy, hyperactive or unable to amuse themselves.
Overtired babies often don’t LOOK tired.
out for early signs of tiredness and put baby down
as soon as you spot them. Not in five minutes, not
when you’ve finished your lunch, NOW! Otherwise,
the window of opportunity passes and she gets her
“second wind”. This is also called “catching
the sleep wave” – miss it and you may
have to wait for the next wave. When your timing is
just right, she will go to sleep much more easily.
signs of tiredness include: rubbing eyes, pulling
ears, circles around eyes, droopy eyelids, sucking
hands, niggling, staring into space, quieting down,
yawning etc. Learn to read your baby. (Crying and
fussing means you’ve waited just a little too
long in getting her to sleep. Hurry!)
- It is
more difficult to see a colicky baby’s sleepy
cues. With these babies, watch the clock more closely
and make sure she doesn’t stay awake longer
than 60 to 90 minutes.
see overstimulation only as playing too much or too
intensely with baby – just being awake too long
is over stimulating.
Also try the following to help
your baby learn to sleep in her cot during the day:
lying down with her and getting some rest yourself.
Keep giving her plenty of opportunities to practice
sleeping by herself, though!
her naptimes (after 60-90 minutes of awake time) just
as you anticipate her feeding times. Plan well ahead
to avoid having to wake your baby from her nap when
you have to go out. If you have no choice, see if
you can allow enough time for one sleep cycle (30–60
minutes) and try to get her up during her light sleep
- Try to
stick to your baby’s routine, even if routine
isn’t really your thing. You may think that
a routine will restrict you, but it can actually make
things easier for you because you can plan ahead for
baby’s naptime. And when you do go out, baby
is happy and well rested.
should be taking several naps and at least one longer
- If mum-and-baby
classes, shopping, visiting friends etc. interfere
with baby’s naps every day, try to tone things
down a little. One stimulation class per week is enough.
baby falls asleep may be more important than HOW or
WHERE she falls asleep. Timing of naps is very important.
her before you put her down to nap. If she doesn’t
like swaddling, try half-swaddling (leave her hands
free or swaddle her with her hands close to her mouth).
take approximately 20 minutes to reach deep sleep,
so if she has fallen asleep in your arms or a car
seat, wait 20 minutes before moving her into her bed.
By 3 months, it takes about 10 minutes to reach deep
- If she
has fallen asleep in the sling, put her down sling
and all on a double bed (just slip it back over your
head) and use the sling to cover her. Tuck her in
with a rolled up blanket on either side of her so
that she feels held.
transferring a very drowsy or sleeping baby from your
arms to the cot, lower her bottom first into bed,
not head down, as we tend to do (which triggers her
- It may
help to start singing her sleep time lullaby softly
while she is still in your arms. Then, while still
singing, gently lower her into her cot. Keep your
hands resting heavily on her for a minute or two,
singing all the while. Then, slowly lift your hands
one by one. Back away; keep singing! Now you can tiptoe
out. Fade out the singing.
- If baby wakes after less than
30 minutes of napping and is cranky and still seems
tired, you can try the following: when she starts to
niggle, go to her immediately, rest your hands heavily
on her and rock her gently where she is lying. She may
still cry a little, but you are there for her. If she
doesn’t settle, try picking her up and rocking
her, or lying down with her to cuddle her close. If
this doesn’t work, there’s not much else
you can do at this stage. You cannot force a baby to
- Keep giving her opportunities to
practice sleeping on her own.
This kind of napping can be very frustrating
for you, but don’t despair – babies do eventually
learn to nap by themselves (just as they learn to eat and
walk by themselves). This phase will pass.
(Adapted from Sleep Guide for Babies and Toddlers by Erica Neser, published by Protea Book House, 2006).
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Sleep - Altered sleep routine
Sleep - Appropriate
sleep routines (Jacqui Flint advises)
Sleep - Background
Sleep - Darkened
Sleep - Night
Sleep - Reasons for waking
Sleep - Sighing
Sleep - Sleep routines for Baby (Author Erica Neser advises)
Sleep - Surviving Co-sleeping (Author Erica Neser advises)
Sleep - Toddler Sleep Problems (Author Erica Neser advises)