A note from Rach Smith's digital garden

Strategies for dealing with a catnapping baby (that don’t involve sleep training): Mindset and resetting expectations

Added: February 8, 2021

Tags: mothering wellbeing productivity

I think this will be the first in a series of posts about dealing with a baby who prefers to be awake for most of the day.

My firstborn spent months in the first year of their life only taking 30 minute naps, while attached to me. After trying every strategy and suggestion to get them to sleep longer or alone, and driving myself to the brink of insanity in doing so, I knew that something had to change.

If you are a parent who has sleep trained by following strict routines or using responsive settling and found success, I’m glad for you. Some babies can not be trained. Some babies do not give a “protest cry” when you remove them from your person to have a rest in the cot, they scream like they are actually dying. They go from 0 to 110 in a second. I had one of these babies.

So what could I do if I couldn’t change my circumstances? Change my thoughts about the circumstances. Move through the 7 stages of grief over my personal space and free time. Re-educate myself.

For some context, in Australia, there is a strong culture around babies being able to sleep alone. As such, the Sleep Consultant/Sleep Training industry is very lucrative. We even have State funded Sleep Training ‘centres’ where you can take your baby if they don’t sleep overnight. If you Google ‘catnapping baby’ in my coutry, you will find website after website explaining why 30 minute naps are a problem, and how you can find a solution (for a fee, of course).

Being the good little Googler and conscientious parent I was, I had let the internet convince me of two things.

  • my baby wasn’t napping enough.
  • if they couldn’t nap alone now, they would develop a habit and never be able to nap alone. These were the beliefs that were causing most of my distress. And yet, they were in complete conflict with what was right in front of my eyes, or I knew to be true when I really listened to my intuition.

Yes, my baby hardly napped, but they were completely content and happy while awake. They were such a calm and happy baby people would regularly comment on it. They were one of the “easiest” babies around, they just didn’t sleep. They didn’t appear to need it.

As for belief number two: the habit thing. Looking back it seems absurd I would buy in to such a suggestion that a baby could get “stuck” in a habit, when I already had learned so much about habit change and growth mindset in adults. People change their habits all the time. Babies are the most rapidly changing people around. I was so tired and anxious about being a good mother; I lost touch with my own common sense.

Even though I knew deep down that my baby’s sleep was developmentally normal and that we were going to be fine, it was helpful to have resources to counteract the mainstream sleep advice. These are some websites that helped me change my mindset.






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