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To the Parents Whose Babies Don't Sleep, I Feel Your Pain

Photograph by Twenty20

Before I had my first kid, someone said, “You should actually have lots of time during the day after having the baby, because young babies sleep a lot.”

This sounded great. I would be on maternity leave and getting so much done while the baby slept! Perhaps I could write a bestselling romance novel or at least manage to get the dishwasher unloaded from time to time.

Unfortunately, my baby did not live up to this sleep expectation. While my son was somewhat sleepy for the first couple of weeks, I spent half that time trying to get him to wake up and eat so he would put on more weight. Once he was on track with weight gain and I no longer had to wake him, I had visions of him eating and then drifting off to sleep for a few hours at a time. But that wasn’t the case. He would typically just eat and then stare back at me with wide eyes, as if to say, “So, what should we do next?”

When it comes to babies and sleep, it can sometimes feel like a competitive sport.

Getting him to take a nap required work on my part: a drive, a stroller walk, 20 minutes bouncing him on an exercise ball. And when he did finally conk out, I barely had time to go to the bathroom or shove some food down before he woke up again 20 to 30 minutes later. It drove me bananas.

The moms on the online message boards seemed to have babies that were great nappers, and they had all the answers for when they would sleep better: once they start eating solids, once they start crawling, once you buy a magic sleep contraption made from a secret wizard potion.

What was I missing?

So, I finally threw in the towel and figured he was just a catnapper and he might never grow out of it. I tried to take advantage of not being a slave to a nap schedule; we could go for a walk or a drive, and if he just took a short nap in the car, it was fine.

When my second kid was born, people said, “Oh, I’m sure this one will be a good sleeper.” As if there was some sort of fair system in the world of baby sleep that meant you were guaranteed at least one baby who slept well. But at three months in, I was still on my old friend the exercise ball, bouncing a cute little catnapper to sleep.

Even though I was pretty sure I had read all sleep advice in existence the first time around, I went searching for answers again. This time I stumbled on a blog by a sleep consultant and researcher that explained that catnaps were developmentally normal for babies under 6 months old. Most babies would start stretching out their nap times after 6 months.

I hadn’t heard this before, and it was a relief to know that what my baby was doing was completely normal. Sure, there were magical unicorn babies taking two 3-hour naps a day at 4 months, but it was not something I needed to expect. I could stop trying to find the magic answer and just wait. My first had started taking longer naps at 9 months, and around the 6-month mark, my second child did start taking longer naps, too.

When it comes to babies and sleep, it can sometimes feel like a competitive sport. People always ask how your baby is sleeping or if you have a good sleeper, and if you don’t, there is plenty of advice on how you should fix it. Some situations do really warrant a call to the pediatrician, but other things are just stages that will pass. When it came to catnapping, the best thing I could do was find a way to navigate the frustrations of the moment, and then just give it some time.

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