When I became a mother for the first time, I naively had a plan in mind. I had visions of me patiently settling my new baby for her day naps, before putting a tiny load of even tinier baby clothes into the washer, taking all the minutes I needed under a steaming shower, and then sitting down in my tidy living room with a hot cup of tea to plan our dinner menu.
But although I was managing to settle my baby fairly easily for her naps, she would religiously wake up after only 30 minutes. And wake up crying with all her might.
The other mothers I knew all seemed to have the type of babies mentioned in the parenting books I was reading. Babies that took leisurely day naps that were hours-long. Time enough for two cups of tea! What was wrong with my baby? Or what was wrong with me?
My ridiculous plan was mocking me, day after day, catnap after catnap.
With a refluxy baby, the laundry would rapidly pile up into a putrid mound of drenched bedding and bibs. I barely recognised my house, overflowing with half-eaten meals, half-unwrapped baby gifts, and half-drained cups of tea. Dinner was often prepared by reheating one of the abandoned plates. And a hot shower? Even if there was time, the water spray was pure agony on my poor cracked nipples.
At nap-times, after I’d robotically put my baby down, I would sit on my bed in my stained clothes and just stare at the wall. No energy left to face the mounting laundry, the unwashed dishes, or the home that once looked like a life in control.
Thirty minutes later, when my baby would begin to stir, tears would start streaming down my cheeks too. Every single part of me couldn’t bear to go back in to her so soon. But she was crying just for me. And I was crying for me too.
Being a first-time mother with a catnapping baby is not just exhausting, it’s soul-destroying.
In brief moments of sanity, I would hunt for answers. Firstly, I diligently checked off all the baby sleep lists in the parenting books:
I was swaddling her.
I kept her room at the right temperature.
I gave her a dummy as much as she needed.
I had a basic feed-play-sleep routine.
I had heavy blinds to keep her room dark enough.
I had introduced a cosy comforter and a white noise device.
I wasn’t rushing in to her at the first cry.
But my baby still wasn’t waking up happy, she still struggled to make it through to her next sleep, and she clearly needed much longer naps.
After desperately searching the internet, I finally discovered the reason for my baby’s catnapping was sleep cycles. And the solution turned out to be resetting them.
My baby had entirely normal 30 minute sleep cycles (sleep cycles for babies vary from 25-50 minutes), but instead of drifting naturally from one cycle to the next during her nap, she would wake fully after the first sleep cycle and not resettle.
So I began going in about five minutes before she’d normally wake, and I would gently prod her or adjust her dummy – whatever it took to slightly rouse her but not fully wake her. This would hopefully help her fall back into a deep sleep (and new sleep cycle), and sleep right through the time that she would normally wake.
I could barely believe the difference it made. With the gentle resetting technique, my little catnapper began napping for almost an hour and half. And, more importantly, she would wake up with a smile and a gurgle.
My energy was gradually restored, and my smile began to mirror hers.
Though to be honest, despite my baby’s longer naps, I never did realise my original plan. I never got the laundry under control, I never managed to produce any gourmet dinners, and my house still had half-drained cups of tea dotted all over. But I had recovered my confidence, and that alone was better than any kind of plan.
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