Do you live or work in a home with a baby who catnaps all day but never takes a good, long nap? Does the same baby constantly snack without ever finishing a bottle? An hour after you feed her, is she fussing and taking another bottle?
If so, the problem may not be the baby, but a matter of who is in charge. It’s not that a baby consciously dictates terms, but rather that caregivers, whether nannies or parents, assume that a baby knows what he needs, when the opposite is true. For the most part, babies will consume most of whatever is offered to them. The problem starts with assuming that a fussy baby is necessarily hungry.
The second part of the problem is how things are organized. Most of us will feed a baby and then put her into her crib – already asleep. Try changing this order, consistently, and you can solve the syndrome of catnaps and snacks.
The best order for every infant or toddler is to be fed, to play, and then to sleep at two and a half to three hour intervals. (Compare recent evidence that every adult needs eight hours of sleep/day, and that it’s better done all at once than in bits throughout the day.) Baby, of course, has no idea of this, so it’s up to you to set a routine. It’s amazing how well this system works and how content the baby becomes on it.
So, as soon as Baby wakes up from his nap, feed him the right amount for his weight, finish the feeding, and put the bottle away. Now it’s time to play together, or by himself, on his tummy, etc. Under no circumstances do you feed him again. His system may need to adapt to this new approach. Keep him awake for a reasonable period after his meal and then put him down, awake, for his nap. Always put him into his crib awake, so that he can learn how to fall asleep by himself. If you can, observe his particular going-to-sleep routine.
Usually there’s lots of movement, fussing, some crying. These are all normal parts of his falling-asleep pattern. He may try to find his thumb, and within 10-15 minutes he will be asleep with no help from you. If you go bak in to him, trying to help, you are delaying his progress, denying him the privilege of learning good sleep habits. You’ll be amazed at how quickly he learns on his own.
Don’t use any sleep aids. You want him to learn to fall asleep by himself. You also want him to be able to fall asleep away from home and anytime he needs to, without a mobile or a rocker or special blanket. If he wakes up before the roughly two-hour nap time is over, don’t go in to pick him up. All you will have is a grouchy baby until the next nap. That momentary waking is only one phase of the normal sleep cycle that all human beings go through. You and I do it many times each night, but we have learned to go back to sleep, and Baby needs to learn the same.
Warning: In this stage, Baby looks very awake and may even seem to look around. But he’s not really awake (compare sleepwalking) and should be left alone to fall back asleep on his own.
If you follow these suggestions, you will find your baby or toddler much more enjoyable and cooperative, as well as content. If you take control of the part you must participate in, i.e., his eating and playing pattern, you allow him to develop his own good habits for sleep, and peace and order in the house will reign.