CASE STUDY: 3 months old, short naps, unsettled all evening
*this is a case study from a real-life mum who reached out for help. We share our case studies in the hope it may help other mums who are in the same, or similar, situations. Not everyone parents in the same way, so please do not judge, criticize or demean these mothers and the parenting choices they have made in the best interests of their babies and their families.
Age: 3 months
Room/naps: Swaddled, dark room, white noise, 4x 30-45 min naps in the day
Baby Lucas was in his own little routine with 4 short catnaps at relatively regular times throughout the day. His mum was breastfeeding him on demand and his room conditions were nice and sleep-inducing: a swaddle, white noise and a dark room.
However come the evening, little Lucas was getting beside himself: upset, unsettled, fussing at the breast and Stefanie was told by friends and even by a healthcare provider that this was normal for a baby his age and there was nothing she could do about it.
Stefanie would spend over an hour trying to get Lucas to bed at night, but by the time he went to sleep he was then sleeping most of the night, waking once for a feed around 3 AM.
Stefanie had put up with the shorter day naps and unsettled/exhausting evenings because she was still getting a decent night's sleep, but she wanted to start getting longer naps out of him in the day, having read that continued catnapping can eventually lead to very unsettled nights closer to 6 months.
Stefanie purchased our Baby Sleep Program and started implementing the nap timings/lengths accordingly. She was still breastfeeding on demand, which she found worked fine with the sleep times in the Program. Stefanie was sceptical that Lucas would sleep longer than one sleep cycle during the long lunch nap, which is the backbone of our Program, however with a bit of help resettling, he was managing the full 2 hours within a week!
Straight away Stefanie saw that the unsettled behaviour in the evening was better - Lucas was more rested in the afternoon and this lead to a calmer (and earlier) bedtime and it was no longer a struggle to get him down for the night.
BUT, Lucas started waking MORE at night! His one night waking became 3 or 4 and Stefanie turned to our support group for help.
After learning about the sleep consolidation process, Stefanie stuck with the nap/sleep timings in the Program and pushed through the more unsettled nights because she had been advised it was completely normal that once day sleep improves, the nights can get worse for a wee while.
Sure enough, a week later and Lucas was napping well in the day and back to sleeping well overnight.
Lucas was in the habit of catnapping - sleeping for only one sleep cycle at a time in the day. This is a normal developmental stage all babies go through somewhere between 8-16 weeks (commonly called the 4 month sleep regression). Having your baby's naps at the right time and teaching them to resettle and sleep for longer helps with the catnapping.
Because Lucas's naps were very short, even though he was having 4 of them, he wasn't having enough of the deep restorative sleep that happens once babies have been asleep for over an hour. This meant he was very overtired come the evening and resulted in his unsettled behaviour and difficulties settling at bedtime.
By tweaking his nap structure, Stefanie was able to encourage a good long sleep across the middle of the day, with shorter naps either side, which meant he wasn't as overtired at bedtime and settled a lot easier.
What then happened with Lucas's nights is very normal and Stefanie was right that closer to 6 months you end up having to deal with short naps and broken night sleep. This happens when your baby's night time sleep cycles shorten to be 2 hours overnight, whereas previously they were between 4-6 hours. Unfortunately, the two are linked: short cat naps in the day and fragmented night sleep.
Once Lucas started having longer, better quality sleep in the day, his body had to get used to this new equilibrium and find the right balance again between daytime sleep and night time sleep. This resulted in a few nights of frequent wakes, as Lucas's sleep was re-calibrating.
After adjusting Lucas's naps and pushing through the more unsettled nights while he found the right sleep balance, Stefanie was amazed that he was now having longer naps as well as great night time sleep, which equalled more sleep overall and a much happier baby and mother!
If your baby is catnapping all day but still sleeping well at night, or if both days and nights are tough, our Sleep Programs have all the info you need to get your baby's sleep on track, just like Stefanie did.
Read: OVER AND UNDERTIREDNESS: your sleep enemies and There is nothing cute about a catnap for more sleep advice.