Maybe you are a laid-back, improvising kinda parent who is not going to let a little bundle in a bucket seat get in the way of social plans, errands, and work life. Great! But if your baby doesn’t know how to nap and you think there are some secrets about baby sleep that might be useful to you, read on.
I read pretty much all the literature on sleep and I’m more than happy to give you this cheat sheet.
Question: Why is everyone obsessed with babies napping? Why can’t they just fall asleep whenever?
Answer: Even though babies have no plans in the morning, their brains are developing in leaps and bounds right now and this requires a lot of sleep. Becoming overtired and sleep-deprived is a real source of stress for babies. And stressed-out babies will keep you up at night and be fussy during the day. Equally important, if a baby can put herself to sleep, then she will use that skill over and over again during the night when she, as we all do, has mini-wake ups. When you and I jolt awake in the night, we resettle ourselves quickly back to sleep. If a baby hasn’t mastered falling asleep on her own, she will require you to do that soothing for her, as many times as it takes to get through the night. (For more on this, read the very long Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth)
Problem: My baby only naps when I’m driving. She cannot nap in her crib during the day.
Answer: My friends Hope and Chad totally did the car-driving thing with their kids for every bedtime ever, and the kids are now happy and well-adjusted teenagers. They did have to CIO (Crying It Out) when the kids were like 4 and it was torture, but they lived. The moral of that story is that nothing you do is going to cause a life-long problem, but you could make your days a little easier by teaching your child to take age-appropriate naps. (Pro tip: babies nap in the car because of the movement and the white noise that comes with driving. Buy a white noise machine! Here’s why.)
Question: What’s an age appropriate nap schedule for a baby?
Answer: According to my bible, The No-Cry Nap Solution, and my own experience, before three months old, all bets are off and parents should just go along for the ride. Babies awake for more than 90 minutes should be soothed back to sleep by any means possible. After 3 months, sleep will begin to consolidate into the idea of naps. Here’s a handy chart from The No-Cry Nap Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Sleep expert Nicole from BabySleepSite weighed in on sleep training a 4- to 6-month old.
Problem: I’m trying to sleep train my baby by letting him or her cry for a bit, but it’s not working.
Answer: Sleep Training is a real thing and it can work. I had a child who cried less and less day over day for a few days and then he didn’t cry in his crib anymore. I also had one that was immune to Crying It Out, so I think if you’ve tried for 5 days in a row with consistency and see no progress, table that method.
Problem: Just tell me what to do. My seven-month old won’t nap!
Answer: I have three ideas, and I hope it doesn’t sound unoriginal to suggest these things if you are like, “Duh, I read all the books already.” But if you haven’t read Healthy Sleep Habits (our bible) or No Cry Napping Solution, let me just skip the obvious “don’t smoke before your baby’s nap” tips and jump straight to these:
- What time are you napping her? I would start her nap two hours after she wakes up in the morning. If that isn’t working after a few days, try to put her down 90 minutes after she wakes up. It seems like if she misses her pre-tired window (where she can relax on her own terms), then she cannot relax and might just skip that cycle of napping. If the 9 am-ish nap fails after 20 min of effort, move on as if she napped for two hours and try again after lunch. Textbook napping for her would be 9-10:30 and 2-4.
- Also try some sleep cues for naps like reading the same book, song, playing white noise and offering a lovey every time, so when you do those things she starts to know it’s sleep-time. Read about why you want to introduce loveys.
- Finally, you could try laying with her and holding her hand. She might know that if you surrender to being horizontal, you’re not going to leave her alone in the room. (More on the emotional work of surrendering.)
Problem: My baby wakes up for the first time at midnight, and I’ve just fallen into a deep sleep. I might go insane.
Answer: This advice does sound insane, but they say sleep begets sleep, so switching to a 7 pm bedtime will probably help as well. Even 6.30 is a totally healthy bedtime for a baby. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like a bedtime, and if you are at work until 6, it’s just not possible. If you’ve been putting baby to bed after 8, definitely try 7 or 7.30 for three nights and see what happens.
Problem: If I try a super early bedtime, won’t he be hungry by midnight?
Answer: Try a dream feed. It can work for breast or bottle feeding, your choice.
Problem: My baby will nap in a moving swing, but no where else!
Answer: Then put him in a moving swing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (Here is formal permission to use swings and vibrating seats all night long.) Sawyer slept in his swing for months and now sleeps all night long in a real bed. Promise.
If I didn’t answer your question, feel free to post it here and I will respond, or maybe even get one of the sleep experts to respond. If you’re hungry for more details, click the list of books we recommend to learn more.