Life is a whirlwind when you a welcome a baby into your home. Suddenly, every waking moment is filled with feeding, changing, snuggling, and burping… It is a beautiful time but it is also a VERY busy time. It is constant work and commitment every second of the day until… nap. Oh sweet nap-nature’s gift to mothers. A well needed, much deserved, break from the craziness of life with a newborn. But what if your baby won’t nap?
When my friend started having children, I carefully observed her new life, enviously. She spent every moment of the day running from task to task and trying to be the perfect mother. She struggled to dress her little one warm but not too warm, to feed her enough, but not too much, to hold her but not spoil her…it was endless. But a few hours into the chaos of her day, her daughter would without fail, almost instinctively, go down for a nap. Oh what a great relief it was! She would quickly throw in the laundry, take a shower, clean her house, and eat an indulgent bowl of ice cream, maybe even catch up with me on the phone or watch a movie. Life was good, and nap time was all that she had dreamed it would be.
I guess that that’s why when my bundle of joy came along, I assumed it would be more of the same. But oh my, how I was wrong. You see my son was different. It seemed no matter what I did, he wouldn’t even think about the prospect of a nap. Most days he wouldn’t nap at all. On other days I could rock him to sleep but even the most imperceptible shift of my arm to take a sip of coffee, let alone to lay him in his crab, woke him immediately. I remember literally crying in frustration. What was wrong with him? Why didn’t my baby nap?
What happens when our babies don’t get the memo? Time and time again I get asked the question. “Why won’t my baby nap during the day? “ You are not alone. Many babies do not nap during the day, others nap, but will only do so when being held or rocked to sleep. So how can we solve this dilemma?
The first few months of life, babies spend much of their time sleeping. At this time, a rigid nap or waking schedule is unimportant. Lets face it-at the beginning, with all the sleeping, pooping, and eating that’s going on there’s very little time to do anything else! Trying to control baby’s sleep habits, eating habits, or anything at all is fairly fruitless at this stage of the game. Take this time to let the baby set your schedule. It is okay. Yes I’m saying. Baby is in charge. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. This doesn’t mean you are spoiling your child. It simply means you aren’t going to waster your time trying to sleep train an infant that is too young to benefit.
Some infants sleep for long stretches, other may sleep on and off for small periods. Both are perfectly normal. Follow baby’s lead. It is okay and natural for an infant to take some time adjusting to the world and this is all part of the process. The old “sleep when the baby sleep” adage rings true here.
But as baby’s sleeping pattern starts to become more regular, usually between three and 6 months, that may be your cue that the time is right to start a daily routine-including introducing a nap schedule. Keep it routine because having a nap one day and deciding the next day not too can have dire consequences as well as a very confused baby. Just because your baby won’t nap doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try and put him or her down for nap, and have what is called “quiet time” at the very least.
One of the number one mistakes parents make regarding nap schedules is waiting until their infant is exhausted to put them to sleep. Our adult logic tells us that if we let baby get REALLY exhausted, he will fall asleep more easily. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. An overtired baby has an even harder struggle to try to calm themselves and fall asleep. Most young babies are ready for a nap around two to three hours after waking in the morning. Watch your baby for cues such as eye rubbing, fussiness, or general tiredness. But if you see this signs, for example at 10:00 AM every day, you may want to try putting baby to bed at 9:45 AM the next day and see how he responds. Adjusting the timer until you get that *just right* time spot is crucial in order to infant who is willing to settle down and relax.
Another factor that can greatly improve your chances of having a successful nap time is getting some fresh air! Outdoor air is great for both of you and it is an excellent aid in creating sleepy babies. I am fortunate to live right next door to a huge city park, complete with a recreation center and playground suitable for toddlers and small children. After my son eats his lunch at noon, I like to take him to the park to exert his energy and help him digest all the food he ate at lunch. I don’t know about you, but something bothers me about the idea of putting my son down for his afternoon nap, with a bottle of milk, when he still has a belly full of food leftover from lunch. I find that after I bring him home he is ready to settle down for his nap. Try to fit in a stroll, when weather allows, for you and baby to get some exercise and soak in some sun if your baby does not walk yet.
The answer to the baby won’t nap dilemma is often solved by creating a stronger, daily routine in the home. Following an “eat, play ,sleep” schedule is a great start. When baby knows what’s coming next, his body will start to prepare itself for what’s headed his way. Start by developing a schedule to follow during the day. For example, breakfast at 7:00, then play time, then nap. In addition, nap time itself can have a routine of its own. For instance every day at nap time you may change baby’s diaper, snuggle in the rocking chair in a dimply lit room, sing a song or share a story, and then quietly lie baby in the crib.
Older babies especially benefit from a song or story before nap. These things are fond memories, great bonding times, as well as a good cue for baby to start calming down and preparing for sleep. Make sure you do it every time! Little things like this are very important to children.
It can become tempting to let the baby create his or her schedule day, and while there will be changes based on age and growth spurts it’s nice to maintain some consistency. Creating a pattern within each day will help baby to no what is expected and offer baby a feeling of security and safety.
Another thing you can do to further enhance this routine is to darken rooms at night and nap time, and let in lots of light during the day after nap. The goal here is to create even more cues that will begin to signal baby that nap time is for sleeping. I invested in very dark drapes for my bedroom because the sun illuminates my room in the day so its hard to shut out the light but its worth it because when I close the curtains, no matter how bright it is outside, I can make an environment that is *almost* closed to night. This allows my son to shut his eyes and settle down into R.E.M much easier.
This question is a common one too. “Why won’t my baby sleep in his crib?” There could be a few things coming into play here. But first of all DO NOT rock baby to sleep. Now I know you love snuggling your baby and so did I. Keep doing that! Rock that baby all you like! BUT as baby starts to get sleepy, lie him down while still awake but drowsy. This way baby is falling asleep on his own in the crib. This teaches baby that he can fall asleep on his own and solves many sleep related problems later as well. It also makes baby much more likely to go back to sleep on their own if they wake up and are still sleepy. Stay near and pat baby on the back and talk in a calm quiet voice. The goal here is not to be “harsh” be present and loving, but teach baby that you can do those things even when he is in the crib.
Next, create a nap friendly environment. White noise, such as a fan or low radio may help block unwanted noises from interrupting. Black out curtains may help create a more night-like environment. Remember we are programming baby’s body to know when it is sleep time and when it is waking time. Darkness is one of those cues. Make sure the temperature of the room is warm enough to keep your little one from getting a chill but not too warm. People of all ages sleep best in a cool but not cold room.
This step may be the hardest of all, but stressing about nap time has a negative effect on everyone involved. Baby can feel your stress and internalize it. When you get upset that baby isn’t sleeping, baby is even LESS likely to sleep. So above all-keep your cool. Take some deep breaths and remember that this stage is short and someday you will have a rebellious teenager that you will have to drag OUT of bed!
Last of all, be patient. Changes take time. There is no magic cure for napping. Every baby is different and every nap problem is as well. But take heart, in time if you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to that sleeping baby you’ve always imagined-and the only thing standing between you and some quiet time is a little patience and following these steps. You can do this! It may not be easy, but just think of that bowl of ice cream awaiting you that first day that baby sleeps peacefully in his crib.