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Night Sleeper, Day Sleeper

Sep23

by

Hi Amy!

Word on the street is that you’ve been around this baby raising block once or twice. I’m hopeful that you’ll have some sort of magic trick to help get my 4 month daughter to stop treating naps like some form of child abuse.

I’m kind of afraid of messing with anything sleep related, since she is sleeping like a champ at night. (as I knock every wooden piece of furniture in arms distance.) Most nights the little lady goes down in her crib drowsy around 7:30, and wakes up happy at about 6:00. I’m aware that this kind of consistent night sleep is a gift from the gods, and I am very thankful, however going from 6:00am to 7:30pm without naps is starting to get challenging.

The night time sleep makes me believe that she is absolutely capable of self-soothing. She will fall asleep in my arms, so I know she is tired. However, as soon as I look in the general direction of her crib, the screaming begins. I’ve tried waiting her out, but she’ll cry for 30+ minutes easy. Although I admire her persistence, I’m really uncomfortable letting her cry that long. I’ve tried moving naps earlier, later, blackout shades, and a rational conversation with her regarding the benefits of napping, but she apparently did not have her listening ears on, since nothing changed. I’m tempted to let her nap in my arms, but that’s an awful long-term solution. Plus, my husband is deployed, and I would selfishly love a little time during the day to clean the house/answer emails/play with the dog without having to worry about the baby.

Do you have any tricks that have helped teach your babies how to nap in cribs? Should I just let her sleep in my arms for now, and tackle the nap issue once she gets a little older?

Thanks,
E

This is probably not what you want to hear, but out of all three of my babies, only ONE of them was a decent, consistent crib-napper by four months old. And that was only because he was in full-time daycare at the time, and those ladies were able to work some kind of nap schedule magic/witchcraft. First nap, two hours after he woke up. Second nap, three hours after he woke from the first. Bedtime, four hours after that. Bam bam bam. All in the crib, all done in that tired-but-awake sweet spot for maximum self-soothing skillz. I thought maybe they were fibbing a little about his daytime sleep habits until Saturday rolled around and the schedule stuck. So from about 13 weeks on, naps were never a problem.

And then I went and had another baby, and naturally thought: I KNOW THE SECRETS OF THE NAP. Even though Ezra wouldn’t be going to daycare, I figured by three months I could start aiming for the 2/3/4 schedule on my own and could achieve similar results.

Ha. Hahahahaha. Oh, self. You so silly. I have since heard from many parents that their kids just napped better at daycare than at home, for whatever reason. (See: aforementioned magic/witchcraft.)

My memories are getting super hazy about the specifics of everyone’s early sleep habits, but I’d estimate that both Ezra and Ike took naps everywhere but the crib until at least six months. (Ike was probably even later, like eight months, since his sleep was just a total crapshoot.) They napped in swings, bouncers, car seats and slings/mei tais/Ergos; wherever, whenever. Eventually, it came together and they napped in their crib. But naps remained firmly in the “do whatever it takes” stage of newborn-wrangling for quite a few months.

But since your daughter is SUCH a great nighttime sleeper (UNDERSTATEMENT), I probably wouldn’t rush to shrug and give up on naps completely until she’s older just yet. (Especially since if she goes too much longer without proper daytime sleep, she’ll run up a sleep deficit and reach a point where she’s SO overtired that her nighttime sleep will get screwed up too.) (SORRY.) (NOTSORRY.)

You have two basic options: Tweak the nap schedule or the nap location. Or some combination of both.

Spend one day paying attention to the clock, rather than your baby’s “cues.” Two hours after she wakes up (8 a.m.), take her to her room, even if she doesn’t seem tired at all. Change her diaper, swaddle (if applicable), quick nurse/bottle, sing a song or read a book. Do whatever her bedtime routine is, minus the bath. Put her in the crib with a mobile or some musical thing or sound machine. Leave. If she cries, go back in and pat and TRY to soothe without picking her up. Leave again. Rinse and repeat as needed, going only as long as you’re comfortable in between soothing intervals, but give up if she’s still awake and fighting it after, say, 20 minutes.

If you think you haven’t pissed her off TOO terribly, you can try Plan B at this point, which is trying to get her to nap ANYWHERE ELSE. Put her in a swing or go for a drive and see if she’ll nod off in the car. If she’ll nap in your arms, try putting her in (non-front-facing) a carrier and see if she’ll nod off against you — this at least leaves your arms free to vacuum or type emails. She might just not enjoy being on her back during the day (I dunno, BABIES ARE WEIRD) and prefer something that lets her feel slightly up/cradled. If she’s still awake after 20 minutes of this, give up and move on, but restart the clock as if she’d taken a 40-minute nap.

That will put her “second” nap at around 11:30am/12pm. You can try the crib again, same deal. OR: If you had success with any of the Plan B locations, you can just go straight for that again. I’d probably be more interested in getting her to nap at ALL right now and not get too worked up over the location, but it’s up to you. (I know we’re all terrified of those pesky “bad/lazy sleep habits,” but I think we all also need to chill. A few shortcuts at four months old does NOT mean it will be that way forever and ever amen. If they nap swaddled like a burrito and strapped in a swing or carseat, fine. It’s a NAP. TAKE IT. GO CHECK YOUR EMAIL.) If you let her fall asleep in your arms, will she ever reach a point where she’s soundly asleep enough for you to transfer her somewhere? THAT COUNTS. DO IT.

In theory, the 2/3/4 sleep schedule should at least eliminate the timing guesswork on your end, provided you can do it consistently for a few days. But the rest will be up to her. You can’t MAKE her nap, in her crib or anywhere else. Give her the opportunity to nap at the optimal times (before she’s overtired). Insisting that all naps take place in the crib might be a tall order at this stage, but there are other, more convenient options for you than holding her the whole time: a mei tai, Ergo or secondhand swing/bouncer. Give them a try without guilt: They’re just temporary stop-gaps that you can eliminate later. Just get that kid to sleep at some point during the day and declare yourself a winner of all the things.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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26 Responses to “Night Sleeper, Day Sleeper”

  1. IrishCream Sep 23 at 3:38 pm Reply Reply

    From the age of about 7 mos to almost 1.5 years, my oldest took all her naps in her car seat. Not in the car, mind you, since we live in Manhattan and have no car, but in her bedroom, in the car seat, on the floor. At the time I was very stressed about that, because…well, now I can’t remember why I cared. It was unconventional, but she took nice long naps there, and transitioned easily back to the crip when she outgrew that carseat. If you can find something that works for you and your daughter, even if it’s not the perfect crib nap, go with it! 

    • Myriam Sep 23 at 3:46 pm Reply Reply

      I have read it is not advised for infants to sleep in car seats because their head falls down on their chest and it can impair breathing and lead to death (in rare cases, but still). However, I’m not sure and the age-rage is for those concerns, and a 6 months-old can probably lift the heads if need be…

      • IrishCream Sep 23 at 4:00 pm Reply Reply

        I have read that too, but I didn’t worry about it in our situation, since when the infant car seat was flat on the ground, it was in a reclining position (unlike if it were actually strapped in the car), so it would have been unlikely for her head to go forward. But good thing to keep in mind!

        • Hollie Sep 26 at 2:08 am Reply Reply

          Can I just congratulate both of you for raising a safety concern and answering it in totally nonconfrontational I AM THE BEST PARENT AND YOU ARE WRONG RAGE ways? You two should teach a workshop on how to comment on the interwebz.

  2. Myriam Sep 23 at 3:43 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah, I’m in the whatever works camp, and I saw the 2-3-4 nap schedule work wonders!! But I do have to say that I enjoyed (most times), when my first daughter would nap on me after a feeding. It would be a great excuse to just sit on the couch and watch TV for a while… But if you have somethng else to do, I’m wondering if she would tolerate being put down somewhere safe (think playmat) for some tummy-time with her favorite toy just out of reach? You don’t have to stand over there doing it with her, just let her be and keep an eye on her. You might get 20 minutes of email checking or laundry out of it. She might get tired and fall asleep right there too, who knows? Good luck!

  3. Shannon Sep 23 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter refused to nap anywhere but in my arms until I made the magic swing purchase. She loved it and would take naps like a “regular” baby in there. And it lasted for several months. Several of my friends/relatives/acquaintances were appalled that I didn’t train her to nap elsewhere, but hey, she slept, I got a shower and everyone was happy. I agree with Amy – do whatever works!

  4. Hannah Sep 23 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    I have three boys and oh, naps. Oldest would only nap in my arms for MONTHS. Middle child preferred the vibrating bouncy chair, or while on car trips. Youngest pretty much lived in a Mobi wrap for the first four or five months, dropping off to sleep whenever he got drowsy.

    All three of them (now aged 8, 5, and 21 months) go to bed without a peep and sleep uninterrupted all night.

    Bottom line? Do whatever works. You really can’t spoil a four month old and you won’t set up any destructive habits. 

    Good luck!

  5. Elena Sep 23 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter at 4 mo was very similar. She slept beautifully in her own crib at night (from 10:30pm to around 6am – I thought that was magic, but clearly your baby has mine beat). During the day… no dice. She ONLY and EXCLUSIVELY napped in a baby carrier. We tried “the Happiest Baby on the Block” technique with moderate success, but seriously the longest naps were upright and up against a chest (I think she liked hearing the heartbeat). That baby pretty much spent her first four-six months of life either in her crib at night or in a carrier during the day. Nothing else would do – she *had* to be carried. Also, just to scare you, the beautiful night time sleeping ended once the teeth came in (at 4 1/2 months… ouch!). Ah, teething. However, at around 6ish months (??? mommy brain… it’s all so long ago and foggy right now) she started sleeping in her crib and it was OK. I seriously can’t remember how we managed the transition but I think daycare had something to do with it too.

    The thing with sleep and babies is (in my very limited experience – I only have one 2-yo toddler), it keeps on changing. You think you’ve got it down pat? BOOM, it changes. Three naps, to two, to one… teething… night terrors… You kind of have to just go with the flow. Good luck.

    • Kat Sep 24 at 12:18 am Reply Reply

      So agree on the “do whatever works” – I say really for about the first 6 months if not longer, depending on your baby! My son loved his carrier, and happily napped there while I did stuff around the house or in his stroller while I got some fresh air until he was about 6 months old. He slept well for his sitter, but even she let him sleep in his swing until he was about 6 months old, then she transitioned him to a pack n’ play and it seemed like no big deal. We started hoping for a schedule for naps at around 5 months, but we didn’t really care where he slept as long as it was somewhat like the 2,3,4 schedule. Now he sleeps like a champ (we had a little sleep training stuff at around 9 months when we weened at night, but other than that it’s been pretty easy). Anyway – all that to say: be patient, do what works and let her sleep where she wants for a little while longer if it seems to help.

  6. Christina Sep 23 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    My son is just a little younger. He’ll nap his face off in an ergo or sling.

  7. Karen Sep 23 at 5:16 pm Reply Reply

    I’m pretty sure I’m 0-2 on regular crib naps at that age and one was also an all-night sleeper (until 8.5 months when that stopped, yay me!). Since she’s only 4 months, you could just nurse her to sleep on a flat surface (bed, floor on a blanket, whatever), and then put pillows next to her torso. That way she stays asleep where she falls asleep. Like everyone said, nothing is permanent at this age.

  8. B Sep 23 at 8:17 pm Reply Reply

    I think the easiest nap to begin with is the morning nap. Once your little one gets the hang of that nap, I’d tackle the other one (s). Both my kids only stayed awake 2/2.5/3 hour stretches, so the 2/3/4 didn’t work for us, but a shortened version works well. My daughter always took a great morning nap in her crib but I’d have to put her in the Ergo for her afternoon nap and then put her in my bed once she fell asleep (with me beside her). Then, around 14 months, my mother in law put her down for me one afternoon and that was the end of the Ergo routine. Just like that. I’d also suggest Weissbluth’s book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” He does a great job explaining sleep patterns and the importance of proper naps/night time sleep at the different ages.

    • Myriam Sep 23 at 10:02 pm Reply Reply

      Sometimes getting family members involved does help, especially for older kids. I knew my daughter was “manipulating” us into a long drawn-out night routine when she slept over at my in-laws and fell right asleep without any of her “home requirements” being requested. That helped us to be more consistent, but by that point, she was over one year old…

  9. Jeannie Sep 23 at 9:59 pm Reply Reply

    My oldest hated being out of physical contact — at ANY TIME — until five months old. Naps were hard because I really needed some space! So he napped on our bed (with railings and no covers and yada yada safety make sure it’s safe!!) and I sloooooowwwly inched my way away. Lie down on me. Then next to me, still cradled. Then I moved away on the bed. Then sitting at the side of the bed to be able to reach and pat him. Then out of the room. Not gonna lie, it took a couple of weeks but I did get nap time for myself. 

    But honestly? If I were you I would mess with it as little as possible so that that AWESOME nighttime sleep isn’t disrupted.  Fact is, baby will very likely get onto napping in a couple of months regardless. 

    Good luck!

    • Mary Oct 06 at 5:38 am Reply Reply

      Totally. YES. Then eventually, one day, the baby starts rolling away from YOU because they are too hot, or too crowded & CAN I JUST GET SOME SPACE MOM?!

  10. Elizabeth Sep 23 at 11:14 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you! I’m the original poster here, and feel much better knowing that I’m not the only one who has a baby who refuses to sleep during the day. Today she slept in the moby wrap for a morning nap, and allowed me to place her in the crib a few hours later. She stayed quiet for about 25-30 minutes, so great success there as far as I’m concerned. 

    And we have an agreement that there will be no teeth until daddy comes home. I’m so not ready to have everything shaken up again! 

    Oh, and after rereading my original question I just wanted to clarify that I don’t let her cry for 30 minutes alone. I do go in to check/reassure her about every 5 minutes. I’m not ready for real CIO kind of stuff! I think we’ll just end up doing whatever works  here for a little while longer. I’m glad to know I’m not alone, and I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been rejected from Harvard for less than stellar napping practices. 

  11. autumn Sep 23 at 11:19 pm Reply Reply

    My kiddo would only fall asleep nursing for me for the first 13 (yes 13!) months of her life.  But she would fall asleep at day care starting at 7 months with a couple minutes of rocking.  Day care ladies have Jedi napping powers.  

    For a month or 2 around 3-5 months, i would time my errands so she would fall asleep in the car and I got pretty good at getting the car seat out with her still sleeping in it.  Usually for half an hour or so, so at least I could email/internets, etc.  

    Now that she’s 2, its the opposite:  Please just don’t fall asleep in the car and cost mommy her hour or so of afternoon freedom!

  12. larzipants Sep 24 at 2:34 am Reply Reply

    My son only napped in his swing until he was 14 months old.  Yes, we would take that swing with us every where.  he got so big he broke the motor on it and it stopped swinging, but it was still the only place he would nap.  He would sleep every night in his crib though.  Then when he hit 14 months we went out of state and couldn’t bring the swing.  The first day I laid down next to his pack and play and he napped with no problem.  And that was the end of the swing.  Actually, he’s turning 4 tomorrow and still naps like a champ.  Point is, do whatever works for mama and baby.

  13. Kathryne Sep 24 at 6:20 pm Reply Reply

    Big ol’ DITTO on both the 2-3-4 schedule and not necessarily napping in the crib. Heck, my daughter napped on a quilt on the floor for months. Then she would only nap in my arms for a few more months (I read a lot of books during that time; she’d wake up if I tried to type or turned on the TV). Now she’s fifteen months old and she pretty much only naps in her crib, unless we’re out in which case she’ll happily drift off in the push chair or car seat.

    I spent all those floor/arms napping times worrying that I was killing her ability to sleep in her crib on her own, but then something happened that none of the books had prepared me for: she outgrew me. For about the last six months she hasn’t *wanted* to nap in my arms, because she can’t get comfortable. She might drift off with me holding her, but she wants to be in her crib to really fall asleep. Sometimes these things really do just work themselves out.

  14. Nessa Sep 24 at 7:05 pm Reply Reply

    Reading all of these comments as a former daycare worker is a funny experience. I could get 6 babies to sleep within a 1/2 hour when I was working, but when I went and had myself a baby of my own do you think he would nap anyplace? I had planned on staying at home until he was 4, but I ended up returning to work on a part-time basis to cover someones maternity leave when my son was 6 months old. That decision may or may not have been so that my son would learn some better napping habits from my colleagues. 

  15. Kim Sep 24 at 9:07 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, I feel for you.  My oldest was the suckiest napper ever. And yeah, she slept through the night like a champ, but having to be actively involved with the baby for 10 hours straight until her dad came home was maddening. (Oh, she’d nap – for my friend, for 2-3 hours at a time.  Which made me feel like the most crap mom ever.) The carrier worked, briefly.  We drove around, a LOT. By the time she was 15 months old, I would get maybe 20 minutes in the afternoon, longer if I was willing to let her sleep on me and I sat absolutely still. After a good 30 minutes of “ritual.” UGH.
    She’s a lovely 6 year old, though.  And her 3yo sister naps wherever, whenever she chooses.  These days, that’s usually between 3-5pm, so that she can party until midnight. Good times.

  16. Helen Sep 26 at 12:34 am Reply Reply

    Nobody’s mentioned the stroller option! Probably at this age best to use it only if the stroller allows her to lie almost flat, but I used it for both my kids, plus many others, and it worked with very many of them. Just bring the stroller into your house, strap the kid in it, put a blanket over it to block out some of the light and distractions, and roll it gently back and forth until the kid’s asleep.

  17. Emily Oct 03 at 3:51 am Reply Reply

    I am firmly convinced that nap sleep and night sleep are entirely different animals for babies. My first was the worst nighttime sleeper I have ever heard about but was on a perfect 2-3-4 nap schedule from 2 months on. I thought it was utterly bizarre until I had the reverse baby next. Second child slept through the night at 6 weeks but was a terrible napper – usually 20 minutes all through her first year. She really only got better with napping when she dropped the second nap at age 16 months or so. Ironically, now at age 4.5 she naps a solid two hours a day. Third baby is a crap sleeper for both naps and nighttime. Whatever. Babies are weird.

    For the challenging nappers one thing I did which helped was to work on getting them to play independently a bit so that I could do some housework, check email, etc. while they were awake. We got one of those doorway bouncer things which was a lifesaver from about 5 to 10 months. I also didn’t feel guilty about “ignoring” them (we were in the same room – just each doing our own thing) for 10 – 20 minutes at a time as long as they were happy.

    We also did some things that are not recommended for safety reasons, but I personally was comfortable with. I let second child sleep on her stomach once she could lift her head up well (on a firm mattress, of course) and sometimes also nursed the baby to sleep in our bed and then inched away leaving her to sleep on our bed (which was at the time just a mattress on the floor so she couldn’t fall out – and I had a video baby monitor on her).

    Good luck!

  18. amber Oct 03 at 3:40 pm Reply Reply

    I found the book Healthy Sleep Happy Child a great resource about sleep.

  19. groovymumma Oct 04 at 9:12 am Reply Reply

    My little one was also a great night sleeper but had pretty much stopped napping altogether by 4 months of age. I went to settling school to find out what else I could do, and they figured out that she had reflux which was why she wasn’t napping. Not saying that the OP’s baby has reflux or anything like that, but it probably doesn’t hurt to rule out any medical type issues. Once we had the reflux under control with medication, we used the “The Sleep Lady’s Good night, Sleep tight” book to teach her how to settle in her cot. It was a tough week or so, but worked brilliantly once she got the hang of it. She kept up her day nap in her cot until she was about 2 and a half, so it was worth the effort.

  20. traci Jun 23 at 1:20 am Reply Reply

    The secret at daycare for the babies is cribs with wheels. You just roll the crib back and forth rocking them to sleep in the crib. There’s no transition so they stay asleep when you stop. Maybe I just really need a crib on wheels for naptime…

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