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How do I get my baby to nap during the day?

Night Sleeper, Day Sleeper

By Amalah

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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