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Baby Nap Schedules

Dealing With a Non-Napper

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I love your column, and reading it was what convinced my husband and I to try cloth diapers, and well, that I could handle a baby in the first place. But my question isn’t about diapers, it’s about sleep. I have a beautiful 7 month old daughter who is a good night time sleeper but not such a great napper. The problem is that even though we’re consistent in what time we put her down for a nap, and the nap time routine, her naps are anything but consistent. One day she’ll take a 2 hour morning nap but not afternoon nap. The next day the morning nap is non-existent but she’ll sleep for an hour in the afternoon. The next day she won’t take any naps at all! The other problem is that she will only fall asleep in our arms. No matter how hard I’ve tried to put her down “sleepy but awake” it doesn’t happen. Either I miss the drowsy stage and she’s completely asleep by the time I get her into her crib, or as soon as I put her down her eyes fly open, she starts crying and the nap is officially over no matter how much I try to get her back to sleep. I’ve read a few books, but they all seem to deal with bad night time sleepers, not bad nappers, and my baby is a great night time sleeper! She typically wakes up once at night, we change her diaper, I nurse her, and she’s back to sleep, sleeping a total of about 12 hours.

Another part of the problem is that now she will only fall asleep for me nursing. I used to be able to rock her to sleep, but lately when I try she’ll scream for 20 minutes and I give in and nurse her and she’ll fall asleep. It’s just easier to get her to sleep nursing her, but that doesn’t seem like such a good long term solution. Am I just going to regret that down the road? It’s like she knows a nap is coming, and she doesn’t want to nap, so she gets herself worked up by screaming and can’t calm down until I nurse her, even if she’s not hungry. On the weekends my husband can get her to fall asleep in his arms, but during the week, it’s just me.

We’ve got a consistent pre-nap routine, we’ve got a lovie, we use a sound machine, we’ve even covered the windows so it’s darker in her room. I feel like we’ve tried everything. I know that my baby needs naps. I can see it in her eyes and her behavior. And I need her to nap too. But lately I just dread nap time. I feel so defeated, like I’m spending all of my time trying to get a baby down for a nap that’s not going to happen.

Help!

Gaaahhhh naps. Naps! Funny story: If you’d submitted this question before I had Ike, I guarantee that I would have made an idiot out of myself because “blah de blah, just do X, Y and Z and ta-da! Problem solved!” Because Noah and Ezra were both good nappers.

And then: Baby Ike. The more children I had the more I realized that I really don’t know nothing about raising no babies.

Noah’s daycare taught us the 2-3-4 nap schedule. He was 12 weeks old at the time and we had zero schedule at home — naps, bedtime, feedings…all of it was still just kind of happening when it happened. The daycare ladies weren’t going to have any of that nonsense, however. Every day I arrived at daycare and wrote down what time Noah woke up that morning. They put him down for his first nap exactly two hours after that — even if it was within 15 minutes of his arrival. I can’t say for sure that his first naps really included much sleeping at first, but his schedule was usually marked that his morning nap was about 30 or 40 minutes long.  No longer than an hour. Three hours after he woke from the first nap, he went down for his afternoon nap. That nap was a long one — at least two or three hours. Four hours after that waking, we’d put him to bed. We mimicked the daycare’s nap schedule at home the first weekend after I started work and BAM. Magic. Black nap magic.

A real-time sample day would look like this: Awake at 7:30 am. First nap at 9:30. Up around 10:00. Second nap at 1:00 pm. Up at 3:00 pm. Bedtime at 8:00 pm for a good 11 – 12 hour stretch (with a quick waking around 2 am or so for milk, maybe a second around 5 am).

We used the 2-3-4 sleep schedule until Noah was a year old, when the morning nap disappeared. But by then (I think) his good napping habits were established enough that he made the transition fairly painlessly.

It took me a little longer to get Ezra on the 2-3-4 schedule, mostly because our days couldn’t revolve solely around his naps. He’d doze off in the car while I drove Noah to and from preschool, for example, and even a five-minute catnap would screw the entire schedule up. I kept with it, though, and stuck with it as many days as I could. When he was little I would mimic our bedtime routine at naptime — nursing, rocking, extra-tight swaddle. Once the swaddle went away (six months) we focused on some mild sleep training (mini-fuss-it-out, basically) and eventually I could just put him in his crib awake at bedtime and naptime and he’d figure the whole “lie down and sleep” thing himself.

And then: Baby Ike.

For Ike’s first year of life, I couldn’t even DEAL with his nap schedule — I was too busy trying to survive nighttime, when he would wake up over and over and over again and require all sorts of nonsense to get back to sleep. He refused to nap during the day other than the occasional 10 -15 minute catnap. I knew his bedtime issues were coming from him being SOOOOO overtired, but the 2-3-4 schedule just plain didn’t work. His naps were so short that the prescribed bedtime would’ve been 5 pm at the latest. I even TRIED an insanely, ridiculously early bedtime for a week or two, but 1) it put a huge burden on the rest of family, since we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, and 2) eventually the 5/6 pm “bedtime” turned into more of a super-late nap, and Ike would wake up at 11 pm and then be COMPLETELY AWAKE FOR HOURS. Fail.

And like you, I turned to every book and expert out there and came up mostly empty on solid nap advice. Even Ferber admits that you just can’t get some kids to nap “properly” and you might need to readjust your expectations: They fall asleep in the car or in a heap in front of the TV? Great. TAKE IT. Then try to move up bedtime as much as you can and make sure they’re getting as much sleep as possible then.

So. Advice? I barely even dare give “advice.” At seven months old, it might not be too late to have a go at 2-3-4 sleep routine. Follow the clock instead of your daughter’s cues for a week, or so. (That “sleepy but not overtired” window is miniscule and SO EASY to miss.) Keep mimicking the bedtime routine at naptime, even with the nursing.

(Because seriously: Pick ONE battle at a time. Yeah, the nursing-to-sleep isn’t the best long-term solution but it’s also not really the worst when she’s this little. Put a pin in that concern for now and focus on getting naps in order. Mess with the bedtime routine later, once you feel things are otherwise going okay.)

If she cries the second she’s in her crib, try a timed interval approach: Three minutes, five, 10, etc. Go in and pat her and turn on a crib mobile or something. If the morning nap is a complete bust, pretend she took a 20-30 minute nap anyway, and aim for the second nap to still be three hours after that. (Just so you’re not coming up with a schedule that puts bedtime at 4 pm or something.) Try very, very hard to avoid catnaps in the car or stroller during this first week: They take the edge off and ruin everything, I swear.

Ike now takes a long afternoon nap. Three or four hours, and I usually end up going in there and waking him up in order to save our bedtime. He sleeps 12 solid hours at night and only wakes up once in a blue moon. (He’s at the age where dreams/nightmares can start interrupting sleep, and other nights we’re too liberal with cups of milk and his diaper leaks.) But none of this really came together for us until he was a year old, I’m sorry to say.

Nighttime sleep improved a couple months before 12 months (thanks to Ferber), but I could NEVER count on a daily nap until he was old enough to ditch the morning nap. (Which I would NOT recommend for a seven month old. Though if you have a closer-to-12-months-old toddler who is still a crap napper, you could trying powering through the morning without a nap and see what happens by 11/11:30 am. Perhaps an early lunch and then a long nap is in order?) So the 2-3-4 nap schedule is really the only trick in my bag that I can offer, even though it only worked in two of three babies surveyed.

Looking back now, though: Some of it was consistency problems on our part. Our nanny took care of Ike in the mornings and she liked to take him out and would miss the two-hour-after-waking mark, or let him fall asleep in the stroller or car at non-2-3-4-approved times. And I usually had to go shuttle an older child somewhere in the middle of the afternoon nap, or his brothers would be making noise and wake him up, etc. If you can avoid stuff like that, you might have a better chance of success, even with a seriously nap-resistant child.

Photo source: Photodisc/Thinkstock

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 [email protected].

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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Lindsay
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Lindsay

We are dealing with a similar situation with our 6 month old daughter. We finally got her on the 2-3-4 schedule at home and it works great, but at daycare its a-whole-nother story.

I think the problem is that she falls asleep in the car on the way to daycare most days (a 30 minute drive) and then her whole day is thrown off. Any suggestions? Do we start 2-3-4 from when she wakes up from that car nap or just pretend it didn’t happen and go from when she woke up in the morning?

Trish
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Trish

I’d be more inclined to call that car nap the first nap of the day and try to pick up from there. But my first rarely napped more than 30 minutes until he went to one nap a day. 

Emily
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Emily

That’s tough. We were in the same situation, and we ultimately ended up moving him to an in-home daycare less than 5 mins away from our house. Since then, he’s adopted a solid three naps/day schedule, which are usually 1 hr, 1 hr and then 45 mins. I think keeping her awake in the car will help – I realize now that my guy was sleeping just enough in the car to take the edge off, then would get extremely stimulated as soon as we walked in the door and he saw all the other kids. Thus, he wouldn’t go… Read more »

Emily
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Emily

Oh, my guy spent months 4 and 5 at the daycare, and has been at the in-home daycare for the last two months. He had an adjustment period of about two weeks (changing caregivers during the height of separation anxiety was tough on him), but he then settled into an awesome napping routine and seems much happier.

Karen
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Karen

My daughter – solid 2-3-4 napper and 12 hrs at night. Two naps until 15 months, still one nap at preschool at 3.5. Bam. Done. My son – slept wonderfully at night, nursed in his sleep for months and then nice stretches in his crib at night. Barely napped. Even as an infant (3-4 months old) would take a couple 30 min naps a day. Now he is 13 months and might take an hour nap once. He’s not tired, not cranky, grows well. Pleasant personality. He just doesn’t need the sleep. He also nurses to sleep. Every night. And… Read more »

Jimmy
Guest

“If he had been my first, I would have written a letter just like yours…”  

This.  So much this.  It will be over so soon.  I don’t know if this can be appreciated the first time around.  Any sleep problems we’re having now with our second baby (8 months), doesn’t get us worked up and terrified like our first.  We know it will be over soon enough, so we can just roll with it.  

Autumn
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Autumn

Wow, that was me a year ago!  Like exactly me and my boob fiend of a daughter who would only nurse to sleep for naps, bed time.  This might not be feasible for you, but some how a week in St Thomas with the in laws (who did no hands on child related cares and amazingly minimal assvice) made her nap schedule click.  Maybe it was the tropical breezes or something but that trip  got us on a predicable schedule.   On the nursing to sleep, she nursed to sleep for me until 14 months.  It worked soooooo super well… Read more »

MR
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MR

Yes, definitely skip the nursing to sleep issue for now. I personally found with both my kids that that issue resolved itself naturally. Since you are having issues with her sleepy cues being so short and sometimes missing them, it sounds like you have a routine baby on your hands. You can’t go by her cues for it, you have to have a routine – so Amy’s 2, 3, 4 might work really well for you. It can suck to have to stick rigidly to a routine, but baby routine babies will be MUCH happier for it, and as they… Read more »

Autumn
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Autumn

I forgot to add, we did “the sleep lady shuffle” and it had a section on nap training.  Not as detailed as the sleep part, but it’s a start.  We checked it out from our library so we wouldn’t be out the cash if it didn’t work.  Our biggest nap training problem was we were trying to nap train when she was going down to one nap at 14 months.  Once we got that part figured out, life was better.  

Anne
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Anne

We had this problem, too, at 7 months, except my kid wouldn’t even cry in the crib at naptime. She would just stay awake. Forever. (Eventually she would get bored and cry.) She was sleep trained about 6 months, and a month later, it was clearly time to nap train her. At first, we allowed her to continue morning napping in the stroller or car at the appropriate, prescribed time (~9:00 or 9:30?) for about 45 minutes, just so she wouldn’t get overtired.  Then, in the afternoon around 1, I would do a mini nighttime routine and put her down… Read more »

Belinda
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Belinda

OMG thank you for this post.  3-month old babe with a new mom who had NO IDEA how to get this routine thing happening.  I just love this blog.  

Katie
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Katie

We recently went through this with our 5 month old who would not sleep and if he did, it was after rocking, walking, and shhhhing him for 30 minutes and the nap would only last 30 minutes!  This may be complete assvice since no two kids are the same (dang you children!) but I read The 90-Minute Sleep Program by Polly Moore and, kid you not, by the next week naptime made sense to all of us. It helped me figure out what he does to show he is sleepy as well as giving my some sort of structure.  We’ve… Read more »

Kat
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Kat

I remember this! Like it was yesterday. We had a really poor napper until about 8 months, and I remember thinking at 6 or 7 months “isn’t this supposed to be easier by now?!”. We did the Sleep Easy Solution (which tackles nighttime and nap issues at the same time). The most important part for us: mini bedtime routine and not missing his sleep cues. For our baby, if he’s rubbing his eyes he is actually TOO tired for the easy nap. We try to catch him before that, when he starts to “zone out” and not make eye contact.… Read more »

Jeannie
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Jeannie

This might not help but … I had a non-napper. For … Like, ever. He never napped consistently and always nursed to sleep — and yet slept great at night.  I gave in. I nursed him to sleep, because it was the only way I could get him to sleep. And everyone warned me that I shouldn’t and he needed a schedule and I couldn’t nurse him forever and he’d never sleep etc etc. And eventually, things got better. When he was one, it was possible for someone else to get him to sleep, and by 2.5 he stopped nursing… Read more »

-k-
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-k-

1. FWIW (maybe not much beyond describing yet another possibility), my 6 month old goes down an hour after she wakes up for the day and generally naps for 20-40 minutes every 1.5-2 hours (after the previous wakeup) throughout the day, right on up through bedtime. That’s just what she does; 2-3-4 isn’t her style, at least not now. With napping, as with most things, it takes all kinds. If you suspect you have one of these, or some variation, you might try putting her down for naps earlier than you normally would, just to see what happens. 2. ‘Drowsy… Read more »

Anne
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Anne

I agree 100% with Number 2. Drowsy yet awake does not exist for my daughter. She will not get sleepy if we are in the room. We can’t even take her to our bed at 5 AM or she will wake up immediately.

Jay
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Jay

Another mom here with a baby who takes several naps each day, roughly every 1.5 to 2 hrs apart. I’m a first time mom and he’s only 3 months old, so maybe this is just a newborn thing. Either way, I plan to ride it out as long as I can – the more rest he gets the happier he seems to be. Everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn’t let him sleep so long because he won’t sleep at night but I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. When he is well rested, bedtime is a snap. When… Read more »

Amie
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Amie

We moved our baby out of the co-sleeper and into her own room/crib at 5 months. We just did it one night, and (to our surprise) it was fine! Try not to worry about it too much in advance. It might not go well, but then again, it could be easy.

Irish Cream
Guest
Irish Cream

No magical advice that hasn’t already been given here, but hopefuly some reassurance by adding another voice to say that nursing to sleep isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a problem, sure, if your baby can’t put themselves back to sleep without the boob, and so they’re waking up every two hours to nurse, but since your little one is such a good night sleeper it doesn’t sound like that is an issue. If it’s the easiest and most reliable way to help her fall asleep for naps or at bedtime, then lord yes, stick with it! Further… Read more »

Jo
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Jo

I completely agree that it’s worth a shot to watch the clock instead of the baby. My kid never, ever had reliable “sleep cues”, so there was just no point trying to wait for her to somehow demonstrate she was tired. From about 6 weeks to 14 weeks she was a very erratic napper and often took 3-4 ‘tries’ to get down, even though she was doing all the supposedly classic ‘tired signs’ things. Then I read something on I think a Dr Sears page about most babies under 12 months needing sleep again after two hours… and it was… Read more »

Jimmy
Guest

“but that doesn’t seem like such a good long term solution” With babies this little, don’t waste your energy on seeking long-term solutions.  They change.  Often.  We read books and then next week everything clicks and we think “ah-ha! that book was brilliant” but really, babies just change, and that may have been the difference.  Like others have mentioned, I didn’t appreciate how fast everything happens, and how fleeting every phase is, until we had our second baby. She’s 8 months now, and everything is so much less dramatic for us than it was our first time around.  We’re right… Read more »

Amie
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Amie

Like some of the other commenters, 2-3-4 never worked for us. My daughter is almost 14 months and she still can’t stay up more than 3-3.5 hours between naps. We can push it to 4 hours, but it usually means worse sleep at night. It might be worth it to try shorter between-nap times, even in the absence of sleepy signs. I’m not a big fan of Weissbluth (I just can’t do extinction), but he has some info about how long you can expect baby to be able to stay awake, and we found it to be pretty accurate.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I agree that 2-3-4 wasn’t the magic bullet for my babies, although it’s certainly worth a shot. Both my babies seemed to have a magic number of hours they could stay awake at a time. It was a moving target, of course, but around 7 months I think I recall it being around 2.5 hours. And that was consistent throughout the day. So, up for the day and back down 2.5 hours later. Then awake for another 2.5 hours and back to sleep for afternoon nap. Then bedtime 2.5 hours after waking from that nap. I also agree that the… Read more »

julie w
Guest
julie w

I’m going to vote in the opposite direction. Once we stopped nursing to sleep…we had naps! and uninterrupted nighttime sleep too! Sometimes it is all interconnected.

autumn
Guest
autumn

My hubby was better at getting the baby to sleep cause he couldn’t fall back on the magic boob.  

Michele
Guest
Michele

Check out these free webinars. One of them looks like it addresses your issue: http://www.isisparenting.com/page/webinarssleep (“Helping Babies Nap in the Crib”)

Isis also offers personalized sleep consults over the phone. http://www.isisparenting.com/product/ISSVV_SSC/

Their VP of clinical content has an amazing Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/nancyholtzman

(No affiliation; I’m just a happy customer!)

Kim
Guest
Kim

And some babies are crap nappers.  My first never was any good at it. We spent a miserable couple of months when she was 3mos old – she didn’t fall asleep in the daytime without riding in the car again until she was 5mos old, and then it was in the sling.  She’s always slept well at night, though.I let her sleep on me when I could, I took long drives, and some days she just didn’t sleep.  I stopped worrying about it at 15 mos, and by 2 she was done completely. My second kid naps, but at 3… Read more »

Whozat
Guest

I agree that if nursing to sleep isn’t a problem for you then it isn’t a problem. There’s no need to follow anyone’s “rules” about these things. 

My daughter is almost 4 1/2 and hasn’t napped for a couple of years, but she still nurses to sleep, and that bedtime cuddle is one of the best parts of my day. 

Erin@TheWellGirl
Guest

Yes, Ferber really emphasized that nursing to sleep was a huge problem because it would cause the baby to cry to nurse when it naturally woke during the night. But if your baby sleeps fine through the night there doesn’t seem to be a problem with that. Naps are really tough to figure out – even for one kid they’re always changing as the kid develops. As soon as you’ve got it figured out they drop a nap or start teething or get sick, or DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME (ugghhh). So don’t beat yourself up….this will be over before you know… Read more »

Eden
Guest

I think you can try as much as you want to force a schedule of sleeping with baby but ultimately its not going to work unless baby is ready anyway. I agree with the commenter’s about not worrying about nursing to sleep or the “habit” of. When baby is old enough he or she will learn other ways of falling asleep especially with other people. Usually if moms around, baby is smart enough to know the real thing is there and that’s what they want!

Marissa
Guest
Marissa

The trouble with 2-3-4 is that being able to stay awake for 4 hours is going to be the exception, not the norm, for babies under a year (see http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2009/02/wake-time.html or http://www.babywisemom.com/2008/07/optimal-waketime-lengths.html).’ I think you’re pretty much stuck with going by cues, for the most part. One of the many reasons I love our swing is that if we suspect Baby Boy is tired, we can put him in it and see what happens. If he’s genuinely not tired, he’ll stay calm but awake in it for a while. If he’s sleepy, he’ll doze off. As opposed to the crib,… Read more »

Karen
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Karen

My son is 7 months old and we’ve been having sleep issues since the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. He had always nursed himself to sleep for night and naps (sometimes I could rock him to sleep but not so much for the last couple of months). At first I didn’t mind nursing him to sleep because he was sleeping fairly well but then 4 months hit and he started waking up all night, couldn’t be put down even if he was sound asleep, and suddenly hated his crib. We decided to change up our bedtime routine and stop nursing… Read more »

AmyRenee
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AmyRenee

When does she usually first want to nurse or eat after waking up? The first time she starts fussing to nurse, just take her to her room, nurse there and then put her in her bed. Don’t make an elaborate bedtime ritual out of it, just a quick diaper change, nursing session & cuddle, then in the crib she goes. If you can nurse her before she really starts to get upset, maybe you can get her relaxed enough to at least cat-nap. Or another thought – you said your husband can cuddle her to sleep? Do you have any… Read more »

Heidi
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Heidi

I have had two kids who loved to nurse to get to sleep (boys, now 8 and 4.5), and I cannot TELL you of the angst I endured with the first one, thinking I was doing something wrong and that he wasn’t “supposed” to be doing this, and I should get tough and MAKE him go to sleep without the boob. Veteran moms at my breastfeeding group often gave me the don’t-sweat-it-enjoy-it-they’re-only-babies-for-a-little-while thing, and I did not listen. Finally, with many tears and much familial stress, got #1 Son to sleep at night without nursing, but it ultimately was the… Read more »

Lyndsay
Guest
Lyndsay

Our almost 4 year old son has just dropped his naps. Actually I stopped them because on the rare occasion he did fall asleep, he’d be up until 9/10 at night! The issue now is, he’ll fall asleep around 7/7:30 pm but wake up at 5am!! I’ve tried late, earlier bedtime, threatening, star chart, go downstairs on your own and play, spanking, come I to bed with me, and a “it’s okay to wake clock.” Nothing is working! He’ll come into our room all sweet and when I tell him go back to your room or crawl into bed with… Read more »

Sera
Guest
Sera

Thx alphamoms!!! Reading all of u makes me feel less lost !! Yup.. I often feel houseboubd for now as only get max 90mn window for errands etc Well my almost 6mo will NOT sleep in the stroller ( max 15/20mn) and that messes up the day.. Tummy sleeper needs crib. Max 2h awake 8up 9breastfeed Nap 10-12(!!) 12:30bf+spoonsof solidsintro 14-15/15:30 nap 15:30 bf 17:30-18catnap(sometimes ergo or stroller for my sanity) 18:18 bf+spoonssolid 19:30 bathetc 20bf 20:30 cribawake 2Nightfeeds2am/5:30am If i so much as wait 10mn extra for naps orbedtime he will scream like mad up to 20mn-1h(bedtime) picking him… Read more »

kaitlyn
Guest
kaitlyn

Hi everyone! Looking for any advice..my LO (8months) wakes up between 545-7am ..I nurse her and give her breakfast about 1.15 after wake time. Following that we play a bit and I put her down for her morning nap, so she is going down about 2/2.5 hours after wake time. Sometimes she fights it and just goes from laying to sitting laying to sitting- I am scared this will become a battle..any advise? Anyway, this is the longest nap ranging from 30min-1 hour, however it is usually about 45min. Another area of concern is second nap she FIGHTS me hard… Read more »