Getting Your Baby to Nap: Hints from a New Mom

by on August 17th, 2014
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Before I became a mom, I was under the naïve impression that since babies need a lot of sleep, they just fall asleep when they need to. I assumed my baby and I would be going about our day and then she would simply pass out, take a good nap, and wake up when she was ready. I was wrong.

But fortunately, thanks to lots of research and trial and error, my two-month-old is what one might call a “good napper.” She takes regular naps during the day, and when she gets up, she is happy and alert. On the other hand, when she is short on sleep, she becomes cranky and fussy. In fact, I’m convinced that lots of seemingly inconsolable babies are simply overtired and don’t know enough to go to sleep. If you need help getting your baby to nap, here are some hints that might help.

1. Babies let you know when they are getting sleepy. Falling asleep is not the only way babies show you they are tired. Once they transition out of the “brand new” phase, they may not just fall asleep anytime and anywhere. Some cues that it’s time for a nap include frequent yawning, wide-eyed staring, drooping eyelids, burrowing their heads into your chest, whining, or rubbing their eyes.

2. Babies can only stay awake for a short period of time. It turns out that babies can only handle short periods of wakeful time – no longer than two hours, as a rule, but for some babies, it may be less – before they get overtired and then may even have trouble sleeping! My daughter generally has about a 90-minute max of wakefulness before she starts to melt down. Learning how long your baby can be awake before demonstrating tired cues will help you have a better idea when nap time is approaching.

3. Babies can be soothed to sleep. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp is, in my opinion, a must-have book for all parents. Dr. Karp teaches parents five ways to soothe their young babies in order to help them stop crying, but the techniques also work for helping babies fall asleep. He calls these techniques “the 5 S’s”: shushing, swinging, swaddling, side/stomach position, and sucking. My baby goes to bed with a white noise machine on and usually a pacifier in her mouth (although we prefer she fall asleep without one as it can disrupt her sleep when she loses it during her nap), and I either rock her cradle or pat her back as she drifts off.

4. Babies should go down for naps when they are drowsy but awake. Experts such as Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) and Tracy Hogg (Secrets of the Baby Whisperer) swear by this concept. It helps babies learn to put themselves to sleep rather than depending on rocking or eating or (for some desperate parents) riding in a car. I keep one eye out for my daughter’s tired cues and the other on the clock, and I’m learning to discern the point at which I need to put her down, soothe her for a few minutes, and then allow her to drift off to sleep for a nap in her bed.

5. Babies are not always ready to get up when they wake up. I have learned that just because my baby cries in her bed, she is not necessarily ready to get up. She may have lost her pacifier, woken up and needed some comforting, or just be making noises in her sleep. Unless I know she is hungry, I will usually return her pacifier (if need be), rock and shush her a bit, and see if she drifts back off. I can tell by her eyes whether she is still tired and needs more sleep or whether she is heading toward an awake, alert state and ready to get up.

These tips may not work for everyone, but they are worth a shot. Good naps have helped my family establish a routine, use our time more efficiently, and become altogether better rested – both physically and mentally!

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