Baby Napping Basics
From catnappers to crib-revolters, how to get your baby down
Naptime at our house used to be a recurring mystery: When would Lucy go down today? I'd be on the lookout for clues and remain suspicious through dim lights, books, and droopy eyelids. When I could no longer stand the suspense, I'd plop her in her car seat, where she'd anticlimactically drift off like it was no big deal. I knew Lucy should be napping in her crib, but she hated to, so I was willing to do whatever worked. Thank-fully, sleep experts say this isn't all that bad. "There's no one way to get your baby to nap, so you have to try lots of different things," says Mary Ann LoFrumento, M.D., a pediatrician in Morristown, New Jersey, and the author of Simply Parenting. If you've ever experienced naptime drama, read on for mom and expert help.
"How can I get my baby on a nap schedule without being housebound?"
"A nap schedule isn't a rigid, inflexible plan," says Kim West, a clinical social worker and the author of Good Night, Sleep Tight. It's just a framework based on when your baby gets tired during the day. Generally, infants between 4 and 15 months nap for one to two hours in the morning about two hours after waking up, and again in the afternoon for one to two hours. Some babies also take a late-afternoon nap, which most drop by 9 months.
Sounds doable, until you remember you need to run an errand or meet a friend. "Parents often feel chained to their house by their child's nap schedule," says West. But if you plan ahead, you can get beyond your driveway. "I'd pack my daughters' food to take along so that we could run out during their awake windows. If I didn't, then the hours would quickly fill up with meals and diaper changes before we could leave the house."
"My baby fights her afternoon nap -- it ends up being such a struggle. Help!"
In the wise words of my friend Samantha's pediatrician, "When your child needs to sleep, she will." Some babies, like Samantha's daughter, Ava, thrive without much daytime sleep -- sometimes to their moms' dismay. "Other infants need help learning to nap because it's not as natural even at this young age to sleep during the day," says West.
How can you help your baby take a break? Dim the lights, read a book, do a short variation of what you do at bedtime. "I always play the same Calm Baby CD to help my twins wind down for naptime," says Tanya Ceccarelli, mother of Nadia and Sofia in Dobbs Ferry, New York. A snack can also do the trick, say some moms. "Since eliminating breastfeeding before my daughter's naps, we've replaced it with a snack, usually yogurt, so that she can rest on a full tummy," says Pam Wells of Great Falls, Montana. And even though most sleep experts say to put your baby down "drowsy but awake" (yeah, right), I'd give Lucy a bottle, sometimes just filled with water, to help her relax.
A baby between 15 and 18 months (sometimes younger) who routinely resists napping could be ready to move to one nap. Gradually start the "morning" nap later, so that it begins around 12:30 p.m., says West. Ideally, your baby will move to a single nap that lasts for two hours or more and then have enough energy to make it until bedtime.
"Should I be concerned that my baby's naps last only 45 minutes?"
"There's nothing unhealthy about a catnapper," says Dr. LoFrumento. If your child sleeps through the night and seems rested in the day from two to three 45-minute naps, then leave her pattern alone, says West. But if your baby is irritable during the day, you might want to try lengthening her nap. To do that, when she wakes up, try to soothe her instead of taking her out of her crib -- pat her, make shushing sounds, or put her pacifier back in if she uses one.