Baby Napping Basics
From catnappers to crib-revolters, how to get your baby down
"Driving to help my baby nap is such a lifesaver. Can I keep doing it?"
Yes, but experts recommend not making it a daily habit. Motion sleep, whether it's in a car, swing, or stroller, isn't as restorative as crib sleep because it doesn't allow for as deep a slumber, says West. But a car nap beats no nap.
"If my two babies wouldn't sleep, I'd take them for a ride," says Jody Wallace from Claremore, Oklahoma. "I'd get my drive-through errands done, and afterward I'd gingerly take both girls out of the car and put them into bed at home." If your baby doesn't stay asleep when you transfer her from car seat to crib -- "I think it's a gene that babies are born with or without," jokes West -- then try to keep driving, or park at home and pull out a magazine, so that your baby gets at least a 45-minute nap. "Anything less isn't enough to fill up your baby's sleep tank," West says.
"How am I supposed to know when my baby's ready for a nap?"
It can be hard to recognize your baby's cues. The nap window -- from when she first rubs her eyes to when she must be asleep -- is often 30 minutes or less, says Dr. LoFrumento. "As soon as you see eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness, those are signs that you should start preparing your baby for a nap," says Judy Owens, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorder Clinic at the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. Still not sure if your baby's ready? Act sooner rather than later, says Dr. Owens. "If you wait too long, your baby might get a second wind and then be too alert or too irritated to sleep."
"It's 5 p.m. and my baby just dozed off. Is this too late for a nap?"
"I wouldn't wake a baby from a nap, even one this late, because his body knows what he needs," says Dr. Owens. Bedtime may need to be pushed back that night so that your baby has enough time to get tired again. If this happens only occasionally, nothing needs to be done. But if your baby is regularly sleeping through dinnertime, you may need to start his day earlier. For instance, wake him no later than 7 a.m., so that he naps earlier in the day.
"My baby likes to nap in her bouncy seat instead of her crib. Is this okay?"
Technically, experts say, the crib is better because your baby will learn to associate sleep -- whether it's bedtime or naptime -- with this one place. That said, if your baby naps better in another safe spot, like her rear-facing car seat, that's fine as long as she doesn't have trouble sleeping through the night in her crib. "There's no good evidence to show that there's something intrinsically different between sleeping in a bouncy seat and a crib," Dr. Owens says. The way I see it, whether Lucy was napping in her car seat or her crib, I had a sleeping baby. That meant I'd have some time to myself and a happy, rested daughter when she woke up. That's success enough for me.
Mindy Berry Walker is a contributing editor at Babytalk.