Naptime at our house is a recurring mystery: What time will Lucy go down today? I'm on the lookout for clues all morning and remain suspicious through the dim lights, the books, and her droopy eyelids as she finishes her bottle. The plot thickens whenever there's a deadline -- a music class or a pizza date with my friend and her kids. That's when my 9-month-old wails just as I put her down. When I can no longer stand the suspense, I plop her in her car seat, where she anticlimactically drifts off like it's no big deal.
I know Lucy should be napping in her crib, but she hates to, so I'm willing to do whatever works. Thankfully, sleep experts say this isn't all that bad. "There's no one solution for getting your baby to nap, so you have to try lots of different things," says Mary Ann LoFrumento, M.D., a pediatrician from Morristown, New Jersey, and the author of Simply Parenting. If you've ever experienced daytime nap drama, keep reading for mom and expert help.
"How can I get my baby on a nap schedule without being housebound?"
"Don't think of a nap schedule as 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 typically gets tired during the day. As a general guideline, infants between 4 and 15 months tend to 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 third, short late-afternoon nap, which most drop by 9 months.
Sounds doable, until you remember that you promised your friend you'd pick her up at the airport or opened the fridge and discovered it's empty. Some days it can seem like you may not get to leave the house before your baby turns 1. "Parents often tell me they feel chained to their house by their child's nap schedule," says West. But if you plan ahead you can get beyond your driveway. "When my daughters were young I'd pack their food with me so that we could run out during one of their awake windows, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or 3:30 and 5 p.m. If I didn't, then the hours would quickly fill up with meals and diaper changes before we could leave the house." My husband, Peter, and I find that the prime window for escape is between the end of Lucy's midday nap (around 3 p.m.) and her 7 p.m. bedtime.
Mindy Berry is a freelance writer in Dobbs Ferry, New York.