With a new baby comes a new sleep schedule, which can be one of the hardest adjustments to make when your bundle of joy arrives.
Finicky, sleepy babies make stressed out, sleepy parents, neither of which is good for a home. Establishing a daytime nap routine can be a lifesaver for exhausted parents, but it’s more than just quiet time you should be after; naps are essential to a child’s physical and emotional growth.
Regular sleep is crucial to the proper development of babies’ brains and systems, and naps play an important role. You may be able to see for yourself that children who don’t nap well are typically more irritable and fussy, have difficulty concentrating and often throw tantrums. University of British Columbia School of Nursing professor and sleep researcher Wendy Hall says, “Children who have regular, adequate daytime naps settle to sleep at night easier, have less night waking, are less accident prone during the day and show better performance on cognitive and language tasks.”
The negative effects of poor nap habits are just as remarkable.
Kids who lack adequate sleep, which is more likely if naps aren’t taken regularly, have a higher risk for childhood obesity and have more difficulty with emotional and social functioning in early school years. Hall adds, “Children who have regular, adequate daytime naps settle to sleep at night easier and show better performance on cognitive tasks.”
For babies to really reap the many benefits of sleep, waiting for them to doze off is not enough. Sleeping well isn’t magic and your baby still doesn’t know what she’s capable of. You have to gently show her that she can be a good sleeper, that she can get the rest she needs, and that your parenting and time with her can be even more fulfilling when you’re both well rested.
It may take some trial and error, but there are a number of strategies you can put to work to create an effective sleep schedule for a healthier, happier child– and a better night’s sleep for you! Develop her sleep routine, so she knows exactly what to expect each time it’s time for her to go to sleep. Teach her that she has the skills to get the sleep she needs and that her parents need. Sleep should be a restful subject, not a stressful one.
Are naps a source of stress for your family? Try one (or all!) of these four strategies to getting baby’s naptime down, so they can get the Zzz’s they need and you can have some crucial baby-free time. . .
1. Establish a naptime routine
You should already be practicing a consistent routine when it’s time to put baby to sleep for the night, and putting baby down for a nap should be no different. Practicing habits similar to your bedtime routine will help to signal baby’s brain that it’s time for sleep. Try a more condensed version of your usual bedtime ritual; perhaps changing baby’s diaper, reading a quick book and feeding baby in a consistent order each time.
When you can, put your child down for her nap in the same place she sleeps at night, which she’ll associate with going to sleep. If you’re travelling or away from home at naptime, be sure to pack books, a favorite blanket and anything else your child has come to associate with sleep. This will help you maintain your baby’s naptime routine no matter where you are.
2. Try “topping off”
If your child is still under a year old, consider “topping off” with extra formula or nursing baby right before you put them down. Whatever time your child was last fed, gently offer a short feeding to soothe baby into a post-Thanksgiving-dinner-style food coma.
If baby seems to be dozing off during a feeding and you’d like to coax her into a longer nap, pause feeding and play quietly for a bit to reinvigorate her. Then, resume feeding to boost her calorie intake and set her up for a nice post-meal snooze that will likely be longer and more restful.
Babies flail. That’s just part of what they do! You would too if you didn’t have much
control of your arms and legs– and it would wake you up all of the time as well. If your child is still young enough to be swaddled, try wrapping baby up before a nap. Swaddling suppresses baby’s “startle reflex,” the primitive survival reflex that produces spontaneous, jerky movements and can disturb baby’s sleep.
I love swaddling. I think it works great to help baby fall asleep and stay asleep. Snuggling baby up will help provide a sense of security, and lead to a longer, more predictable nap. Swaddling will also help to prevent baby from getting distracted or stimulated through touch while you are trying to wind them down for rest.
In these summer months, keep baby comfortable in some cotton PJs and a light swaddling blanket, and the same goes for winter. Remember, babies don’t respond as sensitively to the temperature of the home as we assume they do. If you’re comfortable, chances are that baby is comfortable, too.
4. Keep a log
You have the super power of setting baby’s internal clock, or at least to coax it in a direction that works for both of you. Most babies around 2-4 months old will begin to have longer and shorter naps at similar times of the day. Do your best to figure out when those longer naps are more likely to be, and plan accordingly. For example, if you know your child’s morning nap is always about 2 hours and their second nap is closer to 45 minutes, adapt your day- as much as possible- to this pattern.
If accomplishing tasks during naps is a priority for you, do what you can to give yourself grace, or else this will become another source of naptime stress. Try not to over-plan your to-do list, as this will lead you to feel overwhelmed, and likely cause you to get less done. Plan to accomplish your most important tasks right after your child goes to sleep for their longest nap of the day. That way, even if the nap ends earlier than planned, you will still decrease your stress level by checking those significant tasks off your list. You can then use the other, shorter periods for some self-care, rest, or special one-on-one activities with older siblings who no longer nap.
You have sleep needs, too, and you can’t properly take care of your newborn if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
Getting rest is critical for both parents, but moms especially. Dads, this is your time to shine. Swaddle your fed baby and let them suck on your pinky finger until they fall asleep. Put on Sports Center, Game of Thrones or just stare lovingly at your new bundle of joy– whatever you need to do to keep baby quiet and let mom get the rest she needs and deserves. Even an extra fifteen or twenty minutes of rest for mom can make a
Remember: there is no magic trick that will put baby to sleep on demand, only strategies to ease the stress of the sleep schedule.
It’s going to take some trial and error, some wrestling with restless days and nights, but you will get it figured out. It will be totally worth the trial and error when you end up with a consistent naptime routine and an expectation of how much time you’ll have to get your stuff done while baby rests.
While parents wonder how to get baby down for a nap, they also question how often baby should be sleeping. To answer this, I’ve charted out an ideal sleep schedule that I will be providing to parents who attend my upcoming webinar- “3 Secrets to Less Stressful, More Restful Nap-times!”
Do you have more unanswered sleep questions or simply want to learn more about getting baby the rest they need? Opt in to my webinar on September 26th.
You can also grab my naptime quick-tips sheet here to reference this information quickly and easily.
In the meantime, keep up the good work. You can do this!