Managing your Baby's Day Time Naps

Babies’ day time naps can be a real source of stress for many parents. Typical worries are; how many sleeps should the baby have? For how long? Should naps be taken only in the cot? In the dark? Will not enough daytime sleep interfere with feeding or night time sleep? What if they nap too much? Each different sleep “guru” seems to have a different opinion on naps and what this should tell us is that every baby is different and there is no fully right or fully wrong answer. You need to find what suits both your baby and you best.

First of all, you need to be aware that in the early weeks, babies tend to sleep an awful lot – It might not seem like it, because often they sleep in your arms or at the breast, and so feeds, cuddles and naps can merge into one. This lovely and natural way of napping has been frowned on in recent years and instead, structured, timed regimes have come into favour. This is a shame, because given time; babies can be helped to enjoy independent naps – but at their own pace.

Rather than impose a strictly prescribed napping schedule on your baby, it is better to watch for the signs that he or she is becoming tired and to follow their lead. After the first six weeks or so, you can try seeing if your baby is ready to go down at set times for naps. Every 1-2 hours, look to see if they might be ready for a sleep. Try to avoid them becoming over tired, as this will make it difficult to settle – but if they do get over tired, it’s not the end of the world, and your baby will come to no harm.

Signs that your child is becoming tired include:

  • Not engaging with you – looking away.
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Crying
  • Becoming fractious.

The best way to settle your baby for a nap is:

  • Put them down in the cot or pram with minimum fuss and then try leaving to settle alone.
  • If you do decide to put your baby into the cot; close the curtains and recreate the feeling of bedtime by following a condensed version of your usual night time routine.
  • Try not to over handle them, as this may make them irritable.
  • If you do not like to leave them alone to cry, it is alright to stay beside them, with a hand resting on them.
  • Avoid picking up and putting down though – unless they’re “windy.”
  • Rock the pram or cot if you can, but avoid rocking your baby in your arms.
  • Remember that patting may irritate your baby if he or she is very tired.
  • Try to schedule the naps at reasonably consistent times during the day, but allow some flexibility.
  • Above all, try not to get discouraged if the daytime pattern is erratic at times.
  • Be aware that early on, babies nap requirements vary from week to week. You need to be open to change.
  • Remember that sometimes over napping in the day or napping too late in the day can cause problems with settling to sleep at night – but this is not the case for every baby.
  • An overtired baby will sometimes refuse a feed or fall asleep over it, resulting in them being hungry later on – so if necessary, allow a late nap and adjust bedtime accordingly.
  • Try to make sure that you go outside at least once a day, so that your baby can experience some sunlight. This encourages the production of sleep hormones. You will, of course, need to protect their delicate skin with shade and sun block if the sun is strong.
  • Don’t worry if they fall asleep in the pram. A nap taken in the pram [or car or sling for that matter] is every bit as valuable as one taken in the cot.
  • Provided that your baby is able to fall asleep in the cot at the start of the night and for daytime naps reasonably often; allowing them to nap in the pram each day will not hamper their self settling skills.

Just when you think you’ve got a system going with the naps, your baby decides to change it!

By the time your baby reaches 12 – 18 months, and often before this, they are likely to move from having two [or three] daytime naps to just one 1 ½ to 2 hour nap in the middle of the day. You need to be prepared for this to happen and to go along with the change. You may notice first of all that your baby begins to refuse the morning nap, or to sleep for just a very short period at this. If they do this, they are telling you that they are ready to move on to one later and longer nap. Don’t be concerned; this one nap will be just as good for them, and one special benefit for you is that you will have the opportunity, whilst they are resting to catch up on your own jobs or even have a rest yourself.

The transition from two or more naps to just one is not always straightforward. Your baby’s sleep needs will change gradually rather than overnight, and you may experience a confusing period when they sometimes wants a morning nap and sometimes doesn’t. You may also find that they nap in the morning and then do not want to sleep again until teatime, when it is too late, and may interfere with the usual bedtime. If this happens, you might need to give a very short “cat nap” and perhaps a later bed time or skip the nap altogether and put your baby to bed early.

Don’t worry if they are not doing the same as their peers or if they don’t fit the textbook standard. Your baby is an individual, and all babies progress at different rates.
Do not try to force her him or her to sleep or allow them to cry alone in the bedroom if they are simply not tired. They may develop negative feelings about the cot, and this could have a detrimental effect on night time sleep.

Averages for daytime naps [not the law of the land]

  • 0-6 weeks – 4 – 8 naps a day totalling 7 ½ – 9 hours. Your baby will need to nap at least every two hours.
  • 6- 8 weeks – 4 naps a day totalling approx 6 hours. These normally consist of 2-3 short naps of between 30 -60 minutes plus one longer nap of up to 2 hours.
  • 4 – 6 months – 3 naps a day totalling approx 3 – 4 hours. These naps are usually arranged as a short morning nap, a long nap during the middle of the day and another short nap late in the afternoon.
  • 6- 12/18 months – 2 naps a day totalling 2 -3 ½ hours.
  • 12/18 – 24 months – 1 nap, usually taken in the middle of the day and lasting for approx 1 ½ hours, although there may be a second shorter nap taken either in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Try to remember that you know your baby best. If you read your baby’s body language, as only you can do, you will find the right daytime routine for them.

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