Baby Won't Nap

A few key steps can help you set a daytime nap schedule for your baby, resulting in a more healthy, happy child and parent.

One of the most frustrating things for a new parent is trying to help your baby get the sleep he or she needs. While a baby's nighttime sleep habit (or lack thereof) is the most common complaint, your baby's daytime nap schedule is just as important to his or her development. More than just a parental inconvenience, a baby that won't nap will tend to be more irritable, difficult to handle and will have a harder time sleeping well at night. Recognizing the signs of sleep deprivation and working on some napping routines will go a long way in helping your baby establish a good daytime sleep habit.

There are many reasons why babies don't nap. In many cases, babies become overtired or over stimulated and then have a hard time falling asleep. Babies under 12 months are also in a very active discovery phase, and sometimes will resist napping in order to explore the world around them. The lack of a regular sleep schedule can also lead to missing naps, as parents can easily miss the sleep cues given by their tired baby.

One of the most important keys to setting a nap schedule is understanding how much sleep your baby needs. While the overall sleep needs differ in each child, most experts agree that babies under twelve months are fairly consistent in both the amount of time they can stay awake in one sitting, and their daytime sleep needs. Newborns, or babies from 0-3 months, tend to have no real sleep patterns. Babies at this age tend to eat so frequently that their nap times are naturally built around these eating patterns. The only caveat for this young age is to not let them sleep for too long during the day, in order to avoid mixing up day and night. Sleeping through a feeding is not a good idea, as the baby will need to make up that feeding at night. The best advice of most experts is to try to use the newborn months as a way to teach baby the difference between day and night.

Beginning from 3-6 months, most babies will have settled into a daily two or three nap schedule. Babies at this age tend to get tired 2-3 hours after waking up in the morning and after each nap, setting up a midmorning and early afternoon nap pattern. Some babies will also take a short nap later in the afternoon, but experts caution against letting a baby nap within three hours of bedtime, or they may have trouble falling asleep.

From six to twelve months, most babies become increasingly consistent in their sleep schedules, usually settling in to two naps a day, midmorning and afternoon.

In order to help a baby set up good sleep habits, parents need to be vigilant about recognizing the signs of sleepiness in babies. All babies have a very small window of time where they will fall asleep easily on their own, without any sleep "props" such as walking or rocking. If you miss your baby's window, you'll be in for a long struggle to get him or her down for a nap.

While each baby has his or her own unique sleep cues that parents begin to learn, experts usually say to look for a blank stare, eye rubbing or general fussiness. To avoid over tiredness, don't wait too long after seeing the first signs of sleepiness to get your baby in for a nap. After a few days of careful observation, you'll notice that your baby's tired times tend to come at consistent times of day - build your daily nap routine around this schedule. One helpful hint is to keep morning wake up time and bed time as consistent as possible each day - this helps to set a routine for daytime sleep.

A pre-nap routine is crucial in helping your baby to nap. Babies crave consistency and need to know what is coming next to feel secure. Keeping the same pre-nap routine will help your baby know what is expected at nap time, and eventually will lead to them falling asleep faster and without struggle. A pre-nap routine should vary based on what works for your child, but the underlying principles are the same for all babies.

Your baby should nap in the same place each time, with the same few steps before each nap. The steps can be a simply cuddle, a lullaby or a quiet game or story, but they need to be repeated each time you put your baby down to sleep in order to create a routine.

Babies should nap in the same place each day, preferably where they also spend the night. Some parents, however, find that napping in a play yard or bassinet helps to differentiate nap time from nighttime sleep for their baby.

Don't let your baby get in the habit of falling asleep in a stroller, swing or car seat - sleep habits are hard to change and sleeping in these places will get difficult as your baby gets older and bigger.

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