Naps are definitely hard, regardless of your child’s age, but none more so in those early few months as your baby’s nap rhythms are generally not established until 6 months which can mean that both you and baby are frustrated trying to achieve and maintain any semblance of day time sleep.
Firstly, it’s important to note that having challenges with naps in the early months is entirely typical and not a representation of your skills as a parent; nor is it an indication that your child will not routinely be a good sleeper in time. This nap-struggle is so normal, I encourage you to lean into it, and not to worry about what you think may be bad habits or that you are creating a situation in place that you are committed to in perpetuity. These first few months are so challenging anyway, and worrying about sleep, is a waste of your energy.
Although you will be tired and potentially feel like this time won’t end, it will and as your baby gets older, you can work more intensely on improving your sleep, in a way that can be often ineffective in the early days. That said, it is still a good time to begin to lay a foundation for what I describe as being, positive sleep practises, but my main message would be to give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. Spend your valuable energy on learning to teach your baby to feel loved safe and secure.
It can be helpful if you begin to implement a relatively flexible feeding and sleeping balance to the day, this may mean, having a regular wake time, ideally no later than 730am, and that you would always start the day with a feed and when you do this, you do it separate to sleep and expose your baby to bright and natural light. This way you anchor the body clock from both a feeding and a sleeping perspective and then you can begin to run a rhythm through the day; one in which your feeding and sleeping practise, potentially runs in sync with each other, as opposed to clashing understanding that this dynamic can interfere with establishing your day sleep.
If you can learn to understand the language for sleep then this could be considered the next best step towards better sleep. Your baby will continually communicate with you, letting you know when they are hungry, bored and of course tired. Tired cues are on a spectrum and ideally you would capture your child before they become overtired, but it can be a very fine line.
Understand that you really want to act on early cues that are generally represented by mostly brief and not very noticeable signals; discreet eye rubs, small yawns, a moment of quiet, all indicate sleep readiness and capturing this time can make the difference between a nap that happens with ease, and a nap that lasts longer than 30 or 40 minutes.
Try to avoid your baby from becoming very obviously tired with intense eye rubbing, big yawning, any sense of agitation or irritability; as all of these symptoms and more besides, are overtired cues that can make going and staying asleep for your baby much more challenging.
It may be helpful to acknowledge that the first morning wake period is actually really small, so you may find that after you get up in the morning your baby is ready to sleep again within as little as 45 minutes and probably not more than 1.5 hours after getting up, so that is really quite soon after starting the day, but very usual for a baby.
I find that if you can get the first morning wake period on-point, then the rest of the day can go smoother. Incidentally, as the day unfolds, the wake period between sleeps ideally doesn’t extend beyond 2 hours between each sleep until 4 months plus. Understanding this, can help you make progress with setting the sleep scene in the early months.
You may be surprised to hear that I typically don’t put an emphasis on how long your baby sleeps for-some will be able to sleep for extended periods, and others will only be able to sleep for short bursts at a time. This is very much developmentally dependent and once you are observing the parameters between the sleeps, then as soon as the young body can, they will potentially sleep for longer. This doesn’t always translate, but if you have the timing right, then you certainly have more chance of it happening that for those that are addressing sleep outside the safe sleep zones…
Furthermore, you can then also be observing some other sleep inducing strategies that can also help:
Use motion to enable the nap. Obviously if your baby is willing to be put down in their crib or bassinet to sleep then wonderful, but if they are resistant, then, use what other means that may help; sling them, swing them, roll them, and bounce them. If it works then it will get you through this intensive-care period. It’s not a forever technique, but you can phase it out in time, as your baby is more settled and possibly more rested too.
Helping your baby learn to sleep at bedtime, specifically, can really enable the day time sleep too. So focusing on having your baby a little bit awake and not entirely asleep when they go to bed-using my percentage of wakefulness approach, may unlock the ability to go to sleep at bedtime and in turn enable this skill for day time as well. If you struggle with this part, put it on ice and continue to use my age relevant feeding and sleeping balances that help to highjack the biological timing of your infant.
Other items that may help could be white noise on an app or a cd, played throughout the entire sleep period. Using darkness for nap time and bright, natural light for wake time, can also help the body clock underpin the need for sleep. Starting to have a pre nap ritual so that your baby can understand that it is time to sleep-words that you say, songs that you sing, maybe even a costume change into a season-appropriate sleeping bag, are all positive measures that can help to gradually move you into a more rested and growth-ful day time sleep scene…good luck!
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Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of ‘Sleep Through’ a natural Body and Bed Sleep Spray and Relaxing Rub, and mum of four children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie