Welcome. Are you currently in nap hell? If so, this is a safe place. And things will get better, I promise! Half of this post contains tips + information you will hopefully find helpful (scroll for that), and the other half is me bitching about how much I struggled with nap time. I’m hoping some of this information will help you get your baby to sleep, but at the very least I hope my bitching proves that you are not alone. I don’t think anything else in the world has tested my mental stability as much as James’ nap time has. My New Years resolution was literally to stop rage texting my Mom 100 times a day about baby sleep. I have never felt so helpless, frustrated, angry, guilty, confused, drained, FRUSTRATED, or HELPLESS (did I mention those?) as I have in the first 5 or so months of James’ life. Nap sleep was the main reason, but trust me there were many other contributing factors.
A QUICK DISCLAIMER:
These are just my personal thoughts and our journey. I am a firm believer in doing whatever works for you and your family and cast no judgement upon moms who have chosen not to tread the same path as I have in regards to napping! We are all in this together and I respect you all SO FREAKING MUCH.
A QUICK NOTE ON WHERE WE ARE NOW…
I have been successfully laying James down for a nap in his crib “sleepy but awake” (a phrase I used to think was total BS and not possible) for the past 5-6 months. And I truly believe it is possible for everyone and I pray for all of you who are currently in the throws of it! Don’t get me wrong, between the ages of 2-5 months we were in total hell. But I am here to tell you that it gets SO much better, I promise. But it does take a lot of work and commitment, sigh. We are at the point now where I bring him into his room, do our little routine, and he actually pushes away from me to get into his crib. I lay him down fully awake and leave the room immediately; sometimes he falls asleep within two minutes, sometimes he talks and rolls around for up to 15 minutes. But unlike 5 months ago when we started, he always falls asleep now and the best part is: he does it on his own. In this post I talk about how we got to this point and which tips and tools I found most helpful. I truly hope you are able to find one or two things here that might help you through this tough time!
We are lucky in the sense that James has always been a good night sleeper. We stopped middle of the night feedings very early on and I honestly think that is how/why he learned to sleep through the night so well. I know there are moms out there who have babies that won’t sleep at night OR during the day, and you all deserve nobel prizes, 50 billion dollars, gold medals. 20,000 spa days, diamonds, etc.. But, we REALLY struggled with day time sleep and napping. Figuring out this nap crap became my full time job, and the bane of my existence. All I did was read about baby sleep, talk about it, cry about it, think about it, and the fact that I couldn’t figure out a clear cut solution was so frustrating. Kyle is really supportive, but it would drive me freaking insane when he would come home and say things like “just relax!” or “it’s not your fault” or “can you please just let it go?” – UGH!!!!!!! I was like can you IMAGINE if you went to the office and lost clients/money every SINGLE day!!?!? AKA, failed?! I know we have to be careful with that word “fail”. As moms we are never “failing” because we get up and do our best every day (blah blah blah blah blah) but that was what it felt like. Daily fails.
For the first 3 months of James’ life, everyone told me not to worry about a routine or schedule. They said to just get by. Which I do believe in! There is so much stress and so many question marks in the first couple months of motherhood, the added pressure of getting your baby into a routine would be a lot. However, my friend Katelyn told me later on (way past the 3 month mark) about this book Bringing Up Bebe, written by an American mother living in Paris and talking about the “French way” when it comes to child rearing. I am obsessed with Paris, and I like to pretend that I’m French. I am reading this book now, and it is ah-mazing. However, she does talk about the first 6 weeks being key in creating a good sleep routine. I plan on trying that out the next time around, but for now I’m just going to talk about how I made this work for James without the French way.
I am not against developing a routine in the early weeks, I just couldn’t figure out how to do it in my new mother haze. So for the first 3 months, I let him nap wherever: on my chest, in the baby carrier, our stroller, on the couch in the newborn boppy, whatever worked. Around the 3 month mark I started to put my foot down. I read The Baby Whisperer & The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. The former is more of an easy read-the-whole-thing type of book, and the latter is desk reference style. I like her methodology, but as with any how-to book, take it with a grain of salt and do what makes you comfortable. I made the mistake of taking everything way too literally at first, and my mom had to bring me back down to earth. She reminded me that nothing is cut and dry, all babies are different. Also, I am nursing James for the first year and I’ve noticed that a lot of the author’s scheduling tips are more favored toward formula fed babies. However, I really love her sleep training methods. She doesn’t believe in crying it out, I did LOTS of research on CIO and decided it wasn’t for us. However, she has other strategies that make a lot more sense to me. And they work! Her acronym is for the end goal is “E.A.S.Y.” which means: eat, sleep, awake, you time. There is nothing freaking easy about any of this, but we have finally gotten to the point where it is much easier!
Here is how I got my baby to nap consistently in his crib and go down “sleepy but awake”…
First thing, I set a few ground rules for myself.
- Do not give in and nurse him to sleep at nap time.
- Do not give in and rock him all the way to sleep.
- Do not give in and drive him around in the car or stroller.
- Do not give in and pour a glass of wine in the morning. (JK…kinda)
I ended up breaking a couple of these every now and then, but there was one rule I NEVER broke. I never caved and nursed/fed James to sleep at nap time. That was a habit I was very passionate about avoiding. See more on that below.
I developed a pre-nap routine.
- Play soothing music for a few minutes before nap time (James and I usually have music playing during the day. Right before nap time, I switch over to a “classical lullaby” station for about 5 minutes before bringing him into his room. I honestly believe that when he hears this music, he associates it with sleep and it prepares him for the nap.)
- Bring him into his bedroom
- Close the black out curtains (those are key and it took me months to figure that out)
- Turn on the sound machine
- Change his diaper and put him into sleep sack
- Stand by his crib and rock him for about a minute while doing some shushing + soothing talk
- Lay him down in crib while he is still awake
I refused to feed James to sleep at nap time. No. Matter. What.
I was gung-ho about not letting James get into the habit of needing to eat/nurse in order to fall asleep at nap time. I still would nurse him to sleep at night, but I wanted to get into the eat, wake, sleep rhythm during the day. It was really important to me, for his sake and mine, to teach him the art of falling asleep without a crutch. However, sometimes we were trying to nap for so long that I would end up having to call the whole thing a wash and it was time for his next feeding. In that case, I would take him out of his sleep sack and leave the room to go feed him. I’m not suggesting depriving your baby of food if he is hungry! I just believe it shouldn’t be used as a tool if they already have a full belly.
I refused to rock him to sleep at nap time.
This is something I would break on every now and again at the beginning of nap training in times of desperation. However, for the most part I was very careful not to rock James to sleep in my arms. Nine times out of ten, James would wake up the second he hit the mattress and we were back at square one. There is no worse feeling than when you lay that baby down asleep and they immediately start screaming. Like feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep is a crutch. If you allow sleep crutches, I promise you are just going to make your life harder! I swear to you, it is SO much more amazing to eventually just be able to leave the room immediately after laying your baby down, instead of having to rock a 24 lb. ten month old to sleep in your arms for 30 minutes. So what would I do instead? See below.
Instead of picking James up to soothe him or rock him to sleep, I would bend over the crib & lay on top of him.
The Baby Whisperer is famous for her “pick up, put down” technique, also referred to as “P.U./P.D”. It is her alternative to the cry it out method, which she is against for younger infants. In a nutshell, she recommends laying your baby down for a nap, and when they start crying (which they inevitably will in the beginning stages) you pick them up and hold them until they stop crying. Then, the second they stop crying you lay them back down in their crib. They will start crying again, and you do the whole thing over. She says to do it 100 times in a row if need be, like I said earlier – this takes commitment!
I found that picking James up would get him more frustrated. She talks about this and recommends that in this case you should bend over the side of the crib and put your arms around him while patting/shushing him to soothe. Sometimes I would be hunched over that crib for 10 minutes at a time, it really hurt my back, but it was working. As soon as he stopped crying, I would stand up and go sit in his glider chair. At the beginning, he would start crying by the time I got to the chair, I would let him cry for about a minute, and go lay on top of him again. Once he stopped crying, I would go back to the chair. I would go back and forth doing this until he eventually got tired and dozed off – without being rocked or nursed to sleep! Woo hoo!
You might be thinking, isn’t this a sleep crutch? Or the same thing as rocking him to sleep? No. What ended up happening is this: James ended up becoming comfortable enough with his crib that he no longer cried when I would lay him down, therefore he no longer needed me to lay on top of him. This method is all about building trust, trust that their crib is a safe place and it is where they are SUPPOSED to fall asleep.
I played around with awake times in between naps.
Awake times are really important. It is a huge common misconception that longer awake times in between naps will “tire your baby out” and therefore better prepare them for a nice, long nap. WRONG! Sadly, that creates an overtired baby. An overtired, overstimulated baby will not nap! Their little brain is on fire and it’s too hard for them to wind down. As The Baby Whisperer says, “sleep begets sleep“. So, try shortening awake times in between sleep periods. At 10 months old, James goes about 3-3.5 hours in between naps, but that is new. For the longest time it was 2 hours, and before that it was 1.5 hours. Play around with awake times and see if you can find your baby’s sweet spot!
I put him in his sleep sack for naps.
James sleeps in a sleep sack at night, so I figured putting him in one for naps would help tell him “it is time to sleep now“. He is 10 months old and we still have him napping in his sleep sack!
Around the 6 month mark, I started to use a revised/very mild cry-it-out method.
As I previously mentioned, I did a lot of research on the CIO method (cry it out) and I didn’t like what I found. No judgement if you use it!!!! It is just not for me. However, once James got a bit older I began to use a revised version that I was much more comfortable with. Around this time, James was going down for a nap just fine but he was not STAYING down for a nap. He would fall asleep just to wake up 20 minutes later. This was HORRIBLE. I didn’t think anything could be more frustrating than teaching him to go down “sleepy but awake”, but this was equally as infuriating. Now I had to figure out how to EXTEND the nap.
Once he would wake up, I would let him cry for about 5 minutes (up to 15 minutes if the cry was not intense) before I would go in and soothe him. Once I soothed him to the point of not crying, I would leave the room immediately. He would cry again. We did this back and forth until he would eventually give up and doze off. Sometimes though, he would NOT give up and doze off. In that case, I would call the nap a wash and give up after an hour of doing this.
I never run into his room immediately upon him waking up.
I always let James chill in his crib for about 20 minutes after he wakes up. At the beginning, he would wake up crying/whining and instead of rushing in, I would wait a few minutes. He would eventually realize he is OKAY and his whining would turn into babbling. I really enjoy those extra 20 minutes to myself too! I promise this isn’t ALL for selfish reasons, lol. It also teaches him that he is okay on his own, his room is a safe place and he doesn’t need me rushing in to rescue him.
You can still live your life, I promise.
If you follow me on Instagram, you see proof that we are CONSTANTLY out and about with James. There are days where he skips a nap completely, or we let him nap in his stroller if we are out walking around a street fest, we take him to the suburbs to see our parents all the time, and so on. I keep things fairly consistent during the week, but on the weekends we live our lives. Don’t get me wrong, at the beginning it IS important to maintain consistency when teaching your baby to nap. And that means sacrificing some weekends and social time. But, once that is instilled in them, you can start bending a bit and they will be just fine. In the big scheme of things, a couple months of hell while nap training is worth the sacrifice in order to get to the point where they will go down for a nap without struggle!
I wish you all the best. I am ALWAYS available to chat about baby sleep, so if you have any questions, comments, or you just need to vent – please comment or email me! You are not alone, and it will not be this hard forever! Godspeed… (didn’t know that was one word until now btw)