It's no surprise that newborn babies are very sleepy. What you may not realize is that sleeping 16 - 18 hours per day initially is completely normal. Trying to get your baby to nap during those first several weeks isn't necessary because eating and sleeping will consume most of her life. But once your child is more alert during their waking hours and can sleep for longer stretches, you'll know it's time for more formal naps.
So, how do I get my baby to nap? Once you've decided it's time for your baby to start taking formal naps, you'll want to establish a routine that you use for every single nap. Doing so will give your baby the best possible chance at going down easily for a nap and getting the quality and quantity of sleep they need.
Before you establish what that nap routine will look like for your baby, you'll first want to know that your baby is ready.
Knowing if Your Baby is Ready for Naps
As your baby nears the 6-week mark (give or take), they will become more alert during their waking hours. It will become more obvious when they are sleepy and need to go down for a nap. Whereas before your baby may have easily fallen asleep in your arms, you might now be noticing signs that your baby is ready to fall asleep on their own.
If your baby is sleeping for around 4-hour stretches at night, she's most likely ready to take on real naps during the day. Don't worry about a rigid nap schedule just yet - that will come a little later. However, this will be a good time to set the precedent for how napping will continue as your baby matures.
Newborns up to 6 weeks: Your baby will sleep 16- 20 hours per day, waking every so often to eat. There is no need for formal nap times.
6 - 12 weeks: Around this age, babies will push their sleep time to a 4 to 5-hour stretches at night. They are most likely ready for naps.
3 to 6 months: By now, most babies are capable of sleeping for several hours at a time during the night. Naps should occur the same times each day.
6 to 12 months: Your baby will start to move to a full night of sustained sleep per night. Eventually, your baby will take one morning and one afternoon nap each day.
Giving your baby and yourself a "grace period" those first 6-8 weeks of their life will take a lot of stress off both of you. But when your baby starts to have clear wake times and it's easy to notice signs of drowsiness, it's time to start your nap routine.
Establish a Nap Time Routine
Establishing a clear routine for your baby's naptime early on will set the foundation for your baby as they get older. How your baby goes down for a nap, even as they grow, should be tweaked very little.
The three tricks to making nap time something you both look forward to instead of something that causes you stress are:
- Begin winding your baby down when he shows signs of sleepiness.
- Prepare your baby for sleeping and make him comfortable.
- Stay consistent.
Getting your baby down while they are drowsy, yet still awake, isn't always easy when they are still very young. By now, however, you're probably noticing how long they are able to stay awake depending on the time of day. Be sure to pay close attention to the cues your baby will be giving you. Eye rubbing, yawning, and sudden fussiness are all signals to get your baby to their designated sleeping spot and start her nap time routine.
Have Wind Down Time
Just as you as an adult like to relax first before fully committing to sleep, so does your baby. Start by bringing your baby to their room and doing something quiet. As a young baby, this may be as simple as laying them down on the carpet and talking to them softly. As they get older, this can include a few more minutes of quiet play and reading a book.
Be Sure Their Needs Have Been Met
Your baby isn't going to go to sleep if they need to be changed or are hungry. By 6 weeks of age, your baby will do best following an eat-wake-sleep cycle, so hopefully, their tummy is full, they've had enough time to be awake and/or play, and now they're ready to sleep. A fresh diaper for nap time will probably be necessary.
Create the Mood
Once your baby has been changed, it's time to set up a comfortable environment where your baby will sleep. Turn the lights down, and draw the curtains. You may want to turn on very soft white noise. These changes will signal to your baby that wake time is over and it's time to transition to sleep. Even though your 2-4-month-old baby may not be completely aware of these changes, keeping everything consistent from those very first naps will be helpful in the long run.
Swaddle or Sleep Sack
It's likely you have been swaddling your baby from the very first day they arrived. Most babies are comforted by a swaddle since it mirrors their 9 months spent in the womb. Not only that, but it keeps babies' arms tucked in close to their body so they won't be startled by their Moro reflex. Your baby likely enjoys their swaddle, and it will also help them fall asleep more easily and sleep longer.
Swaddling is amazing for your baby, but you can't do it forever. Once your baby can roll, it will no longer be safe for your baby to stay swaddled as we discuss here. But keeping them in a sleep sack will continue the coziness they are used to having. The Dream Sleep Sack is the perfect solution to go from swaddled to unswaddled sleep since this weighted sleep sack has detachable wings.
Sing and Snuggle in Your Favorite Spot
This will be one of your most treasured experiences as a parent. These are moments of closeness you will look forward to having with your baby every single day. The best part is that you get to decide what this will look like. Cozy up with your baby in a rocking chair and sing her your favorite lullabies. There is nothing like those sleepy little eyes staring up at you.
Lay Down Awake, But Sleepy
As you rock and sing your baby to sleep, those first signs of sleepiness have now led to a baby who is ready to sleep. You've created a dim and quiet environment that cues your baby that it's nap time. Calmly walk your baby to her crib, and lay her down on her back. You can take a few more moments to reassure your baby with your touch and presence. The Dream Sleep Sack gives added comfort when it's time to walk away.
Fussing During the Nap Transition
It is normal to worry that your baby might cry during this new napping transition. Up until now, a lot of baby's sleep has happened while being held or while close to you.
Teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own isn't without challenges. But it's important to give them space to settle in on their own. Just as you would for nighttime sleep, you can go in to comfort your baby every few minutes. Continue to stretch the time a little longer for each nap, until the point they are able to fall asleep independently without crying. Staying consistent with your routine is the best way to help your baby get the quality nap sleep they need.