My baby won't nap - ask Dr Sears

A baby that refuses to nap in the daytime is stressful for exhausted parents who are desperate for some quiet time. What does Dr Sears advise?

Q My seven-month-old fights naptime every day, even though I know he must be tired. The thing is, he sleeps perfectly well at night. I know babies his age require naps, so what could be the reason behind his refusal to sleep during the day?

A I've often seen sleep problems like this occur. A baby will sleep well throughout the night, but can't (or won't) nap during the day. Or, if Mum tries to encourage napping during the day, the baby wakes up more at night. Most parents would just as soon sacrifice their child's daytime nap in return for a full, uninterrupted night's sleep, but napping is beneficial for growing brains. During their daily nap, babies enjoy mostly REM sleep, the type of sleep that encourages brain relaxation.

Napping also reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is why naps are the ideal cure for crankiness. In fact, the average six to nine-month-old baby needs two naps per day, or a total daily naptime of around three hours. (This does vary from baby to baby.) You mentioned that your baby seems to be tired during the day, so here's how to entice your reluctant napper to enjoy a daily doze:

Watch for baby's need-to-nap signals

Keep a daily nap log, and record when any tired signals (yawning, change of behaviour from active to quiet, crankiness, drooping eyelids) occur. As soon as you see these signs appear, put your baby down for a nap. If you miss this window of opportunity, he's likely to catch a second wind and be more reluctant to nap. If you note one or two consistent times that these need-to-nap signals occur, try to develop and stick to a nap schedule. Babies are creatures of habit — if you can get him into a daily nap routine that he expects, eventually he will willingly look forward to naps without a struggle.

Nap with your baby. Create a napping environment that will entice your baby into Dreamland. Pick two times of the day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — that you are the most tired, and snuggle down with your baby. If breastfeeding, try nap-nursing. The relaxing hormones that breastfeeding mums release during nursing will send you to sleep, too! I advise nap-nursing for all new mothers, since it actually forces you to take a nap instead of using that time for housework or other tiring tasks. If you bottle-feed, enjoy the closeness by settling down in a rocking chair and as he drifts off to sleep, put him down for a nap.

Wear baby to nap. Here is another Sears' family favourite that's sure to induce naps: As soon as you see your baby's need-to-nap signals, put him in a sling carrier and wear your baby around the house for a few minutes to let him drift off to sleep. The motion of walking, along with the closeness, will help him nod off quickly. If he wakes up as soon as you try to lay him down, try napping on the move. Take a long walk while baby naps peacefully in the sling — you can even work this into your exercise routine.

Nap on the move. Some babies like falling asleep in a car seat to the hum of the engine, or in a jogging buggy. Try putting yours in his car seat and driving until baby falls asleep and then return home to finish the nap. Or, take a 45-minute run with baby in a jogging buggy, if you have one.

Related links

Sleep Separation Technique: As seen on the show, ‘Sleep Separation’ helps your child to get to sleep by herself, so you can get some proper rest.

TV clips...The sleep separation technique: Bedtime was the most stressful part of the day for Ryland’s parents, as he screamed and cried for hours, refusing to sleep in his crib. Creating a relaxing bedtime routine, then having Mum move gradually further from the cot meant he was able to sleep by himself for the first time… eventually.

Getting toddlers to stay in bed: The Stay in Bed Technique is a method used in the Supernanny show to help families get an uninterrupted evening and a good night's sleep.

Bedtime Routine: A consistent bedtime routine should be the cornerstone of your Family Routine. Your child’s development will benefit from a daily eleven to twelve hours of sleep, and it’s vital for your relationship that you and your partner have time to yourselves, too.

Sleep problems: when controlled crying doesn't work: It sounds simple, but why is controlled crying so challenging to put into practice? Experts from the Millpond Sleep Clinic answer your questions.

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