Think about what it's like being a baby -- your body and your mind are developing at a dizzying pace, and every day brings lots of new things to see, hear, and stick into your mouth. So getting enough rest is crucial. Naps provide much-needed recharging (not to mention a break for Mom and Dad). They're important for development too -- babies do much of their growing while they snooze. But how many naps should your baby take, and when and how do you convince him to sleep in the first place? We've got answers to your most common questions.
Don't worry about a schedule for the first couple of months. During that time, your baby's daytime sleep is utterly unpredictable, coming at random intervals and lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. (Newborns typically sleep 15 to 16 hours per day.) But at around 3 months, most babies start to develop a more predictable cycle of sleepiness and wakefulness. Setting a more-or-less regular regimen of naptimes keyed to this rhythm will help your baby get the rest he needs. "You have to take into account his temperament, how active he is, and your family's lifestyle," says Judy Owens,M.D., a Parents advisor and director of the pediatric sleep-disorders clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital, in Providence.
Yes, but keep the process short. Reading her the same book or singing the same lullaby you do at bedtime should be enough to help her get to sleep. "The more steps your baby associates with bedtime, the more she'll need to fall asleep," says Dr. Owens. "You should put her in bed drowsy but awake. Let her fuss and cry a bit -- reassuring her too much will just prolong the process. The point is to teach your infant to soothe herself."
Is she frequently out for walks at naptime? If so, that could be contributing to the problem. Occasionally sleeping in the stroller isn't a big deal, but if it becomes a habit that comes at the expense of naps in a crib, you need to break it. Try to keep her out of the stroller when she's tired, and instead put her down in the crib. Create an environment conducive to sleep by darkening the room and doing that mini version of your bedtime routine. She may protest at first, but she'll soon adapt.
"It's an old wives' tale that naps need to last an hour to count," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night. "Many babies nap for only 30 or 45 minutes, and that's all they need." And don't worry about his sleeping too much, either. Snoozing for as long as two hours at a stretch is fine. "The key is not how much he sleeps," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. "It's more important to look at your child's behavior around 4 or 5 p.m. If he's calm, sweet, and easygoing, everything's okay. If he's not, you probably need to adjust something in his sleep schedule."
Sleep patterns often fall apart two or three weeks before a developmental leap such as crawling or starting to speak, perhaps because of all the changes buzzing through your baby's brain. Teething pain can also disrupt the rhythm. Either way, the most important thing is to stay consistent. Whatever you used to do that got him to nap, keep doing it. "Don't try to 'solve' the problem by changing your routine every day," cautions Dr. Mindell. "Time will resolve it."
Want your newborn to sleep longer, whether it's nighttime or naptime? Wrap her up like a baby burrito in a swaddling blanket. Swaddling keeps babies from startling themselves awake with their jerky, involuntary movements. Experts speculate it also helps babies relax by providing a cozy feeling, reassuringly reminiscent of the womb. There are a number of custom-made swaddles on the market, many outfitted with Velcro strips and other easy fastening devices, but any light blanket or cloth will do the trick.
Scrap the swaddle when your baby is around 3 months old. By that point, she'll be more active and in control of her limbs, and being wrapped up tightly is more likely to annoy her.
Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Parents magazine.