Did you know that your baby can develop habits at lightning-fast speeds? It’s true; even though she cannot walk or talk yet, she can develop a deeply-rooted habit very, very quickly. This explains why, after just a few days of rocking your baby to sleep, she will come to expect to be rocked. And this is why many babies quickly come to need a pacifier to calm down, even if they have only used the pacifier for a week or two.
Babies can be especially prone to develop bad naptime habits. Why? Because that is when we parents are up and about, and are likely to jump in and “help” (by rocking, offering a pacifier, using the swing, etc.) if baby is fighting sleep. And, let’s be honest, most of us would do just about anything to help our babies take long, restful naps, because that translates into down-time for us!
So, what does this fact mean for us as parents? Two things: first, do not feel bad if your baby develops a bad sleeping habit. Sometimes, during our babies’ illnesses or bouts of teething, we have to help them fall asleep occasionally. And newborns often need to be ‘parented’ to sleep. This is understandable, and if our babies develop a sleep association as a result, it is not because we did anything wrong.
Second, this fact is a good reminder to all of us to watch for bad sleeping habits that our babies may be developing, and to take action to correct those habits when we feel it’s necessary.
So, what kinds of bad napping habits should you be on the lookout for? And how can you correct them? Let’s take a look.
5 Bad Napping Habits Your Baby May Develop
- Napping in the Swing. This is an easy one to fall into – believe me, I know from experience! My kids always napped so well in the swing, and while I didn’t usually put them in the swing to sleep at night (that’s not always safe), I would put them in the swing for naps, if they were having a hard time settling down. While it helped ensure that they took long, restorative naps (and gave me time to rest myself!), both of my boys got into the habit of needing the swing to nap, and I eventually had to work on breaking that habit.
- Napping on You. If your baby always needs to lie in your arms for naps, or perhaps ride in the baby carrier at naptime, this could become a napping habit. There is nothing wrong with your baby snuggling up to you at nap time, of course (just as there os nothing wrong with rocking or nursing your baby to sleep!), but it may eventually begin to wear you out, since you will need to put “work” into helping your baby sleep. I had a friend whose baby would not nap well unless he was in his mom’s arms. My friend told me that this was fine, at first (she loved it during the newborn stage), but after a few months, she was ready for her son to learn to nap on his own!
- Napping on the Go. If you have a busy schedule, or if you have older kids who keep you running around from one activity to another, your baby may get into the habit of taking naps on the go (in the car, in the stroller, etc.) While it’s fine for naps to occasionally happen on the go, this should not become a regular thing. For starters, your baby may come to depend on the motion of the car or the stroller to fall asleep. What’s more, moving naps are not as restorative as naps that happen on a still, flat surface (like the crib), meaning that if your baby regularly takes moving naps, his sleep deficit will grow quickly, to the point where he may become overtired.
- Napping Without a Schedule. During the newborn stage, there is no such thing as a by-the-clock schedule. After the first few months, however, predictable patterns may begin go emerge in your baby’s sleep. By about 6 months, your baby will probably be ready for a clock-oriented daytime schedule. It does not have to be a rigid nap schedule, of course, but you should have some general timeframes during which your baby sleeps. However, if your older baby still does not have predictable naptimes, and is napping erratically at random times throughout the day, it’s likely that she’s not getting enough sleep. And all that erratic napping could interfere with nighttime sleep. So it’s best if you implement a daytime schedule to help your baby eat and nap at predictable times.
- Napping Too Much. I know what you’re thinking: “I would do anything to have that problem!” But truly, some parents are faced with a situation in which their baby sleeps for long periods during the day, but then wakes frequently at night. This is especially true during the newborn stage; a baby who has his days and nights mixed up will sleep too much during the day and not enough at night. But older babies can do this, too; a baby who consistently does not get enough sleep at night may take long naps during the day, which causes her to sleep less at night, which causes longer daytime naps…you get the idea.
“One of the more common sleep problems we address in a Personalized Sleep Plan is how to help baby nap in the crib or pack-n-play, instead of a caretaker’s arms. We’ve even had 18+ month olds still napping in arms. While it’s wonderful to cuddle your baby, keep in mind your baby will take naps over 2,500 times before she’s 4 years old! That’s a lot of holding, which would be wonderful if there wasn’t laundry, vacuuming, showering, or eating to do. Some new moms hardly feel like they have time to shower or eat, and the stress mounts. Sometimes having ‘you’ time can be enough to recharge and it’s important.”
Is your baby developing any of these bad napping habits? How are you working to correct them?
Is your baby forming bad napping habits? Want to solve those problems, but don’t know how? Take a look at our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes and/or check out Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-to” of good baby sleep. With over 40 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (for babies) or The 5 Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (for toddlers). Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night. Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations. Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a sleep plan; sometimes you’re just close to the situation or too tired to!