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 is 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 to 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.”
For even more nap and schedule help, check out these Members-only resources, found in our VIP Members Area:
- Mastering Naps and Schedules e-Book (unlimited VIP member access at no extra cost!)
- Custom Schedule-Maker (unlimited access – make as many schedules as you’d like! Includes meal times)
- Nap Transitions audio course with Nicole Johnson
- Short Naps audio course with Nicole Johnson
- How To Put Your Child on a Schedule audio course with Nicole Johnson
- 5 Tips To Manage Nap Transitions [EXPANDED VIP MEMBER-ONLY VERSION]
- 5 Tips For Handling Tough Daycare Nap Schedules [EXPANDED VIP MEMBER-ONLY VERSION]
- Day-by-Day Nap Training Plan
- Downloadable Sleep/Nap Coaching Plan Workbook (learn how to create your own nap coaching plan!)
- Printable Sample Schedule Shifts Forward (great for daylight saving’s time change)
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How To Avoid Bad Baby Nap Habits, and Help Your Baby Nap Better
Short or non-existent baby naps can be so frustrating – but you don’t have to suffer through them! We have a ton of nap resources – and one of those nap resources is our free guide, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. Are you making any of these common nap mistakes? If so, they may be the cause of your baby’s non-napping. So download your free guide today, and start putting the tips to use as early as your baby’s next nap!
27 thoughts on “5 Bad Nap Habits Your Baby May Develop”
I read over the info you sent and wondering what to do, if he falls asleep in arms and as soon as he is trabsferref to his bed, wakes up and starts crying. What’s the best thing to do: leave him there indefinitely, or pick him back up (and goes back to sleep in arms)? Caretakers endd up picking him back up and he falls back to sleep and I have not been able to break this bad habit
@Ali Changing sleep habits and establishing sleep habits can be challenging and so worth it! Choosing how you sleep train is a personal choice. You may be interested in learning about different strategies and then giving one a try. Choosing one that all caretakers can be on board with would be helpful. Our DIY resources could prove helpful to you. You can learn more about those here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/diy/ . Hang in there and good luck!
I have a 10month okd that ONLY naps when held in someone’s arms and now that I am back to work, this has continued with the caretakers and no one has been able to break it! He can be aoubd asleep in someones’s arms but once he is laid in his bed, he cries bloody murder for a long time until someone rescues him. We have tried laying next to him on his crib, put lullabies music, stroke his back and “laying awake” has never worked. He is just very upset as soon as he gets near his crib.
No idea what else to do!!!
Hi @Ali, thank you for writing to us! I am sorry you are struggling with your son’s naps! It sounds like he has some sleep associations and will need help breaking them. Here is a link about sleep associations to explain his dependency on you (and the caretakers) further: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-association/
And here is a link to an article series that takes you through several different sleep training techniques you can try for his naps: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/
If you need more help you may find our ebook Mastering Naps & Schedules is a good fit for you. You can purchase with different add-on options and read more about it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/
Thank you for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource for sleep!
My son is about 15 months now, but I’m still putting him in his swing for naps (he is obviously big for it, but is still comfortable). Our problem is this, we moved in with my dad while moving between states, so we only have two rooms to work with. Our days inside are mostly spent in my room where his pack n play is set up, so for naps he’s in my daughter’s room in his swing. I’d like to get him use to napping in his pack n play but I can’t put him(and his pnp) in her room because they sleep different schedules, and putting him down for naps in my room cuts us off from getting work done and entertainment. December is the end date for his swing, as I start working outside the house. I guess I’m just looking for tips and an idea of how much trouble I’m in for.
@ Kathleen – how long until your move is complete? Normally, we’d recommend waiting to sleep coach until you’re are in the home in which you’ll be long-term; it’s usually best not to work on sleep training when you’re in a “temporary” circumstance like the one you describe. But will it work for you to wait until you’re moved?
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