Infant Napping: Everything You Need to Know

By Jamell Andrews Everyone knows that babies spend a great deal of time napping, but many new parents are surprised by just how much of their time and energy will be devoted to fostering the baby’s naps. Getting a baby to nap regularly and on a set schedule is an immensely appealing idea to new parents who want a little predictability in their lives. But unfortunately, given that newborns’ sleep patterns tend to be unpredictable and may stay that way for several months, it is important to accept that it may be quite a while before your baby has set nap times. Reasons napping is important In any case, napping is certainly something that parents should take seriously, for several reasons.
  • Better mood: Babies who nap on regular schedules in addition to sleeping well at night tend to be less grouchy. As a result, they eat better, grow better, learn better, and are less draining for their parents. Every baby has fussy spells, but those who get plenty of sleep tend to have fewer.
  • Better nighttime sleep: Somewhat counter intuitively, napping during the day actually helps babies sleep better at night. A baby who is well rested during the day is liable to be less fussy in the evening hours leading up to bedtime, and this calm feeling makes it easier to establish a bedtime routine.
  • Better growth: Babies undergo much of their physical and mental growth during sleep.
  • Happier parents: The more the baby naps, the more time the parents have to rest, recover, work, and enjoy life.
For all these reasons, parents should do everything they can to make sure their babies sleep well. Many parents have mixed feelings about it,  though. They feel guilty about always trying to get the baby to go to sleep. They may worry that they are being selfish or not spending enough time cuddling the baby. But there is no reason to dwell on these feelings. It is a medical fact that babies who sleep well grow better and are healthier, so it is actually good parenting to encourage your child to sleep as much as possible. And yes, when your baby gets plenty of sleep, it is also easier on you in that it gives you time to rest and do non-baby-related things. Savoring this time does not make one a bad parent. Sleep needs during the first year Newborns typically sleep anywhere from 15 to 21 hours a day, and this gradually drops throughout the first year. By the year mark, an average baby will sleep ten to 12 hours at night-usually with an interruption for feeding in the middle-plus two or three naps during the day totaling up to five hours. But the trajectory is not always smooth. Some babies are inconsistent sleepers at first only to become more stable, longer sleepers at the two- or three-month mark. Others have trouble finding a pattern for six months or more. On the other hand, some easily overcome the newborn inconsistency and quickly get into a regular routine during the first couple months of life. Every baby is different, and you cannot know how yours will be until the time comes. What every infant has in common, though, is the need to sleep as much as possible. Naptime routines After a month or two, you should begin to get a feel for your child’s signs of sleepiness. Some babies simply get cranky when it is time to sleep. In this case, it is usually necessary to soothe the baby until she begins to get sleepy. After that, some babies need to be held until they get into a deep sleep, while others can be put down almost right away. Experiment with your baby to see what works. Many newborns and young infants wake up on their own when it is time to feed, but you might also want to keep an eye on the clock to make sure the child does not go more than three or four hours without a meal. This rule can be relaxed after a couple of months when the baby begins to sleep longer hours at night. During the day, though, try to set a feeding and napping schedule that you can stick to every day. For the first six months or so, it is important to respond to a napping baby whenever he wakes up and begins to cry. You do not have to respond to every sound-some babies make short wails or coo to themselves in their sleep-but when your baby is obviously awake and upset about something, pick him up and try to find out what is wrong. After the feeding or diaper change, he may be ready to go back to sleep. Past six months of age, you can be a little more relaxed about this, especially if your baby seems good at getting himself to sleep. Of course, parents should follow all safety precautions when putting their babies to bed to nap. Lower risk of SIDS by making sure your baby sleeps on her back and is not within reach of fluffy pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. Some of the safety guidelines can be relaxed when you are personally supervising your baby. For example, many babies love to sleep on their bellies on their mother’s chests. But in general, when it comes to safety, treat naptime with all the precautions you use for night time sleep.