Are you wondering how to handle naps on the go? Let’s talk about how to get your baby to sleep anywhere, how to make on-the-go naps safe, and how to adjust your schedule after unexpected naps.
Is it ok for my baby to nap on the go?
Yes. Offering your little one naps on the go is perfectly fine and sometimes even necessary! You may have an older child who has school pick up or drop off. Perhaps you have an appointment in the middle of the day. Or maybe you want to have a fun day out at the zoo with friends. In any of these cases, some of your baby’s naps will need to happen out of the house. Regardless of why naps on the go need to happen, they are simply part of life with a little one.
Of course, naps at home in an “ideal” sleep environment are important too! I recommend using the 80/20 rule for babies 5 months and older: 80% of the time we try to have naps at home in that “best” environment, and 20% of the time we can be flexible with naps on-the-go.
Expert Tip: If your little one is under 5 months, your day is full of naps. Aim for 1-2 naps per day in the crib or bassinet.
How do I get my baby to nap when not at home? How can I help my baby to sleep anywhere?
Some babies seem to fall asleep easily no matter where they are, while others struggle a bit more with sleeping outside of their crib.
Here are some ways you can help your baby to sleep anywhere:
1. Follow age appropriate wake windows.
No matter where your little one is sleeping, following age appropriate wake windows will make sure that their tired tank™ is full, but not overflowing. This will make it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep for a restful nap. If you are hoping to get a nap in the car, plan to leave the house slightly before the end of your baby’s next wake window. Leaving just a bit earlier helps them settle in and be ready for sleep once you get on your way.
2. Do a mini bedtime or nap time routine.
Before you attempt a nap on the go, try to provide an abbreviated version of your nap time routine or bedtime routine. This could be as simple as making sure that your little one is fed, changing them into a fresh diaper, and kissing them goodnight before getting them into their baby wrap, car seat, or stroller. We want them to be comfortable and to cue their brain that it’s time for sleep!
3. Recreate their home sleep environment.
If you’re hoping for a car nap, use a portable sound machine (use code CARA20 for 20% off), block out light from the car window, and consider bringing their pacifier or lovey.
If your little one is napping at a friend or family member’s house or on vacation, be sure to bring a Pack 'n Play or travel crib for safe sleep. You’ll also want to find a dark room if possible. If there’s no naturally dark room, you can use travel blackout curtains (use code Cara for 10% off) or consider something like the SlumberPod (Code CARA$20 saves you $20) to help block out the light. Setting up that similar environment will help minimize distractions and create a familiar cue for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.
4. Stay flexible.
Naps on the go don’t always go as planned. That’s okay. Watch your baby and make adjustments as needed. If your little one falls asleep right before you arrive at Target, consider staying in the car a bit longer while you sip your Diet Coke and scroll Instagram. If the car nap doesn’t happen, see if your little one will sleep in a baby wrap (Code CARA10 saves you 10% off) when you get to your destination. Later in the day, you may need to add in a cat nap, alter your typical routine, or shift bedtime earlier to avoid an overtired baby. Stay flexible and watch your little one’s cues.
Expert Tip: Flexibility is easiest when you start with a good little sleeper. If having a little one who naps easily at home and on the go feels like a dream, I can help. My Conquering Naps class will give you all of the tools that you need to set your days up for success and help your little one get the restorative daytime sleep they need.
5. Keep practicing.
I know it can be tempting to just stay at home if naps on the go don’t come easily for your baby. But, in this case, practice truly does create progress. Keep trying, and see what works for your baby. I don’t want you to have a great little sleeper only to be stuck in your house all day. I want you to have a great little sleeper so that your whole family can truly thrive.
Where should a baby nap on the go?
Naps on the go can be in the car, the stroller, a wearable baby carrier, or even in someone’s arms. Some babies have strong preferences about where they sleep outside of the home, so do what works best for your family.
Safety Tip: Regardless of how your little one is sleeping on the go, their safety is always our priority. Please be sure to follow appropriate safety guidelines if your baby is in the car or you’re babywearing. If your baby is sleeping somewhere else (like the stroller, in your arms, or in a shopping cart), it’s important that you can see them at all times.
Are car naps ok for babies?
Yes. Car naps can be a necessary part of life with a baby. Here are a few things to keep in mind for car naps:
It’s only safe for a baby to sleep in the car if they’re buckled securely, and the car seat is appropriately installed.
Once you reach your final destination, your baby needs to come out of the car seat and into a safe sleeping space.
An adult should always be in the car when the baby is sleeping.
Expert Tip: When you’re out shopping or on a walk, if your eyes are on your baby and they remain safely buckled, it’s okay for them to sleep in the car seat. But once you arrive home or to your destination, always take your baby out of the car seat.
How do I adjust my baby’s sleep after a car nap?
Sometimes car naps are planned, and other times your little one might doze off unexpectedly. This is how you can adjust your schedule based on a car nap:
If the car nap is 30 minutes or less, wake your baby when you stop the car. Add some time to the current wake window (10-45 minutes depending on your little one’s age and their sleepy cues).
If the car nap is 30 minutes or longer, this will count as their full nap, and that’s okay! (Feel free to extend this nap if you can by treating yourself to the Starbucks drive thru, taking the long way home, or scrolling social media in the parking lot.) After your little one wakes, offer a full wake window before the next nap or bedtime.
Here are some examples of what this may look like in your day:
What should I do if we’re out of the house and my baby falls asleep before bedtime?
If your baby falling asleep on the way home is something you anticipate, simply plan ahead! Bring your little one’s pajamas and night diaper; get them changed prior to getting into the car seat. Once you arrive home, you can simply transfer them to their crib for the night. If they awaken, try an abbreviated version of your bedtime routine before laying them down into the crib.
But imagine this…you’re on your way home from dinner with family, and you look back to see your little one unexpectedly sound asleep in the backseat.
Don’t panic! If you get home and it's time for bed, try an abbreviated bedtime routine before transferring your little one to the crib. If they still have time in their wake window before bedtime, follow the 30 minute rule above and consider adding a few extra minutes to the wake window if needed. Bedtime might be a little later than normal that night, and that's ok. A flexible routine lets you live your life and have a great little sleeper too.
If sleep is a struggle even when you’re at home, I have a class for you! The 5–24 Month Collection is a fully-customizable and holistic approach to sleep training. I’ll guide you through a step-by-step plan to remain emotionally connected to your baby while helping them achieve 10-12 hour nights and solid naps. I’ll also give you practical guidance for regressions, transitions, and other bumps along the way.