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Naps on the Go: How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Anywhere

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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Baby napping while mom is babywearing outside during a walk

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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.

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I want you to have a great little sleeper so that you can have the confidence and flexibility to thrive! If you need more than a few quick tips, know that all of my classes will help you work towards great— and flexible— sleep!

Is it ok for my baby to nap on the go?anchor

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! 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. If you have a baby 5 months or older, I recommend using the 80/20 rule: 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. Let me show you how this might look:

My goal in helping you to have a great little sleeper is not to hand you a rigid lifestyle that has you locked at home all day, every day. Instead, I want to give you the tools to establish good sleep so that you can flex and truly thrive. My classes will teach you to do just that.

How do I get my baby to nap when not at home? How can I help my baby to sleep anywhere?anchor

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.anchor

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. anchor

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.anchor

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.anchor

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.anchor

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?anchor

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. 

What are the benefits of babywearing for naps on the go? anchor

Babywearing allows you to keep your baby close when you’re on the go. 

Here are times when babywearing can be especially helpful: ⁣

  • When your older children want to play at the park, but you need to sneak in a nap for your baby.⁣

  • If your baby needs to nap while you’re in the airport. 

  • During activities outside of the house, when your baby doesn’t love the stroller. 

  • When you just need to get out of the house and take a walk for some fresh air.⁣

  • If you want to run errands without bringing the car seat or stroller.

  • When you want to be out and about and simply want to have your baby close. ⁣

How can I be sure I am babywearing safely for naps? anchor

For safe babywearing, you’ll need to remain awake (even if your baby is sleeping) and remember 5 letters: T.I.C.K.S. (TICKS)!

T: Tight. Does your baby feel snug and secure?

I: In view at all times. Can you always see that sweet little face? Please make sure nothing is covering your baby’s face, like fabric or straps. 

C: Close enough to kiss. Can you bend your head down and kiss the top of your baby’s head?

K: Keep chin off chest. Can you fit your finger under your baby’s chin? This ensures that little airway is open.

S: Supported back. Is your baby’s back straight and in a natural position (without slumping)? Can you gently bend your baby’s legs up to make an “M” shape?

For safe babywearing remember TICKS: Tight, In view at all times, Close enough to kiss, Keep chin off chest, and Supported back.

See it in action here:

Important Note: When using a wrap, sling, carrier, or any other product labeled for babywearing, always follow the manufacturer’s and safety guidelines.

Are car naps ok for babies?anchor

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? anchor

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:

  • Adjusting Newborn Schedule After Car Nap: Otto is 6 weeks old. He wakes and eats at 10am. Mom runs some errands, and Otto falls asleep in the car from 10:30 to 10:40am. Otto typically has a 60 minute wake window, so Mom was planning on him taking a nap at 11am. But since he had that snooze, Mom is going to add 15-20 minutes to the wake window. Mom lays Otto down for nap at 11:15am and he sleeps for 40 minutes. He usually sleeps longer but it's okay! We're going to move forward with the next wake window.
  • Adjusting Baby Schedule After Car Nap: 6 month old Stella falls asleep in the car at 8AM. Nap time is supposed to be at 8:30am today, but Mom has some errands to run, so we let Stella sleep a little longer. Mom drops off some boxes to Goodwill, grabs a Diet Coke and takes the long way home. Stella ends up sleeping from 8 to 8:35am. Because that nap was over 30 minutes, we'll count this as Stella's first nap of the day and give a full wake window before nap 2 in about 2.25-2.5 hours.

My baby won’t nap in the stroller anymore, what can I do?anchor

If you know that your baby just won’t nap in the stroller, consider where they WILL nap.

  • Do you need to plan to bring a Pack n’ Play to your friend’s house? Try a mini naptime routine to provide a familiar cue for sleep.

  • Would they nap while you're babywearing? This can work well even for some older toddlers!

  • Do you need to aim for a nap at home to accommodate your plans? Try shifting nap a little earlier or later that day but know that the nap length might be different for that day.

  • Will they nap in the car? If so, consider leaving a little earlier that day.

Sometimes we need to get creative to find the best solution for naps on the go!

How do I handle naps on the go if my baby is on one nap?anchor

With one nap, consider whether it would work better to shift that nap a little earlier or later for that one day in order to allow for the nap at home.

  • If napping at home isn't a good option for the day, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • That one nap may be much shorter on the go than a nap at home. Your little one might only sleep 45 minutes instead of their typical 2-3 hours. If the nap is short, you may need to move bedtime earlier that night.

  • You can’t force the nap to happen. Do your best to set the environment for sleep and see what happens. If your little one doesn’t sleep, move bedtime earlier that day.

  • Remember the 80/20 rule. When your little one is on one nap, you might do a nap on the go once a week and the rest of the naps can be in their typical nap environment. Keeping this balance allows you to have a rested little one and live life without feeling trapped at home for naps.

What should I do if we’re out of the house and my baby falls asleep before bedtime? anchor

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.

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

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