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Short Naps and Newborns

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Cara Dumaplin

newborn on Dad's shoulder covering face with hand after a short nap

“I have been doing everything I can do to get my new baby on a set daytime schedule. It’s just not working. I feel like a failure." - so many new moms who contact us about short naps and newborns.

Mama- Please let me tell you this: you are not a failure, and you are not alone. Your sweet little one is a baby NOT a clock. Very few people experience a “perfect newborn daytime schedule.”

Occasionally, I’ll meet a family who has a newborn taking four beautiful two-hour naps each and every day.

That “perfect day” would look like this:

 

Time Activity
7:00 am Awake & Eat
7:30 am Play
8:00–10:00 am Nap (2 hours)
10:00 am Eat
10:30 am Play
11:00–1:00 pm Nap (2 hours)
1:00 pm Eat
1:30 pm Play
2:00–4:00 pm Nap (2 hours)
4:00 pm Eat
4:30 pm Play
5:00–7:00 pm Nap (2 hours)
7:00 pm Eat
7:30 pm Play
8:00 pm Bedtime
10:00 pm Dream feed

 

Did you notice that each and every nap in the above schedule was exactly two hours long? This is unrealistic for most newborns; developmentally, babies typically BEGIN to have more consistent and consolidated naps at about 5 months of age.

Did you know that 20-120 minute naps are NORMAL and DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for newborns? Yes, this is absolutely normal! Those short naps (that you despise) are incredibly common in the first few months of your baby’s life. I know, I know…it really wreaks havoc on that perfect eat/play/sleep routine that all the books seem to be bragging about.

So, what in the world are parents supposed to do in the meantime? Well, all those “secrets” are available when you take my newborn class, but here’s a hint: nighttime sleep is typically conquered prior to daytime sleep. So…work on your baby putting himself to sleep at bedtime and consolidating nighttime sleep first. If you took the newborn sleep class, please revisit tips 5 and 7. You’ll be amazed to see these babies fall asleep on their own in a bassinet with no crying involved. These tips will also help you get longer stretches of night sleep.

During the day, keep practicing the eat/play/sleep method and attempt a nap after 60-90 minutes of awake time.  Be sure to offer feedings every 2-3 hours according to his hunger cues. This will pay off in the long run, but don’t allow imperfect naps to cause you any stress.

Remember: Always offer naps, but it’s your baby’s job to take them. (Did you catch that? You OFFER naps, but it’s your baby’s job to TAKE the nap. You cannot force an infant to fall asleep or stick to a perfect schedule.)

Let’s take a look at how this could play out:

Time Activity
6:30 am Awake & Eat
7:00 am Play
7:30–8:15 am Nap (45 mins in bassinet)
8:15 am Awake & Play
9:00 am Eat
9:15 am Change Diaper and Swaddle (See how we added a tiny activity break up eating and sleeping?)
9:20–11:10 am Nap (110 mins in bassinet - Unexpected gloriously-long nap. Mom got to enjoy a hot shower AND a nap of her own!)
11:10 am Eat
12:15–12:35 pm SHORT NAP (20 mins- Mom tried for 15 minutes to get him back to sleep. It wasn't happening.)
12:35 pm Play
1:40 pm Eat
1:50–3:00 pm Nap (70 mins- Fell asleep on mama while eating because he had been up since 12:35 pm. That's okay! NO GUILT! Mom can enjoy those baby snuggles!)
3:00 pm Play
4:00 pm Eat
4:15 pm Change Diaper and Swaddle (He fell asleep while Mom was swaddling him. That's okay!)
4:20–5:20 pm Nap (60 minutes)
5:20 pm Eat (Cluster Feed: Notice, it has been less than 2 hours since the last feeding, but he showed hunger cues. Cluster feedings are common this time of evening.)
6:00 pm Play
6:15–6:45 pm Nap (30 minutes- Fell asleep in bouncy seat)
6:45–7:20 pm Play
7:20 pm Eat
7:35 pm Bath, Jammies, Sing, Swaddle
7:55 pm Bedtime
10:00 pm Dream Feed

 

(Read all about the “Dream Feed” here.)

Did you see how that schedule was perfectly imperfect?

Mom was making sure that feedings were offered every 2-3 hours according to the baby’s hunger cues, and she did her best to break up eating and sleeping. She offered naps. Sometimes they were long. Sometimes they were short.

Did you also notice that there were times when she picked up the baby and attempted to stretch that nap longer by snuggling, rocking, or baby-wearing?

Feel free to try this! It will not create a “bad habit!” Try for up to 15 minutes to get him back to sleep. If he does, great. If not, it’s okay for nap time to be over.

Here is another sample. Notice that this mom is using the same principles: offer feedings every 2-3 hours according to hunger cues, break up eating and sleeping when possible, and offer a nap after 60-90 minutes of awake time.

 

Time Activity
6:15 am Awake & Eat
6:45 am Play
7:30–8:15 am Nap (60 minutes- Baby put herself to sleep in the crib. Awoke after 15 minutes, mom replaces pacifier and rocks baby back to sleep.)
8:15 am Awake & Play
9:15 am Eat
9:35–11:00 am Nap (85 minutes- Baby falls asleep on mom. Notice it's been 80 minutes that baby has been awake. She swaddles her, and baby is still sound asleep. No guilt. Later we'll try to break up the eat/sleep. Mom holds baby for 25 minutes then lays her down in crib. Mom jumps in the shower.)
11:00 am Awake & Play
11:30 am Eat (Mom feeds baby early as she has plans to meet a friend for lunch. Baby not showing big-time hunger cues but still eats well.)
12:00–12:15 pm Nap (15 minutes- Darn! A really short nap. Baby falls asleep in car seat and wakes up when taken out of the car.)
12:15–1:15 pm Play (held at restaurant by friend)
1:15–2:30 pm Nap (75 mins- Baby fell asleep in car seat. Mom went for a quick Target trip as she had 2 items on her list. Left with 14 items. Baby slept the entire time.)
2:30 pm Eat
3:00 pm Play
3:45–4:30 pm Nap (45 minutes- Baby put herself to sleep in the crib! Watch the newborn class to learn how.)
4:30 pm Eat (Baby showing true hunger cues and desiring a cluster feeding.)
5:00 pm Nap (50 minutes- Baby naps for 10 minutes in crib. Mom baby wears to extend nap.)
5:50–6:40 pm Play
6:40 pm Eat (Baby is a bit fussy and desiring cluster feeding.)
7:15 pm Play
7:40–8:15 pm Nap (35 minutes- Daddy wears baby in a wrap, and baby dozes while parents are cleaning up kitchen from dinner.)
8:15 pm Awake & Play
8:45 pm Bedtime Routine: Bath, diaper, jammies
9:00 pm Eat
9:30 pm Swaddled and put down for the night. (Parents decided no dream feed.)

 

The eat/play/sleep routine is fabulous, but short naps are VERY common with newborns. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than OK; it’s PERFECT!

Newborn babies are so young that many call this first 3 months the “fourth trimester.” One day may seem like sleep perfection, but the next day can look entirely different. This doesn’t mean that anything has gone wrong; it simply means that your baby is a newborn. Growth spurts, brain development, and all of the important things your baby is doing on the inside keep her from showing consistency on the outside. Just keep implementing the tips learned in the newborn class.  You are laying the foundation, and that practice is more important than a perfect schedule each day!

If your baby is out of the newborn phase (13 weeks or older), hope is not lost. I have classes for you too!  

I hope this blog sets your mind at ease. You are not a failure, and the length of your baby’s nap is no reflection on YOU. If no one has told you yet today… YOU ARE AMAZING! You got this!

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