You took the baby for a walk. You gave her tummy time -- although you feel guilty that it only lasted a minute -- and showed her all the expert-approved, developmentally-appropriate toys.
Now it’s time for her to nap. You are exhausted and praying for at least a shower if not time to do the dishes, a load of laundry, an opportunity to catch up on email. But she just won't go to sleep. You are trying not to be frustrated… but it’s hard.
Your mother suggests the baby isn't tired yet, "Here, give her to me! She just needs some time to play with her Grammy."
Your best friend is puzzled and suggests you are trying too hard, "I just didn't stress about naps. Baby Benny would just drop off wherever and whenever he was tired. Maybe you are stressing the baby out by focusing on the nap so much? Just live your life and don't worry so much! He will sleep when he needs to."
But neither of these strategies work. By the end of the day, your baby is fussy and frazzled. And so are your nerves. He cries for hours and honestly, sometimes you cry right along with him.
You have tried nap schedules but those don’t work either. The struggle is demoralizing.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.
And you aren’t wrong that your baby needs more daytime sleep. And a schedule.
Your baby needs to nap. Sooner, longer, more frequently than you may realize.
Most of the time, the issue is that parents are accidentally missing the ideal window for a nap (it's surprisingly easy to do). When that happens, your baby becomes overtired and her body produces cortisol, a stress hormone that actually makes it harder for her to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Which can lead to lots of crying -- not only from the baby -- and rocking, bouncing, jiggling and walking your baby for hours on end.
It’s not your fault. It’s very, very easy to miss the early signs of tiredness, when it’s still relatively easy for your baby to fall asleep.
These early tiredness signs include avoiding eye contact, staring into space, or rubbing her eyes. Start getting your baby ready to nap at this point. Your baby is actually already moderately tired by the time she starts yawning.
Waiting past the point of the first yawn to make sure he’s tired enough to definitely sleep can backfire. Once he's fussy, you've missed the magic window of opportunity. Not only will it likely be harder to get him to sleep, the nap will also likely be too short.
For newborns, you can expect your baby to start getting tired after as little as 45 minutes awake, including the feeding. This will feel like a very short time awake. This is normal and to be expected! Do not try to keep the baby up longer. Start your nap routine (which will be very very simple at this age).
As your baby gets older, you will be able to stretch her awake interval a little bit. But you still want to watch your baby, not the clock. Some days she will be able to stay awake as much as an hour and a half, but other times, it will be less. Again, watch for staring into space, avoiding eye contact, and especially, yawns. Once you see a yawn, do not delay -- lunge into action!
It may take a few days, but if you follow her sleep cues carefully, you should see a dramatic improvement in her mood as well as more consistent, longer naps.
Want some help figuring out your baby’s tired cues? You aren't alone -- it’s confusing! Schedule a free chat with me and let’s figure it out together.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.