You've taken the baby out for an outing. She got plenty of fresh air and had lots to see.
Now you are back home and it should be time to sleep. But your little darling just won't go to sleep.
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 worry about it. Little Johnny 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!"
But neither of these strategies are working very well. By the end of the day, your baby is fussy and frazzled. And so are your nerves.
But when you try to have her nap on a schedule, that doesn't work either.
What's a tired parent to do?
Rest assured, you are on the right track. Your baby does need a nap. Sooner than you realize.
Nearly all the time, the issue is that parents are missing the ideal window for a nap. When that happens, your baby becomes overtired and her body produces cortisol, a stress hormone that makes it harder for her to sleep.
Which can lead to lots of crying -- not only from the baby -- and miles of walking the hallways of your home, patting the back of your fussy little one.
The key to avoiding this is prevention. Watch your baby carefully and put her down for a nap at the first sign that she is tired. These signs include yawning, avoiding eye contact, rubbing her eyes, or staring into space. Waiting longer to make sure she's truly tired enough to sleep will generally backfire. Once she's fussy, you've missed the magic window of opportunity and it will likely be harder to get her to sleep and the nap will likely be too short.
For newborns, you can expect the first yawn after as little as 45 minutes awake (including the feeding). It will feel like a very short time awake. This is normal!
As your baby gets older, you will be able to stretch her time 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 the yawns.
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 her cues? You aren't alone. Schedule a free chat with me or sign up for my newborn sleep consulting or child sleep support package.
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.