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During the first year (at least) of your child’s life, there is probably little else that will cause you stress than sleep issues. Naps are a big part of the day. If baby doesn’t nap, mom is stressed and baby is understandably fussy.
All three of my children are good sleepers. Brayden (4.5) rarely naps, but takes rest time each day. Kaitlyn (2.5) still happily naps each day. McKenna (9 months) is a great little napper and always has been. By the time McKenna was born, I could really quickly and easily identify reasons for waking early from naps.
BABY WAS SLEEPING WELL, NOW WAKING EARLY
If your baby was taking 1.5-2 hour naps and is now waking early, here are some things to check.
- Growth Spurt: The first thing to try is to feed your baby. Every time McKenna woke early, I fed her. We never had consistent or persistent nap problems with her. Once the growth spurt was over, we went back to normal naps. I noticed that both of my girls had days where they were hungrier. For Kaitlyn, it was Thursday. For McKenna, it was Friday. I could count on those days having short naps during the newborn months. They just needed to eat more often for one day. See blog label Growth Spurts for more.
- More Food: This is slightly different than a growth spurt. Maybe the baby is hungry and just needs the food increased. This happened with Kaitlyn around 8 months. On day two of short naps, I started troubleshooting. She wasn’t at a growth spurt where she needed more food for a while then backed off, she just needed more solids offered at each meal. Then the nap situation was fixed.
Once you are positive baby does not need more food, move on to these possibilities:
- Waketime Length: Baby might need a longer waketime length. I always add in five minute increments. I know some (probably most) moms do more than that. I strongly suggest you never add more than 15 minutes at a time. I obviously think 5 minute increments are the best to work with. This way, you avoid adding too much waketime. Too much waketime causes nap problems even more than too little. If you add too much waketime, you risk jumping right over the perfect window. See blog label Optimal Waketime Length for more.
- Sickness/Teething: A simple thing to consider is sickness or teething. Children handle these situations differently. These things didn’t affect Brayden or Kaitlyn. Sickness only makes McKenna sleep better. When her first (and so far only) tooth broke through, she had one day of off naps. Some babies, however, will wake up early when sick or teething. When this happens, do what you can to soothe and wait for the pain/sickness to pass. Do what you can before the nap to create a successful nap by alleviating the pain/discomfort. See the Comforting a Sick Baby/Toddler post for more information: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/comforting-sick-toddlerbaby.html
- Gas Pain: Babywise says this is one of the most common reasons for waking early. Be sure your baby is not in pain. If your baby is suddenly waking early, then gas is one of the less common culprits unless baby’s diet has changed (which includes yours if you are breastfeeding). Got Gas post: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/non-bw-tips-and-tricks-got-gas.html . See also blog label Gas.
- Stimulation Levels: If your baby was sleeping well and is now consistently waking early, it is unlikely baby is overstimulated. Think over the days since baby started waking early and be sure she isn’t overstimulated. A better possibility in this situation is baby is understimulated. This happened to McKenna. I was very careful with her stimulation levels. As she got older, she needed more stimulation and exercise and I wasn’t increasing it. Her naps got shorter. I realized this was the problem, added stimulation and exercise opportunities (basically tummy time at that age), and her naps went back to normal. See Overstimulation and Importance of Exercise and Stimulation.
- New Skill: Is she learning a new skill? Sitting, standing, walking, a new word or consonant….babies like to practice their skills, and many times those new skills take precedent over their naps. See Nap Disruptions for more information on this topic: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/nap-disruptions-rolling-standing.html . See also Disruptions.
- Environmental Factors: Is there some noise that could be waking the baby up? A dog? I have a friend whose son woke up whenever she cooked. The smells got him up. Pay attention to your environment. If you suspect an environmental factor, you really need to focus in on what has changed. Is it warmer? Colder? Is there a new dog in the neighborhood? You need to be observant to catch environmental factors.
- 45 Minute Intruder: It could just be the 45 minute intruder. http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/45-minute-intruder.html
- Wonder Week: There are typical times during a baby’s development when she is grumpier and can’t sleep as well as usual. I have definitely noticed this to be true during McKenna’s life. Once she is over the wonder week, she is back to normal! See Wonder Week blog label for more.
- Off Day: Sometimes they just can’t sleep. I have nights like that. I am not personally a napper unless I just gave birth, and in those times I also have days I can’t sleep (even when I really want to). Babies are humans. Therefore, they aren’t perfect. Even if she is really good at something, she is going to have difficulties at it at times. Even my husband who can pretty much sleep anywhere, anytime, has a night that he can’t sleep every so often. This is rare, but it does happen. So if an adult who wants to sleep can have a hard time on occasion, then a baby will, too. They are just learning.
- Props: Sometimes props suddenly become a problem. Many moms find the pacifier to suddenly become a problem around 3-4 months of age. Baby won’t sleep through a nap without it. If that is the case, you can continue using it and wait for baby to be able to put it back in, or you can break the habit. See Pacifiers and Sleep Props for more.
BABY HAS ALWAYS TAKEN SHORT NAPS
If your baby has basically always taken short naps, here are some things to consider. All of these suggestions are assuming you have done Babywise (or some other routine) for quite some time. If you are just starting a routine, it will take time for your baby to learn to take longer naps:
- Feed Baby: The first thing to check is a need for food. Try feeding your baby every time she wakes early for a week or so. This might fix it. If she started a growth spurt and you have been fighting against it, bad naps have and will continue until she gets the food she needs. You should look into your milk supply if breastfeeding, also. Better safe than sorry. A lactation consultant can help you–they can even test the number of calories per ounce in your milk. See blog label Growth Spurts for more.
Once you are sure it is not a food issue, consider the following:
- Reflux: Be sure your baby does not have reflux. If your baby does have reflux, know that a baby with reflux will often take short naps. If so, help your baby make it through a longer nap. See the blog label Reflux for a lot more on this topic.
- Other Medical Condition: Make sure there isn’t some medical condition causing short naps. These can include allergies and eczema.
- Gas Pain: Babywise says gas is one of the most common reasons for waking early. If your baby is in chronic gas pain, I suggest you use gripe water or gas drops. Also, evaluate baby’s diet and yours if breastfeeding and eliminate foods that are causing pain. See Gas for more.
- Waketime Length: Once you have covered food and possible pain, easy fix number one is to analyze the amount of waketime. If your baby is up too long, he will wake up early. For a young baby, 5 minutes too long can do it. Babywise suggests moving your waketime back by 15 minutes if your baby isn’t sleeping well. Try it. It is an easy thing to fix. (see Easy Nap Fix for more information on this topic: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/easy-nap-fix.html ). It is possible your waketime length is too short, but in this situation, I think it is best to first shorten it. If that doesn’t work, try lengthening it. See blog label Optimal Waketime Length for more.
- Stimulation Levels: Since your baby has always been taking short naps, I suggest you first tone it down. Monitor noise levels and visual stimulation. Overstimulation is more damaging to a nap than understimulation. Age also has something to do with this. The younger the baby, the less stimulation she needs and the more sensitive she will be to overstimulation. If your baby is older than 6 months, it is unlikely overstimulation is causing problems unless you live in a casino 🙂 But be sure there is no television watching–for a baby, that is quite stimulating. Be sure exercise levels are where they need to be, too. By exercise, I mean natural exercise that happens when a baby is allowed to be a baby. I am not suggesting baby yoga or anything. See Overstimulation and Importance of Exercise and Stimulation.
- Environmental Factors: Is the baby too hot? Too cold? Be sure to dress the baby appropriately for the season and for your home. Does baby like to wear socks? McKenna sleeps much better with socks on her feet. Kaitlyn hated to have socks on her feet. Find out what your baby likes. If your home is noisy, I suggest you use white noise of some sort. If you have other children, they might be waking baby up. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, there are lots of things that can be waking baby up. You can’t control your neighbors or the garbage man. You can’t really expect your other children to tip-toe around the house. You can put a humidifier, fan, or white noise machine in your baby’s room to block things out.
- Comfort: Is your baby comfortable enough? I sometimes had Kaitlyn nap in her play yard, and those naps often were not as good as her naps in her crib. This doesn’t mean go buy your baby a feather bed; that is not safe. But a crib mattressis more comfortable than a “mattress” in the pack and play.
- Inconsistency: Are you consistent with your schedule? Are you usually home for naps or if you are usually out and about. A baby won’t sleep as well out and about as at home, so if he is used to being out and about, his body will be trained to short bursts of naps. Also, if he typically is napping in a carseat, he will be used to sleeping with the help of motion rather than by himself.
- Props: Evaluate your use of props and if they are interfering with your baby being able to make it through a transition (every 45 minutes) on her own. See blog label Consistency for more.
- Self-Soothing: Most babies will not sleep through the transition point (45 minutes) if they are unable to soothe themselves to sleep. Teach your baby to self-soothe in whatever method you think is best for your family. Once she is capable of soothing herself, she should start making it through the transitions. See CIO and 4 S’s for more.
- Lack of Routine: Do you have a good routine for your baby? Evaluate your nap routine and be sure it is best to help your child sleep well.
- Issues Above: Consider the issues listed in the suddenly waking section. It is possible your baby has just had one issue after another.
FREQUENTLY ASKED NAP QUESTIONS:
- My baby only sleeps one hour for the last nap of the day–is this okay? Yes, it is okay and it is normal. If your baby is going to sleep only one hour try keeping them up until it is one hour before the last feeding. If they are too fussy for that, put them down when they need to and just play with them after they wake up until dinner time.
- My baby is waking early from naps. Should I get him up or let him CIO? First, let’s address all of the issues listed above. Let’s be sure the early waking can’t be fixed easily. If baby is crying for one of these reasons, CIO isn’t really going to help. When Kaitlyn was a young baby and waking early, sometimes she would wake after 30 minutes of sleep. At one point I decided she needed to CIO, so she did. After a few naps of that, she was fine. Other than that, I have never done CIO to get back to sleep after a nap. Emotionally I just can’t hack it. I also don’t really think it is a good idea to do CIO mid-nap with a newborn. There are so many growth spurts in those first three months and you are just getting to know the baby. With McKenna, if I didn’t think it was a growth spurt, I would give it 10-15 minutes to see if she was just having a rough transition and were going to fall back asleep. If not, I got her.
- My baby is waking early but is happy. What do I do? This is a nice thing–when the baby is a the point that they wake up and play and wait for you to get them. If it is early and they are happy, I leave them there. A baby will be more patient for food if he isn’t staring in the face of the one who provides it. It is also more relaxing and restful in a bed than out playing and getting stimulated. Don’t leave your baby in there forever, but give them more rest time if they are happy. When my kids wake early and are happy, I let them play in their beds until nap time normally ends.
- My baby just can’t seem to sleep through the 3 hour cycle. Why? So far as sleep through a cycle goes, I thought about this when Kaitlyn was not sleeping through, and came to a conclusion. I think it is nearly impossible to expect a baby to sleep through on a 3 hour when they are so young. The way the cycle is described in the book seems impossible to create in the real world. Here is why. The routine is 2.5-3 hours. Your young baby can stay awake at best for 1 hour. The nap is to be 1-1.5 hours on the routine. So, if they are awake for 1 hour, the best you can expect according to BW would be 2.5 hour routine all day, and that is if they took the 1.5 hour nap. Some babies can only be awake 45 minutes. What is the answer? Don’t sweat it. Keep to the schedule as closely as possible and with time your baby will get it. With McKenna, I let her do short waketimes and long naps, and it worked really well.
While you are troubleshooting, try to address only one problem at a time. Give each “fix” a few days to work before moving on to something else.
Also, I find keeping logs to be really helpful. See blog label “log” for more.
WORD TO THE WEARY
Something good to realize is that sleep issues are not the main and end-all point of Babywise. It is more about raising children who have self control, are respectful, are able to focus and self-entertain, and most of all, are moral. You are teaching your child to be able to live on her own in the real world. It seems things eventually just work out as far as sleep goes so long as you stick to the schedule the best you can.
Is it important to have good sleep habits? Yes! Is it worth working on? Absolutely! You will have much bigger fish to fry as your child gets older. If they are good sleepers, they will have an advantage. But remember, Babywise is more than sleeping. Sleeping is the first stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Enjoy your baby. Cherish every moment. Pretty soon he will think you are so lame, then soon after that he will realize you are wise, but will be off on his own with his own children. Don’t get so caught up in things you forget to enjoy what is in front of you at the moment.
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