If Your Baby Naps Best Only When Held


Developed by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka Ed.D.

Place spirited babies in a crib and they nap 20 minutes.  Hold them and they sleep for 90 minutes.  What’s up? Apparently spirited babies are smart enough to know they are little and need to remain close to their caregivers to be safe. Touch calms them. Which is why when held they sleep longer than when put down. Unfortunately, much of the “advice” warns that holding them will create a bad habit. This, however, is one more example of advice that does not apply to spirited babies. That does not mean however, that spirited babies will never nap in their crib. They will, but it’s a gentle nudge – not a shove to get them there.

  1. Sleep, rather than where babies sleep is the MOST important priority.  Well rested babies are calmer, feed better and sleep in longer stretches. Let them show you where they sleep best.
  2. Practice once. The reaction of spirited infants to being laid down can be so intense they teach us to not even try! But practice makes better which is why it is important to try at least once day. Select one naptime – more if you like – but a minimum of one to allow your baby to fall asleep, then place in the crib or bassinet. 
  3. Respond quickly. If your baby immediately alerts, try first with voice to calm, then pats, then if needed, pick up. Practice is over. Hold your baby and let her return to sleep while held for the remainder of her nap.
  4. The next day or the next nap try again – one time. Soon your baby will transfer and be calmed easily by your soothing voice or a few soft pats.
  5. Set the alarm on your phone for 15-20 minutes or however, long your baby typically sleeps in a crib. When it alerts you, go to your baby’s sleeping area. Stand outside the door ready to enter the moment you hear the first indications your baby is alerting. Respond immediately, before the baby is completely awake, again first with voice, then pats and if that’s not enough pick up and hold for the remainder of the nap. Overtime, she will simply stop awakening and complete that nap in her crib. No help needed!
  6. Once your baby is transferring when completely asleep, begin to practice when drowsy but not yet asleep. Begin to calm your baby until you feel him completely relax in your arms but is not yet asleep. Place in the crib, while drowsy. If he alerts, again try voice and pats to soothe. If it’s evident he’s winding up, practice is over.  Hold him until he’s completely asleep then put him down. But the next day when he’s drowsy try again - one time. Soon he may still let out a “how dare you put me down squawk,” but then quickly falls asleep.
  7. Expect progress not perfection.  You’ll find with the gentle nudge that your baby will gradually begin to take one lovely nap each day in his crib yet still needs to be held for others. Don’t worry.  Once one nap is going well, select a second nap and begin the gentle nudge process again. Soon two naps will be in his own sleeping space. This a process.  It is very common for these smart little ones to continue for months to need to sometimes be held for naps. Always remember the top priority is sleep – not where he’s sleeping.
  8. Take care of yourself. Holding a baby for naps can be challenging. If you have other children, find a comfortable carrier, that allows you to keep your baby on you, yet have your hands free.  Go for walks – even if the weather is not great wear the right protective clothing and go. Time spent outside will calm both of you.   Or, if you wish, use this time to enjoy that book you’ve been wanting to read, or catch up on e-mails. And do not forget to bring in your support system.  When you begin to feel “touched out,” ask, and you will find others who would LOVE to hold your baby.
  9. A gentle nudge leads to spirited babies who love to sleep and are GREAT sleepers! The saying, “sleep begets sleep,” is true. When you tenderly practice with your baby you allow her to strengthen her self-regulation skills with your support.  She is never pushed to a point of distress. Sleep is calm, comfortable, and desirable.

For more information grab a copy of Raising Your Spirited Baby by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed.D.

Available at your local book store and on Amazon

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