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Expert Advice

The secret to perfect naptimes

Our stage-by-stage guide to daytime sleeps

There’s no shame in admitting that nap time is the highlight of your new-mum day. Let’s be honest, we all look forward to some peace. When else are you going to grab some shut-eye or update your Facebook status? And there’s no reason to feel guilty. Sleeping during the day is crucial for your baby’s growth and brain development. Research shows that physical and mental growth takes place when babies slumber, both at night and during the day. Plus, little ones who have regular naps rest better at night because they’re not overtired. So, make that precious downtime work for everyone (including you) with these simple tips.
The nap-happy newborn stage - 0 to 12 weeks
You might be short on zzzs, but the first few months are one long nap for bub – it’s normal for babies to sleep 17 hours out of every 24. But what if your baby is resisting?
What’s the problem?
“There are times when my daughter Libby, three weeks, seems inconsolable with tiredness but won’t sleep. I end up cradling her in my arms for hours,” says Emma Nichols, 28.
The smart mum’s secret
Newborns get tired very easily, and can only really stay awake for 45 minutes at a time. This increases to 95 minutes by three months.
Child health nurse and M&B expert Sharon Donaldson says it’s not always easy to identify your baby’s tired signs quickly enough. “If your newborn becomes overtired, she’ll become harder to settle, making you both feel overwhelmed,” says Sharon. “It may be helpful in these early weeks to keep an eye on the clock. Watch her behaviour after she’s been awake for an hour or so. She may become grizzly, start to frown or move more jerkily, and her fists may become increasingly clenched.” As soon as you see those tired signs or the clock indicates she’s been up for close to an hour, get her ready for bed.
The not-so-many naps stage - Three to six months
By 12 weeks, your baby can stay awake for longer periods, and should be settling down for three longer sleeps throughout the day, rather than lots of cat naps.
What’s the problem?
“The only way I can get my son Jude, four months, to sleep is by breastfeeding him or pacing around for hours,” says Liza Heneghan, 37.
The smart mum’s secret
This is a crucial time when babies learn how to self-soothe. The key is to be consistent. Feeding, patting and rocking him to sleep may seem like a good idea at the time, but can become more of a hindrance than a help, says Sharon. “Babies begin to pick up on the cues and associations used to help them get to sleep from around 10 weeks. Habits begin to form, which your baby then relies on to get to sleep,” she explains.
“Give him a cuddle (swaddling can be quite helpful at this age), then place him in his cot or bassinette. Perhaps darken the room a bit, them put on some music, white noise or an easy-listening radio station in his room,” recommends Sharon. “He might start to cry, but give him a few moments to see how he continues to behave. If he keeps crying, he would benefit from some hands-on comfort settling.”
The classic stage - Six to nine months
At this age, your baby will probably sleep for about 45 minutes in the morning, plus a good hour and a half in the afternoon. This means over two hours of glorious free time for you. In theory…
What’s the problem?
She doesn’t always feel like sleeping when you want her to. “Sometimes it takes me so long to get my daughter Kira, nine months, to sleep after lunch that I end up giving up altogether,” says Kirsty Winter, 32.
The smart mum’s secret
Don’t expect her to just lie down, roll over and fall asleep. It’s more a case of being firm.
“Babies don’t always lie down and fall asleep immediately. There’s often a wind-down period of at least 15 to 20 minutes,” says Sharon. “If she cries after you’ve put her to bed, give her a few minutes to see if she can settle herself. If she can’t, then return at intervals to comfort and calm her. Some patting and body rocking at his stage may help. Each time she calms down, leave the room. If she hasn’t fallen asleep after about 30 to 40 minutes, you may need to stay with her until she does fall asleep.”
The routine-out-the-window stage - Nine to 12 months
Your baby is now used to settling in his cot. But you both have to leave the house.
What’s the problem?
He won’t sleep in his pram. “My son Max, seven months, never sleeps if we are anywhere other than at home,” says Rachel Graham, 32. “I’m always the one with the howling child whenever I meet other mums for coffee.”
The smart mum’s secret
Limit the amount of stimulation he gets in the pram. While leaving the house is necessary sometimes, you can make things less exciting for him. “Being out and about exposes your baby to all sorts of sensory experiences,” says Sharon. “This can prove overstimulating, making him overtired and difficult to settle. If you want to encourage him to sleep in his pram, cover it with a blackout shade or muslin cloth to minimise the light and noise he’s exposed to.”
The transition to just one nap - 12 to 18 months
Gradually, your baby will be staying awake for longer periods at a time until she’s not tired until early afternoon.
What’s the problem?
A morning nap is too early, but she’s exhausted by midday. “My daughter Mimi, 14 months, has dropped her morning nap, but is always too tired to make it to the afternoon one, and usually falls asleep before lunch,”
says Juliette Burrows, 29.
The smart mum’s secret
Some toddlers may need a power nap, so don’t stress about this, just let her sleep – the trick is to not let her rest for too long. “Day naps gradually merge into one between the ages of 14 to 18 months,” says Sharon. “It’s fine to have a late morning catnap of between 20 and 30 minutes, and it may be more helpful
to have this nap when you’re out and about in the first half of the day.”
The siesta stage - 18 to 24 months
Now your baby’s down to one nap, you and your partner can slink back to bed
on weekends, too. Children should nap for at least an hour and a half every afternoon at this age. And while you and Dad might be enjoying the quiet time, too much of a good thing can be, well... bad.
“It’s a good idea to encourage your child to begin waking around 3pm. Otherwise, there may be difficulties going to sleep at bedtime,” says Sharon.
What’s the problem?
The nap isn’t long enough to keep them (or you) happy. “My son Louis, 20 months, only ever sleeps for 40 minutes, so he’s usually overtired by bedtime,” says Amy Cockburn, 36.
The smart mum’s secret
Sometimes when children don’t nap for long, it’s because their parents rush in at the first murmur, so resist temptation. “Children at this age are well and truly ready to self-settle. Too much assistance to go to sleep often causes catnapping, and perhaps night waking behaviour,” says Sharon. “Try not to ‘rescue’ him too quickly. In other words, leave it a bit longer each time before going into him. He should eventually learn to self-settle.”
Naptime and You
Be clever: Nap times are a great opportunity for you to catch up on sleep or downtime, so switch your phone to silent and have a little lie-down.
Be realistic: If you can’t snooze during the day, at least relax. Now is not the time to create a feature wall or grout the bathroom.
Be firm: Don’t be afraid to ask visitors to leave when your baby goes down for a nap. Most will understand it’s valuable ‘you’ time.
Be organised: Make sure you've been to the loo when you put your baby down. You don’t want to put in all that effort only to have him wake when you flush the toilet or open doors.
Be selfish: The dishwasher may need to be loaded, but a calm and rested you is more important.

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