How to make the most of sweet siesta time
We’d been on the highway for about 20 minutes, rolling along at a steady clip with the engine’s hum at the perfect level for soothing a tired baby. But Isobel, then two months old, was having none of it. She wailed and wailed, her little face growing redder as she became more and more exhausted. “Just sleep!” instructed her older sister, who, as an infant, had reliably napped while in motion. But napping is an art, not a science, and as Isobel’s inability to nod off showed us, there’s no guaranteed way to make it happen. “A lot of parents will say, ‘I’m doing exactly the same thing with my second baby as I did for my first baby — and it’s not working,’” says Wendy Hall, a Vancouver registered nurse and University of British Columbia professor who works with parents of problem sleepers. “That may be because the second baby has quite a different personality than the first baby.”
And I hate to break it to you, but napping nightmares don’t end in infancy. It isn’t unusual to find your once clockwork-correct toddler wide-eyed at nap time, or for your preteen to suddenly start conking out after school. Daytime sleep can be tricky, whatever your child’s age. So we took parents’ most common questions to slumber specialists from across the country (you’ll find their credentials in the sidebar to the right). Read on for their real, workable solutions to napping troubles, from newborn to teen.
Q: As a newborn, my baby simply drifted off to sleep after feeding or whenever he needed a nap. Now he won’t nap unless I soothe him to sleep. What’s going on?
A: Your baby is growing up! Many parents find that as their babies become more aware of their surroundings, they are more difficult to get down for a nap. This is absolutely normal and there are a couple of ways you can deal with it. Paediatricians and other infant-sleep specialists often emphasize the importance of helping babies learn to fall asleep by themselves beginning around four to six months; they look at self-soothing as a crucial developmental skill. So you might cuddle or rock your baby until he’s relaxed but not fully asleep, then place him in his crib. You can pat or rub his back to help him settle, speaking quietly to reassure him, but not picking him up. Keep in mind that while a low-key infant may fall easily into this new routine, a baby with a stronger personality may protest — loudly. If this doesn’t sit well with you, try soothing your baby in a variety of ways, so he doesn’t become dependent on just one; you especially don’t want him to want to nurse to sleep exclusively. So if you’ve always rocked him, mix it up with a stroller nap, or hold him in your arms while you gently bounce on an exercise ball. Know also that as he continues to grow, the techniques that work well now may not work at the next developmental stage. Babies like to keep parents on their toes that way.