Toddler sleep

Naps on the go

If your child tends to sleep in the car, try timing naps with road trips

By Teresa Pitman
Naps on the go


Karen Derrah doesn’t think the term “stay-at-home mother” really fits. She’s with her children, three-year-old Malcolm and 15-month-old Kieran, full time, but they don’t actually stay home much. “There are always errands to run, friends to visit, events to go to.”

No big deal — except these outings often hit right in the middle of Kieran’s nap time. And there isn’t anything much worse than being out and about with a cranky, tired toddler.

It’s a problem many parents deal with, at least occasionally, and it tends to be worse during the holidays, with shopping expeditions, visits to and from family and friends, and parties to fit in. Even if your toddler is at daycare during the week or you’re able to arrange to be home for naps most days, inevitably you will have a weekend activity that means you’re out and about when your toddler really needs to sleep. So how do you manage naps on the go?

Some options that have worked well for Derrah and other parents:

Napping in the car

“Kieran will often fall asleep on the way to his older brother’s caregiver-and-tot program,” Derrah says. The program just happens to start during Kieran’s usual nap time, making this an easy way to get him to sleep. Most tired toddlers will drift off as you drive, especially if you can play quiet music and keep conversation to a minimum.

The challenging part often comes when you need to transfer your baby at your destination. “I put Kieran in my baby carrier, and usually he’ll go right back to sleep and nap for at least an hour and sometimes for two,” Derrah says. If he’s slept for at least half an hour, Derrah finds Kieran’s in a deeper sleep and more easily moved out of his car seat and into the carrier. Transferring into a stroller can be done the same way.

Another challenge: Sometimes that lulling motion of the car will put the toddler to sleep when you don’t want him to nap. “It can be frustrating, but then I just have to adapt my plans for the rest of the day,” says Derrah. Sometimes you can fend off these badly timed naps by handing out snacks or singing a rousing song in the car.

Stroller naps

If Derrah can walk to her destination, she may use her carrier or push Kieran in the stroller. “This minimizes the number of transfers you have to make if your toddler is asleep,” she points out. He can just stay where he is — and keep sleeping — when they arrive at their destination. A stroller that can recline is the best option for comfortable napping, although certainly toddlers will fall asleep in umbrella strollers too.

The challenge: Not all events or programs allow strollers to be brought inside. Derrah also likes to use public transportation, if possible, but strollers can be cumbersome, especially during busy times. In that situation, she prefers her carrier.

Destination naps

“If I’m visiting friends or family, I’ll plan ahead and ask them to prepare a place where Kieran can nap,” Derrah says. That saves having to figure out a location while toting a screaming child. “If they’ve set up a mattress or blanket on the floor, then even if Kieran has just fallen asleep in the car, I can quickly bring him into the house, lie down with him, and nurse him back to sleep,” she explains.

Napping in the carrier

It’s not just a help at Malcolm’s community centre program. Derrah finds using a carrier helps at other times too. Depending on the type of carrier, you may be able to pull up the sides to block out some of the distractions that may keep your toddler awake, and your child will usually sleep contentedly against your body even if you are walking around. You’re also right there if he starts to wake up and needs a little back patting or a quick nurse to get him back to sleep.

The downside? Some toddlers are on the hefty side, and too many carrier naps can give mom or dad a sore back. If that’s your situation, you might want to try a different style of carrier, such as a ring-sling or backpack carrier — some are better at distributing the toddler’s weight.

The art of napping on the go is easier to master for some toddlers than others, and you may need to experiment to find out what approaches work best. “Kieran is a well-rested, cheerful little boy,” says Derrah, “so I know this is working well for him.”

Sleep aids

Many toddlers need a little help to drift off, and it will be easier to manage naps on the go if you keep your child’s sleep aids in mind.

“Lovies,” pacifiers or bottles If your child likes to cuddle a toy or blanket, or sucks on a pacifier or bottle at bedtime, be sure to bring it along when you want him to nap somewhere else.

Breastfeeding If you’re nursing, this is often the easiest way to get a toddler into dreamland. Natural components in your milk actually promote sleep.

Environment If your toddler is used to falling asleep alone in his crib in a darkened room, you may have to adapt things a bit to manage naps on the go. You might, for example, be able to help him lie flat in a stroller and cover the top with a blanket.

This article was originally published on Nov 09, 2009

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