As first-time parents to a newborn we are flooded with different questions: How often do I bathe my baby? Is he eating enough? How do I stop him from crying? This list goes on and on. What we have also come to realize is that many new parents are left scratching their heads regarding one simple yet recurring issue: where to put baby for daytime naps...
There are so many options that sometimes new parents are left wondering if what they are doing is right (and safe). There is the crib (in the nursery), bassinet, baby box, pack n’ play, babywearing and sometimes a parent’s arms will do the trick. So, which ones are ideal for daytime naps and which ones should you avoid?
Napping is critical for newborns. On average a newborn sleeps 14-17 hours a day split between nighttime sleep and daytime sleep (naps). That being said, not all babies are naturally great nappers, or sleepers for that matter.
Many new parents are shocked when they bring their newborns home and find out that their babies are definitely not sleeping 14-17 hours a day! The lack of daytime naps can lead to an extremely fussy, unhappy and relentlessly crying baby.
How much and how often should newborns nap?
Before we get into the “where”, lets take a quick peek at what napping should look like for most newborns. Obviously not every baby is the same so this is NOT a hard-set rule but it is common practice amongst newborn babies and can be used as great guideline to get you started.
The frequency of naps will depend on your baby’s age and also his wake windows. Wake windows is simply a fancy term for how many hours your baby can stay up at a given time.
A typical newborn nap can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 120 minutes. I know, 20 minutes sounds short but if you put your newborn down and he stays asleep for 20 minutes, consider that a successful nap. As he grows and develops, the naps will likely get longer and more consistent.
Most sleep experts will tell you that daytime naps should last no more than 120 minutes so, it is not only ok to wake your baby from a long nap, but it will help them sleep better at night. Your newborn will usually give you one long stretch of sleep per day so make sure it doesn’t happen at lunch time. Save it for when YOU need it most, the night!
Most newborn babies follow a 2 to 3-hour awake/sleep cycle. Here at Upside Dad, we call that the F.E.D cycle:
- F – FEED ME: Your baby just woke up from a nap and he is hungry! Feed him until he is full or stops eating.
Note: Don’t be fooled by the drowsiness that may follow a good, long feed. He is actually not tired yet, especially if he just woke up from a nap.
- E – ENTERTAIN ME: This is now awake/play time and it is time to entertain your baby so they don’t get bored.
- Entertainment can be anything from changing a diaper, walking around, laying him on a playmat, doing tummy time, a bath, etc…
- D – DOWNTIME: Your baby will now start showing Sleepy Cues and it is time to prepare for a nap.
So, how often should he nap? That will depend on the kind of cycle your newborn is in. To simplify it, aim for 2 to 3-hour F.E.D. cycles and if you notice the cycles are a significantly shorter that will probably mean that the naps are also shorter.
We suggest extending the awake time before putting baby down for a nap. This will help him wake up hungrier, eat more and sleep better during the next nap. Take a look at some examples of what the FED cycle can look like:
TOTAL Cycle Time
The importance of Safe Sleep – At home or on the go
It is very important to remember the safe sleep guidelines. Whether he is going down for a nap or overnight sleep, always make sure that you are adhering to the American Academy of Pediatrics AAP safe sleep guidelines. It is extremely important to understand the criteria for safe sleep in order to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
We understand that there is a lot of information to take in so consider the very helpful acronym that we love: ‘ABC’. ABC helps parents remember that baby’s sleep is safest when:
Alone - Nothing else but baby in crib; example: no blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, etc.
Back - Always place baby on his back
Crib - Always place baby in a crib, bassinet, pack n play that is designed for baby’s safe sleep (i.e. not a couch, or bed.)
Where to put baby for daytime naps?
OK, now let’s look at where to nap baby. At the early stages of your baby’s life, most naps will take place at home. As the baby gets bigger and the family feels more established it is commonplace that naps will happen on the road, at friends’ and family’s homes and even in the car.
If you’re at home, some great (and safe) places for babies to nap are the obvious ones: bassinet, a baby box or even the crib or a cradle.
If you are comfortable having baby in another room for their naps, go for it. The crib is always a safe place for a nap. It’s a good idea to have at the very least an audio baby monitor to hear when baby wakes up and starts to cry.
If you prefer to have eyes on him, get yourself a video monitor or a smart cam that allows for continuous video and audio streaming to a laptop or tablet.
Additionally, verify that your crib mattress is safe for newborns. Many crib mattresses have 2 sides; newborn and toddler. Verify that the correct side is up.
In case you prefer to have your little one nearby during the day, there are a few other options to consider:
Many bedside bassinets are portable and can be used for night sleep in the parent’s bedroom as well as around the house during the day for daytime naps. If you have one that is easily portable, feel free to move to your main living area so you can keep an eye on him while you go about your many other chores.
Some pack n’ plays also come with a detachable bassinet that can work wonders for a quick snooze. They can usually be used attached to the play yard or detached and placed on the floor anywhere you go. For safety, avoid placing these bassinets in elevated surfaces and respect the weight limits marked on the tag.
There are also stroller type bassinets that can be used for sleep such as the UPPAbaby stroller bassinet. If you have one of these and don’t mind having the stroller open in the house you can definitely use it for naps. Make sure the stroller wheels are locked though.
Play yard or portable cribs
Some pack n play style playards and portable cribs are safe for daytime sleep and can be the perfect solution for supervised naps. Make sure to check the manufacturers guidelines for sleep and ensure that the model you have is approved for sleep.
As always, verify there is NOTHING else in the playpen while your baby is napping and check for a few important safety features and guidelines specific to playpens (Source: Canada.ca)
- Breathable side wall
- Hard, breathable mattress
- Playpens are not always meant for unsupervised sleep
- Never place a baby in the playpen while the bassinet or change table accessories are attached
- Ensure proper setup and that all sides are locked in place
- Make sure your playpen is NOT near a window or patio door where blinds or curtain cords are within reach
- Place the playpen away from stairs, doors, furniture and appliances
- Remove mobiles as soon as your baby can push up on his or her hands and knees
Baby boxes are a fairly new trend in north America but they have been used in countries such as Finland for a long time. Finland has the lowest baby mortality rate in the world and many attribute it to their strict sleeping guideline and the used of baby boxes.
In short, a baby box is a cardboard boxes with a thin mattress. They are safe to be used on the floor and easy to move around (as long as your baby is NOT in it).
Baby boxes are sometimes given away for free for promotional purposes and to promote safe sleep practices. They can also be found in some retailers. DO a quick search for “Free baby box” in your area to find out more.
If you have a medium to large dog or a cat at home, you may want to steer away from the baby box. Your dog can not only see and reach your baby while he is on the floor but they can also jump in when you are not looking so make sure to check your environment before using one of these.
On the road
When you are on the road, you will sometimes have to improvise. There are some obviously great options such as bringing along a portable crib or pack n’ play, or having a crib set up at Grandma’s house. But what happens if you have none of these handy?
Car seats are home to many naps but beware of the safety guidelines for them. Car seats are NOT meant for extended naps or sleep. They are safe for short naps while you are driving. Once you arrive at your destination, you should remove your baby from the car seat and have the nap continue elsewhere.
The reason for this is that the your baby’s head and neck can end up in a less than ideal position with the head hanging forward and potentially impeding breathing. Most car seat manufacturers recommend that babies should ne be in a car seat for more than 2 hours at a time.
If your baby is sleeping in the car seat make sure to check on him periodically and take him out as soon as you arrive at your destination.
Just like the car seat, the stroller should not be used for extended sleep. It is not safe for babies to be in a seated or semi-reclined position for too long while sleeping. Some strollers can be set to a fully reclined position which is preferable for naps.
If you are on the go and your baby fall asleep in the stroller, don’t stress about it. Recline the seat so it is as horizontal as possible and go about your daily tasks. As suggested earlier, keep an eye on him and don’t leave baby in the stroller for over 2 hours straight.
If your baby loves the carrier, this is another great way to get a nap in while keeping him close and supervised. Baby wearing can make parents’ lives much easier and allow you to go about your daily activities with two free hands!
Like the car seat and the stroller, the baby carrier should not be used for extended periods without a break so follow the same guidelines.
*Tip: Offer your baby some naps at home in the pack n play to help them get used to the environment.
Optimal napping conditions
Alright, so we have chosen a safe vessel for the baby to sleep in, we are making sure that we have adhered to safe sleep guidelines, and we are watching out for babies wake windows. Surely my baby should just fall right asleep! Unfortunately, sometimes babies still need a little help catching some zzz.
Here are some quick tips to help guide you baby towards a nice long nap:
- Use a sound machine
White noise can work wonders on newborn babies because it reminds them of the sounds they heard in the womb. Get yourself a portable sound machine with great battery life and take it with you everywhere you go
- Block some of the direct light
Falling asleep in a really bright environment can be hard for babies. Most people agree that you don’t need complete darkness for naps, because you also want babies to learn to differentiate day from night. But, blocking some of the light can help steer him in the right direction and it also blocks some of the distractions from the world.
You can use a breathable car seat cover or some window sunshades when in the car. At home just make sure no direct sunlight is shining in his eyes and find a dark-ish area to settle him down.
- Add some movement
Most babies love a car ride and being in the baby carrier for one main reason: repetitive movement. Both the car and walking around with your baby in the carrier will calm them because of the induced vibration and motion. If you are not in one of these two situations you can always rely on the good old bounce.
Rock or bounce baby around for a bit and watch them start to yawn and calm down getting them ready for a nap.
Newborns need a lot of sleep, however sleeping doesn’t always come as naturally as people think. There are many options regarding where to put baby down for daytime naps, but as with everything baby we must always keep in mind the safe sleep guidelines before our own preferences or how practical an option may be.
The frequency of naps really depends on your baby’s F.E.D cycle and wake windows, but your instincts are a key factor. Knowing when he is tired (vs hungry) is your secret weapon for creating the conditions for a successful and long lasting nap whether at home or on the road.
As babies get older, more and more naps tend to happen outside of the home: Remember naps on the go are the exception, not the rule! If baby doesn’t sleep as well outside of the house, that’s perfectly normal! Luckily there are some wonderful portable sleep tools to help parents along the way.
Although sleep routines are very important, finding the right amount of flexibility in your baby's schedule will serve you and your family well in the long run.