As I travelled in my car for a family trip, like in all road journeys, soon enough I was dozing off. I had not had enough sleep and this nap felt like bliss. But just about an hour into it and I was rudely jerked awake as the car went over an uneven bump.
I felt disoriented and dizzy…I felt more exhausted than before. So if this kind of ‘on the go’ nap does not help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated, how different is it with babies ? Let me help you understand.
Babies in their intrauterine life are on the go, moving around with their mommy. This is the primary reason, babies find calm in motion. Babies settle down easily when they are moving, it reminds them of their time spent in the womb , and as they grow that just becomes a preference until they are developmentally ready and attuned well to the overwhelming outside world. Doesn’t that explain all the need for rocking, patting, swaying..?
As a pediatric sleep coach, many parents I meet dread nap times while wishing also that it was an easier process, and often feel that the whole activity of helping babies nap is extremely exhausting and not ‘worth’ the time spent to put them to sleep. Do you also hear statements like these?
“I spend a good 45 minutes rocking the baby to nap, 15 mins into it and the baby is up, I don’t even get time to bathe!”
“Rock and rock and rock and my wrist is severely paining”
“My baby naps only if I am close to her”
Can you connect the dots? Enough is talked about the fourth trimester, the need to be held, importance of feeling secured, skin to skin contact, but let me tell you all these needs do not suddenly disappear after the fourth trimester is over! Babies still need affection and your physical touch – a lot of it. But you do need to understand, they self wean of all these needs when ready and let me assure you that doesn’t take too long.
Now lets understand naps better from a sleep biology perspective. This will help us understand ‘why babies nap the way they do’ and how we can help meet the needs of both babies and caregivers.
- Why do babies need to nap?
Babies nap for a number of reasons including regulating the cortisol levels, processing memories and consolidating the learnings being a handful of them. A nap helps them to be ready for new learnings, new experiences. It is a way of recharging their physiological batteries.
- What is the usual nap length?
Research says even a short nap of 30 odd minutes has the same effect of rejuvenation like a longer nap. In general babies have shorter sleep cycles. Until about 6 months one sleep cycle is usually of 30-45 minutes, gradually lengthening as per age. Babies hence show signs of movement on completion of a sleep cycle and need assistance in getting into another sleep cycle. Naps usually can be a combination of one or couple of sleep cycles.
- When should babies nap?
Let the babies decide 🙂 Let the naps be baby led. Here it’s important to understand the sleep cues and help the baby nap at that time, rather than scheduling naps as per some ‘ideal nap schedule’ tables floating in the internet space. Each baby is unique and has unique needs. It’s good to know how babies of similar age behave, but do not ompare or pressurize yourself or your baby yourself based on that.
- How should the nap environment be?
As natural as you can keep. No darkening of rooms, no reduction in noise levels. Just the way a normal day looks like! The way bright light exposure at night has an adverse effect on night time sleep, ‘Creating’ a special environment in the hope of lengthening naps during daytime, only messes with the circadian rhythm, that is the body clock which is a fine balance of two important hormones- melatonin and cortisol.
- So why shouldnt baby sleep in a quiet, dark room for all her naps ?
Simply explained, Melatonin works as a sleep hormone and Cortisol as the awake hormone in our body. Melatonin levels in the body are the highest after the sun sets and is low when it reacts to morning light exposure. Being light sensitive, if we darken rooms / reduce natural day noise levels to make the environment similar to night time, we are disturbing this fine hormonal balance and sending out the wrong signal to the body clock. It would be best to get your baby to adapt to nap times in the day and extended sleep during the night.
Once we understand baby sleep biology and what is normal infant behaviour, parental stress reduces to a greater extent making it easier to think of ways where the needs of both the baby and caregiver are taken care of.
Since ages, women have been working, earning their daily bread, working in farms, handling their households even after having a baby, and in general, go about their life as if nothing has changed even after having a little human around. What was that one thing which helped them take care of the baby while being on the go?
Babywearing! It is the answer to all things parenting ! Let me explain, and see how beautifully it all comes together.
What Babywearing does for Naps
In terms of baby needs:
- Meets the need of being in close contact with the caregiver
- Feels secured and hence reduced fussiness
- Being on the move and in close proximity helps in bridging sleep cycles
- Movement is something all babies love
In terms of caregiver needs:
- No additional efforts needed to help baby nap
- Easier to follow baby cues
- Life goes on – household chores, work, outdoor time can be easily taken care of
- Naps are no longer a stress point
- Easier to nap nurse if required
Common concerns raised around babywearing naps:
- Will baby always need a carrier to fall asleep during naptime ?
No. Holding babies is a temporary need, and phases out soon. Babywearing is a safe, convenient alternative to holding, rocking or patting babies in your arms during naptime while allowing you to multitask. When worn right, baby is comforted right away with the wearer’s heart beat and body warmth negating the need for rocking, patting, singing or external stimuli. See this video that answers this common concern amongst new parents. Read this article to learn about some ways you will be helping your baby.
- For how many naps do I babywear?
Babywearing is a tool to meet the needs of the baby and the caregiver. Hence use it when you need it. E.g. – You see your baby not settling down easily; you have to step out for something unavoidable but the baby needs to nap; baby wants to nurse only while napping, there is a lock down enforced but you have chores to finish and so on. There is no hard and fast rule, go with what fits in the situation better. And babywearing can also be one of the primary tools to help you survive this CoronaVirus lockdown with a newborn baby.
- I have never tried babywearing before. Where do I start?
There is a ton of information on babywearing available all over the internet but a quick, assured way of getting correct information would be to reach out to a babywearing library or BW educator in your city. In these times of lockdown, while maintaining rules of social distancing, most libraries and educators are open to online consultations and shipping out Try – Out carriers with minimal contact. We have some libraries listed here for you. SnugBub is one such library which offers online consultations. Also you can refer to this this video for a quick overview. Also refer to this and this for more information.
- Won’t babywearing be uncomfortable and cause me physical pain?
Opting for ergonomic carriers is very important to make babywearing a comfortable experience. Babywearing is way more comfortable than holding babies in hand, as it distributes baby’s weight on the wearer’s body. A well designed, ergonomic carrier adapts to the human body and ensures complete comfort and convenience while providing the solution. Baby carriers like the Yoga, Ring Slings, or even a saree wrapped around you the right way will reduce the pressure on your spine and hands.
- Can I babywear my pre-term baby ? Baby with special needs ?
In case the caregiver has pre existing medical condition/s, babywearing still can be continued if the caregiver is allowed to hold the baby in arms. In cases where there is a medical condition with baby, using your discretion, you can discuss babywearing as a way of nurturing baby while taking care of special needs with your doctor and a babywearing educator. This would help you choose the right carrier for you and your baby’s needs and to position baby correctly
So finally is Babywearing a Yay or a Nay for naptime ?
Babywearing naps – A big fat Yayy!
While opting for babywearing as a tool to use for napping, choose ergonomic babycarriers, allow baby to get ample opportunities to nap in different settings, situations, places and locations without being rigid. Always, always follow baby cues and follow their sleep prompts on when they want to sleep. Find alternatives to letting babies cry or to train babies; as a securely attached baby is happy, sleeps well, grows well and outgrows ‘NEEDS’ sooner and in a healthier way.
Other Issues with sleep?
I do not dare to challenge a caregiver, who comes to me saying baby’s sleep is a huge concern and is shaking the very foundations of their family life. Sleep problems are real and can be very disturbing too. If you feel, after understanding normal infant behavioural patterns and needs, that your baby is severely sleep deprived and is unusually fussy or not gaining weight then I would strongly recommend you to seek professional help here. Sleep problems can be reversed if acted upon early.
With this, it is also important for the caregivers to find some time off for self care. Parenting during the times of COVID 19 can be made smoother by finding support groups which echo with your way of life where you can seek support, talk and share with fellow caregivers. In this time of CoronaVirus Lockdown in India, parents are especially isolated from fellow parents who earlier acted as a support system to lean on while nurturing your child. Now would be an ideal time though to get together as a team with your spouse and tackle the everyday challenge called Parenthood.
Sleep well, stay healthy.
Prachi Datar Pendurkar
Pediatric Sleep Coach / Babywearing educator
* This article is specifically oriented towards infants below 12 months of age.