How to transition from contact naps.

Contact naps (defined as when your baby sleeps on your chest or snuggled up to you), can be absolutely wonderful and very useful – particularly in the first few months of your newborn’s life when naps are both unpredictable and short. Studies also show the importance of being in close physical contact with your baby as frequently as possible in the first few months of their life. Doing so can release oxytocin (the happy hormone), help regulate your baby’s body temperature, and promote independence and resilience later in life. 

Nevertheless, as the months roll on and your baby gets older, contact naps can also be challenging – especially if it’s the only way your baby will sleep. The need to sleep is biological, but the way we sleep is learnt. Therefore, if your baby has only ever napped on you (or close to you), they may struggle to sleep elsewhere without that close contact. This can make eating lunch, doing the washing or taking a shower very tricky! Many parents also encounter a time when their baby no longer gets as restful a sleep as they once did when contact napping. The quality nor quantity of sleep just isn’t present anymore. 

If contact napping is working for both you and your baby there is absolutely no need to stop. However, if it is no longer sustainable for one or both of you, there are several ways you can start to transition to naps in the cot or Moses basket…

  1. Set up an environment that promotes sleep:

To give yourself the best possible chance of getting baby to sleep apart from you, ensure the room they will be sleeping in is conducive to sleep. The room should be:

  • Dark: once your little one’s internal body clock has been set, all naps in the cot/Moses basket should be in the dark. Use blackout blinds and curtains to make the room as dark as possible. 
  • Quiet: use white or pink noise to block out any unwanted sounds that could wake baby up or prevent them from falling asleep. It should be used for the entirety of sleep time, and at the volume level of a shower. 
  • Cool: ensure the room isn’t too hot. It should be between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius. Cooler rooms are better for sleep. 
  • Calm: no mobiles or light shows that could distract and/or stimulate baby, ultimately preventing them from falling asleep. 
  • Safe: a clear cot is safest. Also ensure that you are in the same room as them while they nap if they are under 6 months old. 

In order to make the cot smell like you, you could also sleep with their cot sheet for a few nights before putting them in this new sleep space. 

  1. Familiarise baby with their sleep space during awake time:

Make sure your little one is familiar with their cot before trying to put them in it for naps. Let them spend some awake time in their cot. For example, when you’re putting the washing away. Even if it’s only 5 minutes per day, these small exposures to this new environment will breed familiarity. 

  1. Follow your little one’s ideal wake windows as well as their sleepy cues:

Familiarise yourself with your baby’s ideal wake windows for their age. Ensure you put them into their cot around 10-15 minutes before the wake window closes, otherwise you risk them becoming overtired (making it even harder to get them to sleep!). 

This being said, remember, wake windows are just the average amount of time your baby should be awake due to their age. It is, therefore, important to keep an eye out for your little one’s unique sleepy cues, in case they get tired before (or after) the average wake window ‘closes’. Look out for: yawning, rubbing eyes, pulling ears, stroking or pulling hair, grumpiness, red eyes, etc. 

  1. Introduce a nap time routine:

Introduce a short nap time routine that will cue to your baby that nap time in their cot is coming. It doesn’t have to be long – just 2-3 steps that you do before each nap. Keep it simple: a change of nappy, feed and story. 

  1. Under five months: practice putting your younger baby down asleep first:

While, eventually, you want to be putting your baby down in their cot awake, as they get used to this new sleep space, first get them used to simply sleeping there. Putting them down once they’re already asleep can be the best way of doing this when they’re really little. Generally, you want to wait about 15-20 minutes or so before transferring them to their cot to ensure they are fully asleep. When you do put them in the cot, lay them on their side first before gently rolling them onto their back. 

  1. Five months plus: put your baby down awake:

For older babies, you can practice putting them into the cot awake and supporting them in going to sleep with lots of touch (patting/stroking) and sound (shushing). It’s important that your little one practices putting themselves to sleep in their cot so they a) are aware they’re going to sleep there, and b) know how to put themselves back to sleep when they rouse briefly between their 45min-60min sleep cycles. 

  1. Keep practicing!:

Practice makes perfect when it comes to transitioning from contact to cot naps. You could choose one nap per day to focus on and consistently offer it as a cot nap. Remember, even a really short nap in the cot is a win and a learning experience! 

Remember, mastering a new skill like sleeping independently in the cot takes time, practice and consistency. But it is not impossible. If contact napping has become unsustainable, there is absolutely a way of freeing up your hands for other activities, as well as ensuring your little one has the deep and restful sleep they need. And, of course, there is still time for snuggles during awake time instead (when you’re not so ‘touched out’)! 

If you would like support in transitioning away from contact napping, get in touch and set up your free Discovery Call. I’d love to hear from you.