Ironically, as I write this assignment about how to get my baby to nap, I’m trying to get my baby to nap. And trying. And trying. It's getting better, but about a week ago, I was sobbing for four hours a day with my then 4-month old sobbing along with me, all while trying to get him to nap. He acted like I was murdering him, screaming at me until he was purple. He was fed, changed, burped, had taken his reflux medicine already, and was quite exhausted. As was I. But I felt like nothing I did worked. And I also felt like my life was over, because this was just how it was going to be forever — and I couldn’t take it. Having your baby scream at you for an hour and a half, four times a day, is enough to put anyone over the deep end, and I was worried about keeping my job (since I work from home) and making sure my baby was getting enough sleep to be healthy.
I developed an ulcer, and at the end of this hell, I had a cold, which I knew was from exhaustion. It’s very isolating to be home alone with a screaming baby who won’t nap all day. Nighttime wasn't much better: My son woke up immediately when my husband or I would put him down, and every single night from 9 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. was spent trying to get him to sleep longer than 20 minutes at a time... only to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and start the process over again.
So I was relieved when I got this assignment to help me and people like you, who are also dealing with this mess. Which is probably why you’re Googling “how to get my baby to nap.” You’re not alone. It sucks a lot. But we will get through it.
After being at our wit's end by week six of this hell, with no end in sight, my husband and I decided to try Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block DVD and CD set. He published the book Happiest Baby on the Block in 2003, which was the “birth” (if you will) of his "5 S’s for soothing babies" method (and thank god for this man and his methods, because it’s the only damn thing that finally, FINALLY, worked for our son). Dr. Karp was even kind enough to talk to me for this article, in which he explains how to get your baby to nap, and sleep in general.
If your baby is still able to be swaddled, Dr. Karp’s "5 S’s method" really works — or at least it did for us: “Swaddle, Side-Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, and Suck.” Dr. Karp believes that all babies are born three to four months early, and they’re still basically fetuses when they’re born — which is why the first three months of their lives are called the fourth trimester.
“Newborn horses can run within an hour of birth, but not our mushy little babies," says Karp.
"A virtual fourth trimester of womb sensations (soft touch, jiggly motion, snug holding, etc.) may just be what they need.” These womb sensations trigger a "calming reflex," which is a “virtual off-switch for crying, and an on-switch for sleep,” Karp explains.
Here's how you'll put those 5 S's into practice: Swaddle your baby and hold them on his side while gently jiggling them back and forth so his head bobs slightly back and forth, saying “shhhhhh” directly in his ear as he sucks on a pacifier. Swinging helps, too. He'll calm down pretty quickly, and you’ll see his eyes begin to get heavy because this is very similar to the noises and sensations babies experience in the womb. (I know, I honestly was like, “Yeah, right,” too, but it freaking worked.) I also played the heartbeat noise on his Dr. Karp's CD, which seemed to help my son fall asleep and stay asleep. Depending on your baby's preference, there are other noises on the CD, too, like a vacuum cleaner and ambient talking. Once your little one is calm, you should be able to gently put him in his crib, where he'll either fall asleep or stay asleep as long as the white noise is still going.
This worked like magic for nap time and bedtime for five glorious days — and then of course, as it always goes, our son started to roll over from his back to his belly. Which meant we lost the most important “S” for us — swaddle. Isn’t that how it always goes? Even if you can’t swaddle, Dr. Karp had some additional tips for napping. “About 20 minutes before naps and bedtime, turn the white noise on and the lights down. This quiets your baby’s nervous system and gives a clear signal that sleepy time is coming. Use the wake-and-sleep technique to help him or her learn to self soothe.” Dr. Karp also suggests using the SNOO Smart Sleeper bassinet to keep your baby safely on his back for as long as you can (it's a hit with celeb parents like Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher). This is no surprise, considering Dr. Karp helped to develop the high-tech crib, but the SNOO is supposed to be pretty amazing if you can swing the price ($1160 on the Happiest Baby website).
If you don't have the cash to spend on this genius bassinet, WebMd had some other suggestions to help get your baby to nap even without the swaddle. The website suggested keeping a routine and making your baby nap in the same place they sleep at night. This makes babies associate the crib with sleep. The website also advised parents to keep an eye on their children's sleep cues, making sure to put them down immediately so they don't end up getting overtired. (Sleep cues include rubbing eyes, getting fussy, yawning, etc.) Begin to stretch out your baby's awake time as he gets older: After your baby is 6 months old, see if he can last two hours instead of one hour to an hour-and-a-half. This should result in longer and more restful naps. (WebMD also warned against getting in the habit of driving babies around to get them to sleep.)
Whether you find a nap solution using the 5 S's or a high-tech crib or a by paying careful attention to cues or all of these methods and more, one thing is for sure: Someday, these nap time battles will be nothing but a blip on your memories with your baby.
This first-time mom wants to have a home birth, but is she ready? Watch how a doula supports a military mom who's determined to have a home birth in Episode One of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for the next three episodes, launching every Monday starting November 26.