Friday, December 9, 2011

Reader Question: Napping Challenges with a 9 week old

By Jennifer Goldbronn, MAS, RD

We recently received an email from a reader that we thought would be good to reprint and answer as a blog post in case more readers experience the same situation. So, with her permission, we present her questions:

I'm a first time mom, and I need some help with my 9 week old and napping. She's exclusively breastfed and sleeps reasonably well at night (for a little baby - four hours max, very occasionally longer), but she will only nap in my arms, and she fights it every time.
I've been trying to feed, then play with her until the first time she yawns, then I immediately try to get her to sleep. It generally results in 10-20 minutes of fussing while I bounce her, and she'll sleep just fine once she's down, but she's up the second we move, and I mean any movement at all. I have to make sure my phone is close to my left hand while I rock her, because if I reach for it, she's up!

Is this normal for a kid this age, and is there anything I can do to get her to sleep in a bassinet? I'm reluctant to put her in her cradle in our bedroom just to nap, as I'm worried that will interfere with her sleep at night - bedtime is the only time we spend in that room. I'd just really like to be able to cook supper again, or maybe do a little picking up, as our house is getting to be more and more of a disaster!

What to Expect: Sleep Patterns for Young Babies

First, let’s talk about what’s normal with sleep patterns for this age. This reader is right, her 9-week-old sleeping a 4-hour max stretch of sleep at night is completely normal. Between 6-8 weeks, babies are just beginning to concentrate their sleep during the nighttime as they are more awake during the day. Also, as babies’ bodies mature, they will begin to follow the light-dark cycle , recognizing the difference between daytime and nighttime, but this doesn’t happen until around 3 months of age. As babies get older, they are more likely take naps at predictable times but not at 9 weeks of age. Having said that, let’s look at some findings from a large study of sleep duration specific to daytime sleep.

• One-month-old babies’ daytime sleep duration varied from 2-9 total hours (all naps) per day, with an average of about 5 ½ total hours of daytime sleep per 24 hour period.

• By 3 months, total daytime sleep averaged about 4 ½ hours per day, and ranged from 1-8 hours.

While this gives an idea of “normal” sleep duration, it also shows just how variable infant sleep can be from one baby to the next. (Iglowstein 2003)

Tired Signs

Next, let’s talk about the signs that babies give when they are tired and ready for a nap. While this reader’s baby was yawning before the reader tried to give her a nap, I wonder if that was the only disengagement the baby was giving. Babies may show several different disengagement cues signaling that they need a break or something different. Perhaps the baby just needed a short break and not a full nap (though this may go against parents’ plans to get housework done!)

Sleep Environment

This reader’s baby sleeps better in her mother’s arms and wakes with any movement. As we’ve mentioned in past posts, young infants fall asleep into light sleep. For babies who are sensitive to position change, moving them in this sleep state can wake them up. Waiting for signs of deep sleep (relaxed arms and legs, steady breathing, little or no movement, heavy body) before laying babies down may help them stay asleep.

This reader also questioned if having her baby sleep in the bassinet in her room would interfere with nighttime sleep. Actually, the consistency of sleep environment for both naps and bedtime would be helpful. Also, having a similar bedtime routine for naps (though it can be shorter) as you have for nighttime helps babies know what to expect at naptime too. The key is consistency. Find a soothing routine that works and stick with it. Research shows that this can help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. For more about routines, click here.

Knowing what your baby is developmentally capable of and following your young baby’s natural routine by watching for and responding to her cues will help your days go more smoothly. We know it’s hard to watch your house fall apart, chores go undone and personal time vanish, but we’ve all been there, and this will only last a short time! Ask for support during this time so that you can get a break. You don’t have to do it all yourself.


Iglowstein I, Jenni OG, Molinari L, Largo RH. Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics. 2003;111(2):302-7.

1 comment:

  1. Infants have sleep cycles that are much shorter than adults, about 20 minutes for active sleep and then 20 minutes for deep sleep. If you can wait those first 20 minutes without trying to set her down she is less likely to get upset when you lay her down.