We all know that babies need naps – so why then are they so ridiculously resistant to taking them?
During the early days after being born, babies are pretty easy to get to sleep.
They nod off at the drop of a hat – whether that be in Auntie Sylv’s arms, mid-feed or in their cot.
The trouble is this lures you into a false sense of security. “What on earth are all those whiney parents banging on about? This parenting lark is easy, they just sleep. We must have a super baby!”
Read more: Baby sleep hacks
However that smug attitude gets brought crashing back down to earth within a fortnight – as your baby recovers from the trauma of being born and becomes more aware of their surroundings.
It’s not that your baby needs less sleep, it’s just suddenly they’re struggling to drop off. Sometimes it might seem like they are actually fighting it.
I can remember spending hours and hours pinned to the sofa with my first baby. I watched boxset after boxset as she snoozed, because whenever I attempted to instigate a naptime involving her sleeping in the actual Moses basket, she would scream the place down.
I recall watching age inappropriate shows such as The Affair (there’s a LOT of sex) and True Blood (there’s a LOT of violence, and sex) and wondering whether she was subconsciously taking all this in and I was inadvertently scarring her for life.
It was a similar story at bedtime at first, though after just a few weeks she was nodding off quite happily in her own bed at night. My second child was another matter entirely – rubbish naps and rubbish nighttime sleep for months and months.
I did as all worried first-timers do and turned to my on-again off-again friend Google for answers. We have a troubled relationship, me and Google. On the one hand he provides me with a plethora of information at just a few swipes of my finger.
On the other hand he provides me with a multitude of BS, internet threads full of judgement and vile statements from trolls, and conflicting information that leaves me more confused than when I started out.
However what it did throw out for me was the answer to why my baby did not want to sleep anywhere but on me. The answer was that she was experiencing the “fourth trimester”.
While you know the pregnancy is over and your baby is now their own person, your baby has yet to accept this fact. To be fair, she doesn’t even know the word independence, let alone understand that she’s supposed to be working towards it.
The fourth trimester is the weeks immediately after birth and sees your baby attempt to adjust to the outside world. And they will adjust. It’s just they won’t want you to go very far during this time.
Your baby will cling to you as if their very life depended on it. They have just spent nine months in the womb, surrounded by warmth and safety – and your smell.
So when you attempt to put your baby down for a nap, of course they are going to object (noisily). Because as far as they are concerned, being separated from their mother is just unnatural.
There are a few theories about why this is. Some would say it’s just a simply matter of being accustomed to your smell and presence, that they crave that feeling of comfort that comes with it.
Others say it’s an old instinct connected to survival. Babies know they are vulnerable and so they cling to their parents, the people who they depend on to keep them alive, and set off the alarm (cry) when they sense their security system has been compromised.
There are also theories about it being connected to breastfeeding. In the early weeks when a mum’s supplies are being built up, babies will suckle almost constantly some days. They even like to feed in their sleep.
Surviving the fourth trimester
So what can you do about it? On the face of it, I’m afraid there’s not much you can do to change your baby’s mind that being on you when they sleep is a bad thing.
You provide safety, warmth, comfort and familiarity. Even the fanciest of Moses baskets aren’t going to win against that.
With this in mind then, you should try to accept and embrace it as much as possible, because these early weeks do go by in a flash and as exhausting as they can feel, a LOT changes in a very short space of time with new babies.
Having said all of that, I have been there and accepting it is a hard pill to swallow. Newborn babies are absolutely knackering – both mentally and physically – and you can’t very well sleep when the baby sleeps if all they want to do is sleep on you.
Of course there are people who co-sleep, and do so very successfully. This is an option, and one that you shouldn’t be afraid of trying if you feel comfortable.
I personally struggled to do it, and with my second child she was such a light sleeper that I found when she napped on the bed next to me, the slightest movement woke her up and so I was stuck in an uncomfortable crunched up position for the duration of her nap time
If you’re already facing difficulty getting enough sleep at night courtesy of your little night owl, then you’re probably desperate to get a break during naptime.
It’s brilliant getting to a stage where your baby goes to sleep in their cot, giving you time to do a bit of housework or chores and then curl up in bed for some rest yourself. Alone. So how can you conquer the fourth trimester?
Some babies are much easier to prise away from their mama at naptime than others, and for some you may have to have a lot more patience.
A few crucial things to remember about the fourth trimester:
It will pass.
Holding your baby during naptime and bedtime while they sleep does NOT mean they will never learn to self-soothe.
Your baby can learn to self-soothe later.
This IS a trying time – it’s exhausting and frustrating. Try to keep your cool and remember that it isn’t forever. Your child’s inability to sleep in their own bed in the first year does not mean they will never sleep in their own bed. I have two kids who would only nap on me or in the buggy for the first weeks (one who did it for the first five months) and both now get to sleep without an issue (mostly) every night. In their own beds.
Consider co-sleeping, but remember that it’s not for everyone. I didn’t do it because I’m too much of a fidget and I just couldn’t bring myself to try it for fear the baby would end up being shoved off the end of the bed. If you are going to try it, follow the guidelines from the Lullaby Trust.
What can you do to get your baby to nap in their cot?
There are a few tools you can try to help the fourth trimester pass a little quicker.
This worked wonders for my first child and the it was so easy to get rid of as well.
She used it every nap time and at bedtime for the first six months and then she simply stopped needing it. It basically gave her something other than a bottle to suckle herself to sleep.
When it got to nap time I would get her into her sleeping bag, put her down, pop the dummy in her mouth and her eyes immediately rolled to the back of her head.
I would thoroughly recommend you consider trying a dummy once your milk supply is established after around six weeks.
I confess I tried it earlier with my first child as I was going bonkers at nap time and it was a real lifesaver. I was breastfeeding, but I was exclusively pumping, so I didn’t need her to build up my milk supply. I do however know plenty of people who used a dummy and breastfed from day one and had no problems, you just need to make sure you are putting them to the breast frequently and carve out a bit of a routine so that you are feeding regularly, and not replacing a feed with the dummy.
The womb is a tight squeeze in the last few weeks. Swaddling replicates that snug and secure feeling.
Try to ask a health visitor or midwife to show you how to do it, because it takes a bit of practice. Alternatively you can buy ready-made swaddles that you simply slot your baby in to.
When it comes to nap time try to follow the same routine as you carry out at bedtime.
This sets the scene for your baby, and tells them it’s time to start winding down and get ready for sleep.
This could include singing a lullaby, a nappy change, a cuddle, drawing the curtains and then settling them down to sleep.
My second child was, and still is, a stubborn little thing. However when it comes to nap time I did eventually win the war!
The trick was to just be persistent and try to set the naps at roughly the same time of day every day. This does not work with a brand new baby, however from around four or five months onwards many babies start to get into a routine that works for you and them.
For me it was putting her down again and again. Picking her up when she cried, then popping her back down into the cot once she had been comforted.
Some days I had to give up on this battle, because an hour had gone by where we had gotten absolutely nowhere. Some times I would just breastfeed her to sleep and accept that it wasn’t going to happen that day.
But I kept trying to get her to nap in her cot and eventually it just happened. She went into the bed and got herself to sleep!
I hope these tips and this information will provide some comfort. Know that you are not going insane, the fourth trimester does not last forever and your baby will eventually give you some much needed time in the day to do your own thing.
You may also like:
20 beginner’s tips for breastfeeding your newborn
21 weird but normal things about newborns
Gentle Baby sleep training
Did you struggle with the fourth trimester? How did you get out of it? Drop me a message if you have any questions.