It is inevitable that at some point your baby will struggle with her nap schedule by waking early from her naps.
If your baby has already learned how to self-soothe, she may be suddenly waking early from her naps for one of these reasons: she’s going through a growth spurt, suffers from colic, has gas, is ill, or is experiencing something new (like a house guest, new sibling, or is traveling). If you can eliminate those reasons, odds are it’s you who has created this problem for your baby!
If you’re starting the schedules late, she’ll have a hard time sleeping through her naps right away because she hasn’t learned the skill of self-soothing herself to sleep yet. Therefore, she can’t soothe herself back to sleep when she’s awakened during her naps. Learning how to self-soothe is an essential skill that you have to teach your baby and it takes time — especially when you’re late to the scheduling game because your baby has to unlearn bad sleep habits. Give her some time, but be consistent!
So, to help you figure out why your baby’s waking early from her naps, first ask yourself these 10 questions:
1. Have I been skipping my baby’s “activity time?”
Try your best to keep your baby up during her activity times so her naps don’t suffer as a result of her tendency to mini-doze during the day. She just won’t be as tired as she needs to be to sleep through a whole nap time. Her playtime is completely tied to the quality and quantity of her napping time. And there are plenty of activities she can participate in during the scheduled activity time…so don’t skip them.
2. Have I been letting my baby sleep past her scheduled nap time?
Have you been told to “never wake a sleeping baby?” We think this is absolute poppycock! Wake your baby up — otherwise, she won’t be tired for her next nap! Left to her own accord, your baby will sleep all day and stay awake all night. It falls to you to teach her when it’s time to sleep and also when it’s time to wake up.
3. Have I counted my baby’s “snoozing” as nap time?
When your baby sleeps during her activity time (and she will!), especially in the first few months…do not count that time as scheduled nap time. That will only serve to mess up her schedule. When she’s sleeping in the swing, the playpen, the stroller, the car seat, or the lounger during her activity time, its doesn’t count as official nap time because she’s outside of her nursery, joining you in the outside world of bright lights and many noises. It’s simply not the same kind of real sleep for her so don’t count it. Stick to the schedule for her naps and put her down in her crib when it’s nap time while trying your best to keep her up when it’s play time.
4. Am I putting my baby down for her naps when she’s already asleep?
This is the worst habit to get into for your baby’s naps because your baby will not learn to fall back to sleep on her own if you always put her down when she’s already asleep. If you’ve been putting her down when she’s already sleeping, she has learned that only you can help her fall back to sleep! So when she awakes in the middle of a nap for any reason (she’s in between sleep cycles, a dog barks, a sibling cries, her diaper’s wet, etc.) she won’t be able to fall back to sleep on her own. If your baby has fallen asleep right before her nap time, just wake her up a little while transferring her to her crib — or certainly don’t worry about waking her up as you make the transfer!
5. Have I been rocking, walking, or driving my baby to get her to go to sleep?
Again, you’re robbing your baby of the opportunity to learn the skill of falling to sleep on her own if you make her dependent on you (or your car!) to fall asleep. She will quickly learn to demand your help to fall asleep and fall back to sleep every time she wakes early and she’ll let you know this by wailing during her naps. Remember, you are teaching your baby how to sleep and you want to teach her how to do this independent of you.
6. Have I fed my baby off-schedule?
If your baby is on a consistent schedule, she will not be hungry during her nap times and therefore she will not wake early to feed. When you’ve created the magical routine of feeding, playing, then napping — in that order, every time — you’ve started regulating her metabolism and re-setting her body clock. Contrarily, feeding her off-schedule means she’ll be less hungry (or not hungry at all) during her feedings and this will create exactly what you don’t want — that slippery slope that leads to a confused, snacking baby who starts to wake up early from her naps.
7. Have I let my baby get overtired?
If you’re not keeping your baby on a consistent schedule, you’re encouraging her to get overtired. Ironically, when your baby’s overtired she’ll have a much harder time falling and staying asleep. A lot of parents misdiagnose having an overtired baby as having a “cranky” or “grumpy” baby in nature, but this isn’t really the case. A regular baby routine creates a consistently well-rested and happier baby. Get back to the schedule asap and use our 15-Minute Rule to get her napping habits back on track.
8. Have I been rushing into the nursery when my baby starts crying?
Use our 15-Minute Rule instead! Babies usually wake, whimper, and cry when they’re transitioning between sleep cycles. And remember that you owe your baby the chance to fall back to sleep on her own. Trust us, it’s harder on you than your baby. Remind yourself that you have a goal for your baby: to give her the precious gift of becoming a good sleeper, who sleeps well her whole childhood.
9. Did I offer my baby a “nightcap?”
When your baby wakes early from her night time sleep-stretches, it might be a result of not having enough calories to sleep through. Around 8 weeks, make sure to offer your baby a “nightcap.” The goal is to offer an ounce more than what she’s normally eating — so if she’s only still eating 5 ounces at each feed, offer 6 at the nightcap. It’s virtually impossible to overfeed your baby because she will stop eating when she’s full. Offering the extra ounces is the point.
10. Is my baby napping outside of her nursery?
Your baby should be napping and night sleeping in her crib, in her nursery, starting on night one! With modern monitors and video cameras, you can rest assured you’ll know every move your baby makes, so give her her own quiet, peaceful, dark, and consistent place to sleep every time. Make your baby’s nursery ideal for her naps. Read our Crib Essentials and Nursery Organization Must-Haves to help get you started. A Crib Soother, Sound Machine, and Black-Out Curtains are absolutely essential for good naps. And when you’re traveling with your baby, all you’ll have to do is recreate her nursery environment by finding a private space for her to sleep in a playpen, with her soother, sound machine, and monitor (all highly-portable products)!
Related Posts: Why is My Baby Crying?!?!, Starting Late, Troubleshooting Naps, Baby Temperatures, Nursery Organization Must-Haves, PPB Schedule Birth-3 Weeks, Crib Essentials, Swaddling, Baby’s Nightcap, Waking Your Baby to Feed, The 15-Minute Rule, Sleeping Milestones, Crib Soothers, Sound Machine Magic, Swaddling, Why Use Our PPB Schedules, How to Become a Practical Parent, Napping No-No’s