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Doctor Dad
Dr. Marc Weissbluth answers your
questions about young children

Q: Our 3 month old daughter will not stay asleep when we put her down for naps. We rock her to sleep and wait until she is in deep sleep but every time she wakes within minutes. We end up holding her the entire nap. She is also a colicky baby so we just try to let her sleep the best we can.

How can we break this cycle while she still fights sleep like she does?

A: Predictable and long naps develop at 12-16 weeks in most children, but babies with colic develop sleep/wake rhythms later. So not napping well at 3 months for a colicky baby is normal. Here is how you can help her sleep better over the next few months. Always put her down at night when she first shows signs of being tired, before she gets overtired. The earlier the bedtime the better. Always keep the intervals of wakefulness
during the day very short. This means that you try to nap her every one to two hours. Do whatever you can to maximize sleep and minimize crying during the day. Don't worry about habit formation now. Soon you will see longer and less interrupted night sleep followed by a good quality morning nap.
The morning nap always develops before the afternoon nap. Don't be disappointed if the naps are only 40-50 minutes long. As months go by, the naps will lengthen. After 4-5 months of age, focus on the morning nap and put her down, after only one hour of wakefulness and after soothing, to see if you will be able to soothe herself to sleep. Once she is napping better in the morning, you will see a better afternoon nap. Again, the key is to avoid the overtired state so when she wakes up for her morning nap, put her down for her next nap within1-2 hours of wakefulness.

Q: I have an 11 month old son who is a terrible napper. After reading your book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, my wife realized that she always responded too quickly to his protests to being put in his crib to nap after falling asleep while nursing (he would and still wakes immediately after being put down). So we decided to start letting him cry himself to sleep at around 8 1/2 months of age.
My wife has been putting him down for a nap around 9 or 9:30 AM after nursing (and he shows signs of fatigue). Initially, he would scream the entire hour, after which she would retrieve him. Our pediatrician recommended trying 2 hours, so we have been. However, his crying is now only about 10 minutes or so long, after which he plays and wines. Occasionally, he will fall asleep after well over an hour in the crib for about 30 minutes.
We put him to bed around 7 PM or so each night, either awake or drowsy without difficulty, and he sleeps through the night. If he wakes, we let him cry himself back to sleep (not very often) which takes only a few minutes. People say that some babies just don't need to nap the way others do......but that's not the impression we got from your book! We don't attempt an afternoon nap after this daily morning fiasco. Should we try putting him down later, maybe after lunch, since he is getting older?

Do we keep trying the same way?
This has been going on too long!

A: At 11 months, a predictable biological nap rhythm is in place at about 9am and 1pm. If you move the bedtime substantially earlier and shorten the intervals of wakefulness between the naps, you should see regular and long naps with no crying as he goes down. Try moving the bedtime earlier by 20 minute increments until you see that he is playing and not going to sleep, then go back to the preceding time. Be flexible with the bedtime based on how he looks, how he napped, and your past experiences~but again, the earlier the bedtime the better the naps.

By the way, all babies need to nap and nap rhythms have a strong
biological basis.

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