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Hey, hey!

I'm Michele DiSpirito

I've been where you are.

Tired. No. Exhausted! Frustrated and confused as to what to do with an adorable little one that just. won't. sleep.

I'm a mom to three boys ages 6 and under, wife to Kyle for 17 years, and all about getting some good sleep for us all! While struggling to make sleep consistent and a reality with my oldest, I scoured the internet for answers and was left more frustrated and confused than when I started. I wanted a clear path; someone I trusted to just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when. What I wanted was what I'm here to be for you today - a Pediatric Sleep Consultant.

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How to Practice Naps in the Crib with Newborns

The top priority in the newborn days isn’t accomplishing perfect crib naps (or perfect sleep in general), but it can still be something that you work towards if you’re feeling up to it! If that’s the case, this post is for you!

If sleep isn’t the top priority in the newborn days, what is?

The top priorities in the newborn days are first your healing and bonding with your baby and establishing feedings.

Feedings are more important than figuring out when and how to get your baby to sleep. The feedings are going to promote great sleep!

Sleep is still important and we want Baby to always be sleeping in a safe place (covered below), but if sleep (and all it entails) is causing you a lot of stress, take that pressure off that you have to do it “perfectly” (whatever that means for you)!

  • There is no sleeping through the night or perfect naps in the newborn days. Newborn sleep is all over the place.

  • In the earliest days, most newborns sleep pretty much all the time. This causes a lot of first-time moms (myself included!) to wonder what all the fuss is about with baby sleep struggles. But then a week or so goes by and the baby wakes up and you're like, “Oh. Now I get it.”

  • You’re likely not going to get a “perfect” sleeper right away - and that’s ok and normal!

  • Some days you’ll practice and get a great, long nap from it! On other days (and it may be the majority of your days at first), the nap will be short or end up not being in the crib like you hoped. That’s also ok and normal! Just like practicing anything else, progress isn’t linear. A great day, a terrible day, an awesome day, and a horrible day can happen consecutively and in that order. It’s normal! Keep practicing or take a break from practicing if your mental health needs it - both are ok!! There’s lots of grace in the newborn days!

  • Even if the crib nap achieved is 10 minutes - it counts and can be celebrated!!

  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consumed, angry, or any ill effect from practicing crib naps, please take a break from practicing! Your mental health is more important than figuring this out right now. There’s time to work on it later; it’s never too late. Come back to this when you’re ready. If these are common emotions, talk to your healthcare provider. Take care of yourself!

  • There is zero separation-based sleep training done in the newborn days and you won’t have to stretch out of your comfort zone far at all! Newborns need lots of help to get to sleep and you’ll be able to help a lot. The goal is for them to be able to finish falling asleep on their own in the crib and gradually they’ll fall asleep sooner and sooner on their own in the crib. Some days that’ll happen, other days it won’t - normal and ok!

There is no perfect way to get your baby to sleep and the only wrong way to do it is to let them sleep in an unsafe space or position. Here’s a brief overview of safe sleep habits:

  1. Your baby should always sleep on their back on a firm mattress with zero things in the crib or bassinet. There should only be a tightly fitted sheet over the mattress and your baby in their swaddle, but nothing loose in the crib. At this age is definitely fine to be using a pacifier that is safe, but no stuffed animals, zero blankets, no bumpers, no anything else there should only be baby fitted sheet mattress. And any clothes that they are wearing should be snugly fitted clothes to help them stay comfortable but also to stay cool. It'd be better for them to be a little chilly versus too hot.

  2. No, baby positioners or loungers at all for sleeping! So, no DockAtot for sleep, no snuggle-me for sleep, or anything like that. Those are fine when you can supervise 100% of the time but obviously, it's you can’t supervise when you are also sleeping.

  3. If they're sleeping in a car seat, swing, or stroller (which is totally fine), be sure that they are able to be fully supervised and no matter where they are (in the car or not) they need to be fully buckled and their chin should stay untucked (no chin to chest/head tipping too far forward) to allow for adequate airflow while they're seated.

  4. If they're sleeping in a baby carrier (which I absolutely loved with my little ones), be sure you've read the instructions on how to get them into the carrier appropriately. Keep an eye on their body and head positioning again so they can breathe well. Also, be sure to keep their face from being completely covered.

Practicing crib naps with your newborn

First, remember that this is a time to practice.

My typical recommendation for moms, if they’re up for practicing, is to practice just one nap a day in the crib.

You don't have to practice for every single nap.

Newborns are sleeping all the time so you don't have to practice every single nap in the crib. Typically, the first nap of the day is the easiest.

Let's get into actually how to do this.

Knowing their awake window for their age is going to be a great starting place for you. Keep an eye on their sleep cues, too. If they’re showing that they’re sleepy earlier than the wake window, get them down for a nap. If they aren’t showing sleep cues, still get them down within their wake window, not everyone shows sleep cues. In the very early days, most of the wake window will probably be feeding them and that's totally fine. Start their feeding at the beginning of their wake window, keeping them awake and alert (which may be extremely difficult in those early days, but try your best!)

2. Start a naptime routine

When there are about five minutes left in the wake window, take them to their room and do a short naptime routine of changing their diaper, putting on their jammies or onesie and a tight swaddle, inserting their pacifier, turning on the sound machine, and turn off/dim the lights.

SIDE NOTE: You can use jammies, a onesie, or nothing under the swaddle depending on the ambient temperature in the room and how hot your baby gets. Whatever it ends up being, I highly recommend using a swaddle and using a velcro one. They're so much easier to get tight enough than a loose swaddle blanket (those are great for other things).

3. Lie them down or soothe them

If your baby is already pretty drowsy, you can go ahead and lay them down in the crib to see what they'll do. You can give them one to three minutes to see if they can settle. Some babies will fuss, some will cry, and most will squirm and press against the swaddle. None of these are necessarily signs that they need to be picked up, per se. It’s ok to see what they’ll do. Plenty of newborns that I have seen and worked with will fuss and cry for less than two minutes and it's like a switch just flips and they just fall asleep. But again, you do not need to go beyond your comfort level! You're gonna be sitting right there the entire time. If you're uncomfortable or feel your baby needs soothing, attempt to soothe them while they’re still lying in the crib before picking them up if you can. If they’re not settling, pick them up to soothe them.

When you need to pick them up to soothe them, go through the 5 S’s - Swaddle (check!), Side-lying or Stomach position (while being held only), Sushing/Sound machine (check!), Sucking/pacifier (check!), Swaying.

Once your baby's settled, lie them back down in their crib and give them a few minutes (or as long as you’re comfortable) to see what they’ll do.

So, you’ve done a pick up (to soothe) and you now put them down (back in the crib). This is the “Pick Up/Put Down” method of sleep training. Repeat this “put down, watch, soothe in the crib, pick up, soothe” until they’re asleep in the crib.

Trying to soothe them as much as you can while they're still in the crib or bassinet is going to give more opportunities for them to fall asleep in their crib or bassinet instead of your arm (which is the goal). We want them to start associating falling asleep in that space and become a sleep association. But that's not always going to happen because sometimes the switch flips while you’re soothing them. It's like one minute they're crying and then the next minute they're asleep. If that happens, you can lie them down to see if they will continue to sleep in the crib. Or you can hold them. Either is ok!

My boys liked the “butt pat” for an “in the crib” soothing method. Since they were lying on their back, it was a little awkward, but I would lift their legs so they were resting on the side of my hand then I’d gently pat their booty. It was more of a jiggle, but it worked and was a great way for them to stay in the crib and be soothed.

What if they don’t fall asleep?!

If you are going through this process and it’s been an hour with no success, abandon the attempt for a nap in the crib. Feed Baby and get them to sleep however you can! You can try for a crib nap later in the day or just skip that day and try tomorrow or whenever you're ready for it.

In Conclusion

So, that’s how you practice crib naps. It sounds a little chaotic, and it can be, but there is a method to the madness. Just keep trying and you find what works for your little one and they will find what works for them. Any success, big or small, counts and can be celebrated!

If you’d like more help with the newborn days I absolutely love working with newborn families; I would be honored to help you through these days. I have a newborn sleep guide for purchase and also offer my support throughout the newborn days. You can find out more about all of that here!


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