When Your Child Will Only Nap On You.

This isn’t going to be a ‘how to’ article, explaining how to wean your child off of napping on top of you. It’s an article encouraging you to embrace it, and how to spend your time when it happens.

napI am often asked for help to wean a baby off of ‘contact naps’ as I like to call them – by that I mean naps with a baby (or toddler) laying either directly on top of you, or curled up at your side. While it is possible to stop this from happening (slowly and gently) and encourage more independent naps, I would like to spend some time thinking about why ‘in contact’ naps seem so taboo.

The gift of being able to get your child to sleep easily, calmly and relatively quickly is a huge one. So many parents struggle with trying to encourage independent naps, I often wonder why the message to embrace non-independent ones is not louder. The two biggest criticisms I hear are “you need to encourage independence, it’s not good for them to be so reliant on you” and “naps laying on mum or dad aren’t as good quality as naps in a cot/crib”. These criticisms are utter rubbish. We know from every single piece of psychological research that the key to creating a confident and independent child is to allow them the dependence that they need on us, when they need it. For some babies and toddlers this means the need for physical contact when they are at their most vulnerable – in the state of sleep. You can’t *make* your child sleep on you if they don’t want to and they won’t do it forever. They WILL outgrow the need and when they do they will be all the more confident for it. As for the myth of naps only being ‘good quality’ if they are in a cot or crib, I have no idea where this one came from. It is so wrong and obscure it’s almost laughable, only the fact millions of parents have been scared by it is no laughing matter. Sleep is sleep, it really doesn’t matter where it happens. Although I would say that sleep is better when it happens with a calm, secure child and for many that means ‘in contact’. Simply put, there are no negatives to ‘in contact’ naps for children and they will outgrow the need for them.

Allowing ‘in contact’ naps is perhaps the least stressful option for the whole family. Accepting and dare I say, enjoying, them is often the best option. Being pinned down under a snoozing child for an hour or so can quickly lose its appeal though. Perhaps my best advice therefore is thinking about what to do when it happens, not trying to prevent it from happening. Take some time to prepare and plan your time.

  • Be prepared – make a flask of tea or coffee, have a glass of water and a snack prepared and keep it at arms’ length. Keep your phone easily accessibly, again at arms length and not trapped in a pocket, the same of the TV remote, book or magazine.
  • Make nap time ‘box set’ time. Often TV episodes last for around 45 minutes, a perfect time for a nap. Watch an episode per nap and quickly catch up on your favourite series, or find a new one. Netflix is your friend. Consider headphones if your child is bothered by the sound.
  • Make nap time reading time. Discover new books, or read those you bought ages ago and didn’t get round to reading. Kindles can be easier to read one handed than a paper book.
  • Take time to meditate. Nap time can be a wonderful time for calmness and mindfulness. Try out the free trial on www.headspace.com
  • Listen to some music. Catch up on your favourite artist, or new recordings that aren’t baby or child music! Headphones are likely a must here!
  • Take a snooze yourself. Daytime naps can be a great time to catch up on lost night sleep.
  • Just be. We don’t spend much time being still in our busy lives, especially when we’re parents. Take nap time to really look at your child, watch their chest softly rise and fall as they breathe, smell the baby scent on their breath, look at the tiny curls in their hair, stroke their foreheads and cheeks, hold their little podgy hands in yours and feel the reassuring weight of their body molding into yours. These are the memories that will stay with you forever.

If you want to learn more about naps in the first year, my ‘Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters’ book has a whole chapter on them and is available on UK Amazon, US Amazon and worldwide via The Book Depository. If you would like more information on sleep, during the day and at night, with a ‘gentle slant’ from birth to five years check out my ‘Gentle Sleep Book‘ and Facebook page. Finally, if you liked this article consider signing up to my newsletter – to receive a free parenting support email to your inbox each week.

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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10 Responses to When Your Child Will Only Nap On You.

  1. Vicky says:

    My 20m old sleeps on me at every nap time that we’re at home and I love it! We get to snuggle up and sleep together to make up for the lack of sleep at night! I’ve never had an issue with it and won’t listen to anyone who tells me it’s detrimental to her. She sleeps for ages and wakes up with a smile which is all the encouragement I need!

  2. Angela says:

    Thank you for your advice. I really feel that you are the only real expert out there who does not demonise parents for loving and just being a parent – letting your child sleep / get to sleep – however they need to and that you are not growing to ‘screw them up for life’ if you don’t ‘train’ them.
    You help to give me the confidence to just do what I am doing and letting me and my husband be baby led.

  3. Jenny says:

    They are only little once.

  4. Tammy says:

    There is nothing better than snuggling your little one and watching them sleep. I love stealing kisses on my little boy’s gorgeous chubby cheeks and watching him breathe. They are little for such a short time. My little guy has dropped his day naps now (he’s 25 months) and I miss the snuggles in the recliner chair – it was my favourite time of day! He does still fall asleep in his car seat at times and I carry him in and snuggle him as he won’t wake happy if I try to make him stir, it means he has to go to bed heaps later that night but I just enjoy my cuddles and worry about the night time sleep later.

  5. pinksnow78 says:

    My 4 month old only naps on me during the day and I love it. Its obviously what she needs and I’m not going to stop her. If I need to get something done, I put her in the sling first or get prepared for a long sit on the couch! She’s not going to be doing it forever!! Thank you for this post 🙂

  6. Nell says:

    Ah I stopped listening to other people’s advice on “making your baby more independent” pretty much as soon as they were born. The amount of times people said “let them cry they’ll soon tire themselves out” made me want to say “do you like going to sleep crying? No? Well neither do they!”

    They napped on me, climbed into the bed and all of the other stuff people frown upon. They grow out of it and they do become confident, independent kids.

    I do wish I had a flask on me though! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Margaret Wales-Brown says:

    Nice advice but not realistic. I’m a big fan of your book and I wish I’d found peace with these naps with my first baby and just enjoyed it. But now my first baby is bigger and needs me and napping with number two on me just isn’t sustainable – when number one baby gets so little attention after a sibling arrives sleep could be a great opportunity for him to have my focus for a few rare minutes and so I’m sad I’m stuck here holding baby number 2 hoping for no urgent food/toilet needs from my toddler or realistically number one has to be woken earlier than he wants.. either by me or an impatient toddler.

  8. Lo says:

    I did this with my daughter. She never really slept anywhere else in the day. To be honest I am a little worried about how I continue this with no. 2 who’s due this Spring. How do you have the younger child nap on you while dealing with a boisterous toddler? Any tips?

  9. This article helped me so much when I struggled in the beginning, I half believe what others said, that my daughter needed to nap on her own, that I needed to get things done. Once I embraced this time I found ways to be productive from under my sleeping baby. Hence my blog name! ❤ thank you, your words have helped me more than you know! X

  10. Kate says:

    My 12 month old has been taking his naps on me & my fiancé since he turned 5-6months. It coincided with him outgrowing his sleepyhead as he wanted to sleep on his tummy.
    I love the idea that he wants to feel close to me or my fiancé & that’s why he takes his naps in this way but when we’ve both had to go out & my mum or his auntie have looked after him & he has napped on them. So, my question is if he is happy napping on others then is he actually doing it for contact with me or his dad or is it habit?
    I have tried putting him down every so often just to see if he’ll nap in his cot but he wakes up immediately & sits up, & is very upset.

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