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.

I 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.
The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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