As I write this, my 18 month old daughter is taking a nice, long nap! Nap time is when I clean up the house for real and get work a bit of work done. Sometimes, ever-so-rarely, I crochet or read. My daughter has never been a stellar sleeper and in the past she tended to wake up after 45 minutes or so. But now, she's getting a full two hour afternoon nap almost every day (sometimes longer). I've noticed a real difference in her mood and appetite since sleeping a little better during the day. Love that! Here are a few things I do to help her get a better nap:
1. Tucker her out.
My daughter sleeps much better day or night if she's been running around, excited and engaged in fun. I make sure we get outside for a bit, that she gets dirty or sweaty or wet, and if possible, that she plays with a few other people than me like neighbor kids and grandparents. She gets more physically tired, of course, but I also think the contentment of good hearty play helps her relax (doesn't it all of us?).
2. Fill her up, Latin-style.
I recently adjusted her mealtimes to better reflect the big lunch + siesta tradition (that we are actually a part of as we live in Chile, where she was born). This means I offer her the biggest meal of the day around 12:30 or so and then immediately take her for her nap. Who among us doesn't love a big mid-day meal and a nap?
3. Black out the space.
I use black out-style blinds in our bedroom and it really helps get and keep my daughter to sleep for naps (we bed-share, so her naps are generally taken in the middle of our bed. Day or night, she knows sleep is coming when I let down the blinds.
4. Nurse her down.
My daughter generally nurses to sleep, day and night. For nap times, I usually lay down with her and we enjoy a good cuddle. She's recently started sort of climbing up into my belly and slinging a leg over my hips before she falls asleep and it's so precious. She's falls hard asleep pretty fast, then I use my finger to un-latch her gently (she doesn't use a pacifier) and slowly untangle us.
5. Keep her warm.
We've probably all learned that warm babies tend to be sleepy babies. Even in the summer, I add at least a light layer over top of her as I exit the nap space (she doesn't like blankets impeding her acrobatic nursing leg motions while she's still awake, so I have to wait to cover her until after she falls asleep).
6. Carry her down.
Some days, I want to keep moving and getting stuff done in the house or in the garden, or just want to be outside using her nap time for a nice long walk. For this, I rely on my trusty Boba Carrier. It's so comfy, we both enjoy it. It's very easy to nurse in, so my daughter still gets nursed to sleep. Once she falls asleep, I pull on the shoulder adjustments and lift her back up to a high-on-the-chest level to continue working or walking while she slumbers. The motion keeps her sound to sleep for 2 - 3 hours. If I need to, I can usually shimmy her from a front carry to a back carry without waking her much. If she starts to wake, I just walk and bounce a little and she's back in a deep slumber very fast. It helps to get assistance with the sleepy hood when she's on the back, but I've found creative ways to put it up alone, too. Once she's asleep, I'll sometimes just put her back down right in the carrier - just undo the back and waist clips and softly lower her down to lay and sleep atop the carrier.
7. Respond fast to early wake ups.
As she often still wakes up in the "middle" of her nap (now it's about an hour or a little more after she goes to sleep), I use a couple different tools to help her back to sleep. If I feel relaxed and want the cuddle time, I lay back down with her and nurse her back to sleep. If I feel the need to keep moving, I'll have the Boba Carrier waiting outside the room (or will already be wearing it in anticipation of a possible wake up). When I hear her wake up, I'll scoop her up and into the carrier with a bounce-bounce "shhh-shhh" sort of thing. Sometimes this is enough to help her right back to sleep. Sometimes she'll want the boob, too, but it's fine because it's so easy to offer the breast in the Boba.
8. Give her a slow re-entry.
My little will wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about one in every 10 sleep sessions, be in day or night. Truth be told, she is a fussikins when it comes to waking up (apple, tree, etc.). When she wakes up for "good", I stop whatever I'm doing knowing that it will take a little while to transition her back to the land of walking, talking, playing, eating. I open the shades while talking to her over her fussing so that she can remember to wake up, then she'll want to nurse a little. I will sometimes undress her a little (even just taking off her socks helps) to let in some cool, wakeful air. I'll sing an uplifting song like You Are My Sunshine, and otherwise talk to her in my daytime not-sleepytime voice. After a few minutes, if she's still a bit in between worlds, I'll walk with her on the breast out into the living room or even the terrace. She'll see something fun or hear a neighbor kid yelling and that will take her the last little bit from sleeping to waking. I find that this transition time is important, as if it helps create a cozy bookend that imparts confidence in the safety and security of nap time. Who knows if that's real or not, but it feels good for us to honor the transition, too, not just the "getting and keeping her down" part.
Have more/other naptime tips to share? Drop a note below in the comments, or on our Facebook page. Happy napping mamas (and papas)!