How to Get a Baby to Nap When She Hasn’t Napped All Week

I haven’t been present here lately. Normally I wouldn’t post on a Sunday, but when your schedule clearly isn’t working, sometimes it does good to do away with the schedule and just do what works for now until you can figure out something more reasonable. So today, I write what I have to write about, because instead of crap I have some actual ideas that are coming together nicely.

sleep baby

Image mine.

Every Sunday Garth and I face the question of waking our daughter from her nap an hour early to go to church, or to stay home and let her sleep. On the one hand, we really want a well-rested baby; on the other hand, we don’t want to “make an idol” of her sleep–as I’ve heard other parents put it–and miss out on worship and fellowship.

We walk the balance of trusting God and relying too heavily on our own flawed intuition. Fellowship is important. Children’s sleep is important. Which one matters more to God? Which one do we give up for the other?

C.S. Lewis said children are the most important work. God wants us to be faithful with the things he has given us. Children are a gift from God–one which we must raise with great faithfulness and great sacrifice.

We try be faithful, to trust God. We pray and pray for our daughter to get good sleep, then we wake her up for church or keep her up hours after her bedtime to go to small group nights. We ask for good sleep habits to develop while simultaneously destroying them two to three times a week.

Sleep specialists say it takes a minimum of two weeks of consistency for an infant to develop good sleep habits. These habits would be taking two to three good naps (1.5-2 hours each and a catnap in the evening) daily, going to sleep without crying or without crying much, and sleeping through the night without waking, or at least without needing help getting back to sleep. Any deviations from their routine or from parental response to crying can cause set backs, which is why consistency is important.*

Lately we’ve been working on consistency. From the time Clarabelle was six weeks old until a month ago, we had been out of town every three weeks. It was extremely disruptive to Clarabelle’s sleep. We thought traveling and forcing her to sleep in new places would make her a more flexible baby, but we were so wrong. She became anything but flexible, and we all paid for it. We decided to start sleep training.

On day three of sleep training, which is often kind of the magic number–the point where babies are supposed to “figure it out” and accept the change and parents are supposed to feel less stressed–Clarabelle woke up with a fever. I had just caught a cold, and it appeared she had caught it as well. After a visit to the doctor, I was told she was healthy but getting more teeth (yes, she started teething at four months old! Oy.). Sleep training was put on hold yet again.

All this illness and congestion has resulted in a baby who went from two hour naps to napping less than an hour. Luckily, she’s been sleeping a little later every morning. Last night Garth and I decided since Clarabelle wasn’t taking good naps anyway, we would just get ready and leave when she woke up.

When Clarabelle got up this morning we changed her into her church clothes. After putting her down for her first nap, Garth and I got ready. I even put on a skirt and did my makeup. Of course, this induced a deep and long sleep from our daughter, and she took a two hour nap. We missed church. But we were ready anyway.

All this finally made me realize: isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do? To be always ready even if we don’t know, even if we don’t go today. To get up and get ready, every day ready for his call. Not to make decisions based on what we think will be right (example: let’s just stay home from church tomorrow so our daughter can sleep). That’s when we find ourselves in a situation where we could have gone if only we had been prepared.

This is the better way. We may not have made it to church this morning, but we were faithful. We were prepared to go if only we were called to it.

Today our daughter was blessed with good sleep. Next time maybe we’ll be blessed with an opportunity to join our church in worship.

God will lead. He’ll call us when he wants us–we need only be ready.

*I planned on citing some sources for the infant sleep facts, then realized most of what I know comes from conversations with a sleep specialist. If you’re a parent and interested in getting your baby (or toddler) and family better sleep, I’d encourage you in the direction of a sleep consultant from the Family Sleep Institute, like Baby Sleep Well. (I have not been asked to endorse these services. These are merely where I get my infant sleep information and help, and I provide the links simply to give other parents access to a sleep philosophy that has helped my family.)

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