We've all been there: Your babe is tired. So tired. But she just won't or can't sleep without her mama close by. There you are, curled up in the corner of the couch with your sweet sleeping babe. Sure, you have work to get done. Yes, you have dinner to start. But for the first time in what feels like days, your little lamb is sound asleep. And so begins your time contact napping. What, exactly, is a contact nap? Is it OK? Is it safe? And, if you've been doing it for a while and just need it to stop... how do you do that?
While many experts frown on co-sleeping as dangerous and contact napping as "spoiling," not all sleep and baby experts agree. Here's what you need to know.
What is contact napping?
Contact napping is a term created by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who wrote The Gentle Sleep Book. In essence, it’s an anti-Ferber method book about how to get your kiddos to sleep (and eventually sleep independently) without relying on the "cry it out" method.
The concept of contact napping is easy enough to understand. Contact napping is when you let your baby nap on you or while touching you. This can look like many things: wearing your baby and doing dishes while they sleep, rocking your baby throughout their nap, or simply leaving a hand on their chest while they sleep next to you in their crib or cot. Basically, you're always touching.
Is it OK to contact nap?
"Trying to avoid contact naps with a newborn can feel virtually impossible," child sleep consultant Rebecca Michi shares. "A newborn had nine months of contact naps, and they may struggle with sleeping any other way initially."
While it may feel natural for your baby and easy enough for you, is it healthy to contact nap? Michi believes so, as long as you can stay awake.
"Make sure you're not going to fall asleep," Michi advises. "If you think you may, it would be safer for you to go to your bed as long as you have set yourself up for safe bed-sharing. It is unsafe for you to fall asleep with your child in a recliner or a chair. You could wear your child in a carrier and let them nap; this gives you free hands, and you may feel your child can sleep a little safer. Just make sure your child is always close enough to kiss."
What are the benefits of contact napping?
Uhhh, you mean besides the fresh baby smell? Contact napping does, in fact, have benefits. First and foremost, it strengthens the bond the baby or child has with the person they remain in contact with. It's like extending the skin-to-skin time you had after you gave birth.
Contact napping's most beneficial part, though, is that your kiddo is sleeping! If it's between crying on their own or sleeping on their parent, sleep is always the answer as that's when the bulk of their brain development occurs.
Plus, if you can hold your phone while you hold your sleeping child or sit at your desk while you keep one hand on their back, you might get some socializing or work done while your baby sleeps. And that, dear friends, is also important.
When do you stop?
"I'm a firm believer that it's only a problem when it's a problem," Michi shares. "If your child is sleeping safely, and you are happy, there is nothing to change." In other words, there's no set "when" for stopping contact naps. If your kiddo is home all day and still finds comfort leaning against her mama for a nap, that's absolutely fine — so long as it still works for you.
How do I get my baby to sleep without being held?
At some point, no matter how hard it is to admit, contact napping may stop working for you. As your kiddo gets busier, nap time may be one of your only chances to get things done around the house or to do all that work-from-home work you need to do. Just like it's perfectly fine to meet your child's needs for contact naps, it's also OK to meet your needs when it's time to break the habit. But where do you start?
"It's always easier to make changes with the first nap of the day, so get started with that when you're making changes to naps," Michi advises. "Make sure that your child is ready for sleep. We want to avoid them being overtired and under-tired; they'll have a much harder time falling asleep and remaining asleep if the timing isn't right, and as we're making some changes to how your child is sleeping, we want the timing to be right."
Michi suggests helping your child fall asleep as you usually do, waiting until they've been asleep for 10 minutes, and then slowly (and as stealthily as possible) laying them in their bed.
"Bottom first, if you can, since getting their head down first can cause the startle reflex, and they're likely to wake up," she explains. "Once they are on the mattress, keep your hands on them for a minute or two. The movement will bring them into a lighter sleep, and we want to make sure they head back down to deeper sleep. You can jiggle them a little if needed."
You probably already figured this out, but you're in for a bit of a journey.
"Most importantly, set some realistic expectations," Michi shares. "If your child hasn't napped alone, they're not going to suddenly be fine doing it for an hour and a half. They may only nap for 10 minutes. I say that's still a win! Practice makes progress; the more time your child has napping independently, the easier time they'll have and the longer they'll nap."