Baby Won’t Nap Unless Held? 9 Tips


Baby Won’t Nap Unless Held

You hear it said that mom needs to nap when the baby naps. You may also hear moms say they finally have time to finish up chores when the baby is napping. What people forget to tell you is that this is only possible if your child naps independently. If baby won’t nap unless held, you won’t be able to do much of anything while your little one sleeps.

Helping your child nap independently offers you periods of the day that aren’t spent holding a little one. It will also make nighttime sleep easier for your little one since he will be used to sleeping on his own already.

1. Put Baby Down Drowsy

When your baby won’t nap unless held, don’t make the mistake of rocking the baby to sleep. It’s okay to rock or hold a drowsy baby, but you want your little one out of your arms and in the crib before he is completely asleep. This gives your baby the chance to fall asleep on his own instead of falling asleep in your arms and waking up when the scent and feel of your body disappears.

The more your child gets used to a sleep prop, such as bouncing, rocking, or nursing to sleep, the harder it is to get him to sleep without the prop. If your baby won’t nap unless held, you need to slowly and deliberately remove sleep props until he is in his crib before he is fully asleep.

2. Find the Sleepy Time

Nap times should not be random. Babies show signs when they are tired, and it’s important for parents to watch for cues that tell them a nap is in the near future. It’s much easier to get a child to sleep on his own if he is actually sleepy. A baby who isn’t ready for a nap is going to fight and refuse to rest. Your baby won’t nap unless held if he isn’t tired and you are trying to force sleep at the wrong time.

Signs Your Baby is Sleepy

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Cranky
  • Yawning
  • Sucking on hands or fingers

Nap times will decrease throughout the first year of a child’s life, but you will still notice sleepy signs when he is tired. A baby won’t nap unless held unless you learn to help him, and noticing sleepy cues is one of the best ways.

3. Keep to the Same Routine

A routine and schedule are not exactly the same thing. It’s true that you may not do the exact same thing at 11:30 every morning, but you should have a recognizable routine that your child follows. Naptime routines help a child understand that a nap is approaching, and they prepare him for the change from waking to sleeping.

Bedtime likely follows a routine every night. You probably give your little one a bath, read him a story, offer a bottle, and then place him down to sleep on his own. Naptime routines don’t have to be quite as involved, but they help a child recognize that nap time is coming. This can keep babies from fighting naps because kids love routines and often follow the cues if they can.

Example of Nap Routine

  • Bottle
  • Song
  • Place in the crib drowsy

4. Create the Environment for Sleep

It’s true that some babies sleep through anything. However, if your baby won’t nap unless held, you may want to create the right environment for sleep so your little one won’t have even more problems resting.

Dim the lights before you take the baby to his room. Have a sound machine playing white noise or some other ambient sound for sleep. Make sure the crib is free of pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals so your little one will be safe.

Though noise is normal in an active household, especially if there are other children afoot, it might be a good idea to recommend quiet time during the baby’s nap. This may involve other kids reading or drawing instead of playing games that are loud. If your baby wakes up from nap due to noise, you could get stuck in a situation where baby won’t nap unless held again, and this is extremely frustrating.

5. Clear the Schedule

You may start to feel stir crazy if you’re stuck inside with a little one for too long each day. This is especially true if you are constantly holding a baby because your baby won’t nap unless held.

Still, it may be easier to establish an independent nap routine for your baby if you clear the schedule for at least a couple of weeks. Don’t let your baby nap in the car or in your arms while out and about before he is completely comfortable sleeping independently in his crib. Deviation from the new routine can cause regression that will cause a delay in the baby perfecting independent sleep skills.

It shouldn’t take forever for your little one to figure out how to sleep without your arms around him. Just make sure you give him enough time to adjust to new expectations.

6. Don’t Pick Him Up

When your baby realizes you are trying to make him sleep alone, he isn’t going to be happy. It’s fine to go in and check on your little one if he is upset and confused about what is happening. There are ways to help him adjust, such as patting his back or singing him a song.

However, if possible, don’t pick him up unless he needs a diaper change or something else that can’t be accomplished with him in the crib. Once you pick him up, it will be hard to put him back down and encourage him to self-soothe, which is the ultimate goal.

Be present if he needs you to be, but don’t go straight to holding him if he fusses. If your baby won’t nap unless held and you immediately resort to picking him up, he is going to give you an even harder time when you try to put him back down.

7. Make All Naps Equal

Babies nap more than once a day early in life, and each nap should bring the same routine for your baby. Don’t put him down to sleep independently for his first nap and then hold and rock him all the way through the second nap. This confuses expectations and will destroy any progress you’ve made at getting him to sleep on his own.

If your child naps two or three times a day, look at this as multiple times for independent sleep practice. Every nap may feel hard at first while your little one adjusts to new expectations, but the more he naps on his own, the more he will become used to it and be less resistant.

8. Offer a Scent

What babies often miss when they aren’t in your arms is your scent. If your baby won’t nap unless held, it’s because he is used to everything about you and doesn’t want to be away. Your scent is one of the easiest things to offer him when you aren’t near.

A baby can smell mom’s milk and knows when she is around, even when his vision doesn’t allow him to see her very well. That’s why placing something with your scent near your baby may offer him calm during a solo nap.

Safe sleeping means not placing anything in the baby’s crib that can obstruct his air passage or cover his face. This is a very important rule you should always follow. That means you have to work with what you can when looking for something to carry your scent.

Some moms sleep with a baby’s fitted sheet close to them for a couple of nights before placing it back on the crib mattress. This makes the baby feel surrounded by mom’s smell. It’s possible to do the same thing with a swaddle blanket that wraps the baby up while he rests.

9. Know When to Hold the Baby

It may seem counter-intuitive, but there may be times you need to just let your baby sleep in your arms. If your baby usually naps solo and suddenly baby won’t nap unless held, there is likely a reason.

A child who is sick is going to long for nap cuddles to get through the discomfort of illness. A child who is having a hard time teething may work through his pain better sleeping in your arms than in a crib.

Of course, this shouldn’t happen all the time if what you desire is a baby who naps independently. However, you as the parent need to give yourself permission to break your own rules if it’s obvious your child is going through something that is not the norm.


If your baby won’t nap unless held, don’t lose hope. When it’s time to encourage independent naps, know that it may take some time. However, it is possible for a baby to sleep somewhere besides your arms. You just have to help him transition to solo naps until he becomes a pro.

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