My six month old baby will not nap! Stuck in a vicious cycle...

by Laura
(Oakland, CA, USA)

Question: Hello! First I want to thank you for offering such a great site. Its wonderful to hear...or read...that I am not alone. My little one is a horrible napper. He is still napping 3 times a day for at best 45 min. Because of his horrible naps, his night time sleep is paying the price.

To start my son was born a month early, so I guess that makes him 5 months developmentally. For the past couple of months he was sleeping beautifully. He went to bed every night at 7, with a bed time routine of sometimes a bath (he has very dry skin so a bath every night is not good), a story, nurse, swaddle, then nurse to sleep. I got to the point of being able to put him in is bassinet (that is in our room), almost asleep. He would open his eyes for a second, then off to sleep until 3ish, wake drain both breasts, then back to bed without a hitch until 5ish.

Then again nurse, back to bed until my husbands alarm went off(around 6ish). He would scoop him up, change his diaper, then in bed with me until 9ish. Now, that is all gone. It started with his naps getting shorter and shorter, then he caught my cold, then we had to go out of town with him so he was in a different bed, and his naps were shotty since he wasnt in his routine. With all of these variables he would wake from every 45 min to every hour and a half.

This went on for about 2 weeks. I was exhausted. I was an emotional wreck. I became obsessed with is naps. I began reading every bit of info possible.

I purchased both no cry sleep and nap solutions.
These books have given me some ideas. One is the nap extension. Also, since my son falls asleep at the breast I remove the breast before he is totally asleep, so that he wont fall asleep with a nipple in his mouth. Finally I try to have him nap in different spots. Either in his car seat (since its easy to rock), a swing (pretty rare because I want him to be still with no motion), and a stroller. The stroller was used in the morning. I am a runner...I have been for years and even ran the day I gave birth to him...crazy I know.

So we would wake up and I would throw him in the stroller for a run. He would sleep, I would get some peace and still get my run in. Now I have him nap in our bed, then I go for a run. He still naps in his stroller, but I just take that as a bonus. With all of that, he still will only nap for 45 min unless I intervene with either a breast or hard rocking.

Now he is starting to sleep for 3 hour, then nurse for maybe 10 min if that, then the battle begins for my nipple. When I can finally get it back and he settles, then its the battle to get him back in his bassinet. As the night wears on I finally break down and put him in bed with us, where he nurses every hour, moves around and keeps both of us up for the rest of the night. It has gotten to the point that my husband insists that we cry it out, and that every book that I have been reading in a huge waste of time (attachment parenting by Dr. Sears). I cannot do the cry it out, but at the same time, I dont want my breastfeeding him to sleep etc to hinder his ability to have a restful night sleep..for the both of us.

Long story short. How can I teach my son to put himself back to sleep without the breast? how can I help my son sleep better for naps? I fear that I have lost my grip and no longer pay attention to him, but what the books say. I am fearful that I am a horrible mother that is not teaching her baby. I will do anything to avoid the cry it out method. i dont think I could handle it. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it!

Heidi's Answer: Hi Laura, Thank you for your detailed message. Let's get one thing straight first of all: of course you are not a horrible motherl! On the contrary, you have done so many things right and you are doing your very best to help your son with sleeping well and you are constantly waking over his well-being!

The books you have been reading are very good and valuable. Not only for the sleep methods they adhere, but importantly also because of the lasting results these no-cry and child-centered approaches bring. But I do understand that after getting into them so much, you may have the feeling you do what the books say rather than what you feel is right.

The way you feel about crying it out is clear and tells you it is not something you should try. Every cry-it-out method states as one of the first requirements that both parents must agree and commit to it 100%. Failing that, it makes no sense to do it: it has no chance of success.

No, for you now, the advice is pretty straightforward: relax and go back to the basics:

1. Relax about those naps for now. Yes good naps are important but for now, if he has 2 or 3 naps of 45 minutes, that is fine. Do try to have them at regular moments.

2. Have your regular bedtime at 7pm, with the routine you had before (or you maybe still have). It was a good routine. What you may add if it's not there yet is something extra like a walk through the hallway saying goodnight to some toys or wall decorations and a lullaby. Something that is different from nursing and getting (un)dressed. And do not nurse-swaddle-nurse.

So the whole routine would then be something like: (optional bath) - story - PJ - swaddle - walk through the corridor while singing a lullaby - nursing - down.
Do the same routine at naps.

3. Whenever putting him to bed (nap or night): nurse him to sleep. Completely, as you did until starting the remove-breast move. Only put him down when he is deeply asleep (can take up to 30 minutes). Then put him down. We will start weaning from this with the remove-breast move again when things have quieted down again but this is to help him get back into good sleep again.

4.-Naps: if he wakes he wakes, don't nurse or rock him back to sleep, the nap is over.

The stroller-run-nap is very good but then do this fully. Not a bit in bed and a bit in the stroller. Do a regular (fixed time) daily stroller run/walk. Make it last for about 1,5 hour if at all possible (I'm not suggesting you run a half marathon every day :) but maybe a combi of running and walking/shopping could work?).

Having him in the baby sling for a nap while you go about the house is also a good way to get a longer nap set in.

You may find my "Nap in a Snap" guide helpful too. It helps you set up (and keep) the best-fit nap routine, based on your baby's needs.

4.-Nights: if he wakes before 3-4 hours: do not nurse but help him back to sleep otherwise if necessary. It would be great if your husband could do this: just hold and rock him to sleep. (It's easier because your son does not smell your milk).

From what you write, I understood that you do not both want your son cosleeping. This is the same situation as with crying it out: if both partners do not support it 100%, it's not a good idea. And especially because it does not help your son sleep restfully anyway, I would advise you to avoid taking him in bed with you - unless you decide together with your husband to go for cosleeping completely. Either way, I personally don't think it is for you.

So then, be consistent. Nurse him to sleep, put him down asleep, in his bassinet. If he wakes at night before 4 hours of sleep, help him back to sleep without nursing (preferably done by your husband). If it is 4 hours or more, do nurse as before.

Whenever nursing, also at night, do make sure he empties the first breast well (so he gets to the more nutritious hind milk) before offering the second breast.This will help rule out any hunger or too much-too little nursing issues.

That's really it for now. Stick to these basics: a regular schedule with a fixed bedtime and 2-3 naps. No stress about short naps but regular naps with nap extension (but only while it is still ongoing, not nursing or rocking when waking up). Same bedtime routine and nursing routine whenever putting him down. Your husband gives a hand with putting back to sleep at no-nursing awakenings.

Give it all 2 weeks and see how things quiet down. Let me know. All the while, do try to relax: it's OK, you will find your grip again.

Also teething can cause or help cause this kind of troubled sleeping. Look for signs of teething. The teething remedies page will give you ideas to help soothe his discomfort.

Good luck,
take care,

Comments for My six month old baby will not nap! Stuck in a vicious cycle...

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Thanks and 2 questions
by: Laura

Dear Heidi,

Thank you so much for your advice. I can't tell you how much it means to me that I am on the right track. I do have 2 questions. One is that we are still doing a one arm in and one arm out (the one we leave out is the thumb he kinda sucks) swaddle. When he sleeps with us I don't swaddle, but it takes twice as long to get him to sleep since he still startles himself. Should I continue with the half or just stop it altogether?

Second question is that he does get up every 3 hours like clockwork. The other night he woke up an hour after we put him down and my husband went to him. He proceeded to scream for an hour. It was torture for everyone. If I go to him all he wants is the boob. My husband even left the room, walked him around, rocked him, talked to him, but nothing. He is trying to be a more active night time parent, but my son is just not having it. Do you have any suggestions?
Thanks again for everything and I will let you know how things turn out!


by: Heidi Baby-Sleep-Advice

Hi Laura,

Yes I would continue the half swaddle for now, but consistently. Once things have quieted down, you can then gently wean from it by loosening gradually, then leave open, then not use anymore but that's for in a couple of weeks.

Good that your husband is in the game too. I know that it can be frustrating if as a dad, for all your good intentions, baby just doesn't seem to accept it. But it pays also here to persevere and give baby some time to get used to this consistent daddy-soothing during nights. It's really most efficient to keep your from breastfeeding. I do advise he stays in the room though, to keep also that consistent for your son.

I don't know if your husband has a lot of time during the day, but what definitely helps towards the nights, is that whenever possible he spends time with your son. So it's not just the nights. That will help your son accept dad's help better at night.

Preferably they spend this daddy-son time during the day, doing fun things, without you around ...

Other than this, it's not impossible for you to go in but then you would have to be firm not to breastfeed at those non-feeding times, up to you to see if that's possible.

Good luck and yes thanks for keeping me posted,

This is my baby exactly!
by: Sara Buntin

I just wanted to say that I have been struggling with the similar sleeping problem, especially for the last month. It all started with my baby when he went from sleeping great at 4 1/2 months to waking frequently through the night. After several frustrating nights of him crying despite being held, rocked, etc, I gave in and tried the cry it out method when he was about 5 months. I am convinced this further traumatized him. He is my third child and although I know each child is different, I thought I had figured things out by now! Anyhow, he went from waking only every 2-3 hours to waking every 45 mins to hour and not even wanting to go to sleep for fear he would wake in his crib alone and left to cry! I should add that he hadn't ever slept in his crib prior to the cry it out, but had been in a rock and sleep in our room. So now my son is 6 months and has been waking every 45 mins to hour still. He is breastfed and only seems to want to nurse to sleep. I have read all the suggestions and am planning to start a new plan implementing them all this week!! It is so hard to give in when you are tired and desperate for sleep. It brings me comfort to know that I am not alone in this venture!

Good luck
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Sara,

I am sorry to hear about how sleep is going right now but I am glad that you are all set now to implement the plan. With consistency and patience (mainly to give your son's body time to re-adjust) you can make good progress with them.

Also I am just finalizing an article specifically about what do about very frequent wake-ups which you may find helpful as well. I will post it on facebook as soon as it's out so if you're following us there, you will see it right away.

Also, I'd be happy to follow up with you in a week's time or two of implementing the plan, I'd love to hear how it works out for you.

Kindly, Heidi

So far failing at sleep
by: Sara Buntin


Night 2 of my sleep plan with my 6 month old. I am at a loss. I am certain he has fully associated falling asleep with nursing. I have tried following your rule of not nursing Prior to 3-4 hours after last feed. However, my son is so used to falling asleep this way I can't get him back to sleep any other way. I know though if I keep doing this it will only keep getting worse. If I do nurse back to sleep he will still wake every 1-2 hours and need the breast to fall back asleep. I am absolutely exhausted, and when I try And get my husbands help my baby cried even harder and longer. I don't know how to proceed, I thought about nursing only every other time he wakes but 2 nights in a row I can't get past the first or second awakening. My fear is that we will get back to the overtired stage again and not be able to get him to sleep period. He takes a pacifier but that is not any help ;(

Progressive weaning
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Sara, it sounds like weaning from nursing until fully asleep is your priority. So before doing the "at least 3-4 hours" plan, you will want start with progressively weaning from nursing to sleep towards going down awake independently. My gentle self soohting techniques - in which you go very gradually from nursing until deeply asleep towards unlatching without waking her up, then holding until less and less deeply asleep - do exactly that, check the starter article on this page
It's a learning process for baby, so do take your time to progress. Once results start coming in though, it goes quickly. Good luck!

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