Is it okay to let your baby fall asleep and nap on you? Here’s everything you need to know about contact naps, including how to keep baby safe and when to stop contact napping.
Those first few weeks home from the hospital with your brand new baby are such a blur, aren’t they?
Sometimes I think our brains are designed to forget a lot of the tough stuff and only hang on to the good. I’m not sure our species would survive otherwise.
When I try to remember that time, it’s all a little fuzzy. But the thing that sticks out super clearly in my mind is this: cuddles galore.
Is there anything better than the soft weight of a sleeping newborn breathing rhythmically on your chest? Let me know if you can think of anything, because I don’t think I can!
In those early days of motherhood, I savored those contact naps. It was the sweetest downtime, and an opportunity to connect with this new little life we had made.
But as the weeks passed and the overthinking of new parenthood started to kick in, I began to wonder: should I be letting my daughter nap like this?
Here’s what I’ve learned about contact naps since becoming a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and how they fit into the newborn sleep picture.
What is A Contact Nap?
A contact nap is baby falling asleep on you or another caregiver.
Contact naps can happen when your baby falls asleep in your arms or your chest while you’re holding them, or while you’re carrying them (even in a carrier like the Ergo baby counts!).
Having a baby drift off to sleep in your arms is a super sweet feeling and a great newborn hack for sleep, but it also raises some questions. Are contact naps safe and are contact naps beneficial for baby?
The answer to both of these is typically yes, but it can depend on the circumstances.
Is Contact Napping Okay?
Contact napping is absolutely okay and can be extremely beneficial for both you and your baby in those early newborn days.
Your baby is still getting used to this world and being in mom’s, dad’s, or another caregiver’s arms is comforting to them as they drift off to sleep.
Contact naps are a wonderful part of life in the newborn stage. They are almost inevitably going to happen and will probably help your baby get more sleep.
At the same time, there are some potential risks associated with contact naps. Here’s how to keep your baby safe while letting them sleep on you:
- If your baby falls asleep on you, you need to stay awake and alert. If you’re also feeling drowsy, the safest course of action is to put your baby down in their bassinet or crib.
- Your baby’s face should be uncovered, and their airway clear. Make sure to keep loose objects like blankets, pillows, and toys away from them.
- Make sure that wherever you are, there isn’t a possibility of your baby rolling into a crack or crevice that could constrict their breathing or put their body in a strange position that would make it hard to breathe.
What If My Baby Falls Asleep While Nursing?
Perhaps the most common scenario for a newborn drifting into a contact nap is when they are nursing or taking a bottle.
Although it feels so peaceful, it’s important to try and keep your baby as awake and alert as possible while they are feeding so they can get a full feed in.
That being said, new babies will fall asleep at the breast or bottle. The amount of time your newborn can stay awake (known as the newborn wake window) is so short and it’s common for them to drift off during feeds.
While it’s harder to avoid when your baby is a sleepy newborn, as babies reach the 2-month mark, I find that sticking to an eat-play-sleep routine sets them up for independent sleep success down the line.
The “play” portion of this routine will be pretty limited when your baby is a newborn, but I just recommend you try to keep them as alert as possible. Sing songs, talk to your baby, and move their little limbs around.
Are Contact Naps Good for Babies?
There are plenty of benefits to contact napping for both you and your your baby:
- Babies love to be in close proximity to mom or dad. They’re likely to feel most safe and secure in those early days when they’re in contact with you.
- It’s an opportunity to do skin-to-skin.
- Being close to you can help your newborn regulate their breathing, body temperature, and even their heart rate.
- It can help baby sleep better and longer stretches.
- Holding your baby close to your chest can release oxytocin, which can help reduce stress and anxiety for the new mom.
- They are a great way to bond with your baby and improve your mental and emotional health.
Will My Baby Outgrow Contact Naps?
Parents may find themselves wondering: when do babies outgrow contact naps?
The simple answer is that they may never really outgrow them—but there will come a time when you can start guiding them toward more independent sleep.
The reason I say babies might not outgrow contact naps is because even though they might not necessarily need contact naps anymore, they may never stop wanting them. That’s especially true if your baby has grown accustomed to contact naps.
But once your newborn has “woken up” in the first 8-12 weeks they’re at home with you, it will be a little easier to avoid contact naps.
Somewhere around the 2 month to 3 month mark, you should find that it’s easier to incorporate a little more activity into your baby’s awake times. They’re no longer a super sleepy newborn.
Also, by the 2 month mark, your baby’s day/night confusion has cleared up. That means they’ll be able to stay a little more alert during their wake windows throughout the day.
What You Should Know About Babies’ Early Sleep Cycles
Newborns are naturally sleepy because they’re used to the sleepy feel of your womb—it was dark, quiet, and you naturally lulled them with your daytime movement.
Being in physical contact with you reminds your baby of that safe, sleepy place.
But another reason your newborn might be prone to contact naps and falling asleep in your arms is due to their immature circadian rhythm.
It actually takes up to 6 weeks old for your baby to straighten out their days and nights, and then between 2 to 4 months for your baby’s circadian rhythm to mature and stabilize.
By the time your baby is 4 months old, their sleep cycles will become more defined. They will also have discovered their hands, which they’ll learn are fantastic to suck on when they are trying to self-soothe.
What Age Should You Stop Contact Naps?
My recommendation is that you try to cut down on contact naps around the 2 to 4 month mark.
Once your baby reaches this age, there are a couple things working in your favor that make it easier to avoid them falling asleep on you.
The first is that your baby’s wake windows around 3 months to 4 months extend to 90 minutes (or even up to 2 hours). That means your baby is capable of staying awake for longer than it takes to feed them, so they’re less likely to feel a need to drift off right away.
The second thing working in your favor is that, developmentally, babies become more capable of self-soothing around this age.
In fact, some babies are even ready to start a sleep training method around 4 months old.
Once you feel ready to try napping your baby in their crib or bassinet, you can try putting them down for the first nap of the day. That is usually the easiest nap to get them to fall asleep for.
I usually recommend parents do a contact nap for the last afternoon catnap of the day up until babies transition to two naps, since that last nap can be difficult to get in otherwise.
How Do I Get My Baby to Stop Contact Napping?
If you need a little break from contact naps, or are ready to wean them completely, there are some things you can do depending on your baby’s age to help them learn to sleep independently.
Here’s how to transition from contact naps to bassinet or crib naps:
- Make sure your baby has a safe sleep surface (a bassinet or crib) with a firm, flat surface. Keep loose objects such as blankets, toys, and stuffed animals out of your baby’s sleep space.
- Create a space that is conducive to sleep. Consider using blackout curtains and a white noise sound machine to set the sleepy tone.
- Establish a nap routine and stick to it. Babies thrive on routine, and this will help them develop good sleep associations.
- For babies who are super reliant on contact naps, start the transition slowly—especially if they are younger than 3 months old. Begin trying to set them down in a crib for just one nap each day to start.
- If your baby is not yet old enough for sleep training, you may need to stay in the room with them and help soothe them until they can fall asleep. The Shush Pat method is particularly helpful to soothe newborns to sleep.
- If your baby is old enough for sleep training, weaning off of contact naps is a great reason to start implementing a sleep training method for naps.
More Tips, Tricks & Transitions With the Newborn Sleep Program
Are you looking for more answers to your newborn sleep questions? Check out my online Newborn Sleep Program.
The course takes less than an hour to complete, and I designed it with sleepy parents in mind. In just 8 short videos, I outline my proven process for establishing optimal sleep routines for your newborn.
Check out the Newborn Sleep Program now to help your newborn and family get the sleep you need.
- 30 Funny Pregnancy Announcements to Make You Laugh - June 1, 2023
- Common Sleep Regressions + How to Survive Them - May 30, 2023
- 5 Signs Your Baby is Overtired & How to Get Them to Sleep - May 24, 2023