How to Stay Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap

How to Stay Calm when Baby Won't NapFive hours—going on six.

That’s how long your baby has been awake this whole morning.

She skipped her nap and has been rubbing her eyes and yawning. She’s crying hysterically, especially when you so much as step a foot away. She’s not that fun to be around.

Yet despite all your attempts to put her down for a nap, she simply refuses. Or your baby won’t nap unless held or rocked. Nothing seems to work, and your baby just won’t sleep.

Meanwhile, there’s so much to do around the house, and you could really use a break—even a measly ten minutes.

And so you feel your frustration flaring, your patience waning, and you’ve just about had it. You love your baby wholeheartedly, but, let’s be honest… she’s making you mad with this no-napping business.

How do you cope when your baby won’t take a nap? How can you keep yourself calm and your temper in control?

I’ve had my fair share of losing my cool, especially when a baby won’t nap. The first time I yelled at my eldest son was when he was a mere eight weeks old and wouldn’t nap. I was rocking him to sleep, but each time I would lay him in his crib, his eyes would fly right open and he’d cry.

It was one of the toughest memories I have, one where I’m not proud of losing my temper.

And while I’m not immune to getting angry with the twins, I’ve learned to do things different this second time around. I knew better than to lose my cool. And I realized how petty this all will be in hindsight.

Still, it’s tough when you’re in the trenches. You’re sleep-deprived. Your house is a mess. Your life is so different from before this baby entered your world. And sometimes it’s hard to stay calm.

Yet you can take your mind off the challenges, do little things to bring order and peace—and maybe even that nap—back into your day:

Leave the house.

The baby has already been up all these hours—you might as well get something out of it. Take him out on a stroll around the neighborhood or the nearby park. Drive to the mall. Get yourself a cup of coffee or a bowl of ice cream.

It’s hard to see this in the moment, but your baby picks up your energy. When he sees you flipping out, sees your eyebrows furrowed in frustration and hears you yelling at him, he doesn’t exactly feel safe or compelled to fall asleep and take that peaceful nap you so want him to have.

And sometimes a change of scenery is all you need. You get a break, the baby gets a break. Better yet, your baby just might nap during that stroll or car ride—not an ideal nap, but something, right?

Take a five-minute break.

Funny what a few minutes away from a no-napping baby can do. We can get caught up trying so hard to get that nap that doing so consumes us.

So, stop. Put the baby down in the crib and catch a break. What can you do?

  • Take several deep breaths.
  • Join online baby support groups and vent.
  • Watch funny videos online and laugh it off.
  • Eat a snack.
  • Do something you needed to do around the house.

Point is, do something to remove yourself from the stress for a few minutes. You need to calm down—your baby won’t nap when you’re frustrated. Do something that makes you happy.

Sing repetitive songs.

Lullabies are good, and when you’re getting frustrated, repetitive songs are even better. These nursery rhymes are easy to sing over and over again so that you can push your mind away from the frustration and detach from that anger flaring up.

Some repetitive songs include:

  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • Old McDonald
  • B-I-N-G-O
  • The Farmer in the Dell

If these songs are too upbeat, try the slower ones that you know well. The idea is to sing songs that are easy to think of. You just might lull your baby to sleep and keep your cool as well.

Keep company.

You know how you’re at your worst when you’re alone? If you feel like you’ve been struggling with your baby’s lack of naps, ask friends or family to visit and help. You’re less likely to yell at the baby if your sister is in the same room.

Perhaps more importantly, friends and family can help. They can take over nap time duties or clean the house so you’re not burdened with those tasks.

The first few weeks are especially crucial because the baby exhibits erratic sleep patterns. Not to mention the zillion times the baby has to nap (does it seem like they nap seven times a day sometimes?).

Keep trying new ways.

Tell me if this sound familiar:

You’ve been rocking your baby for what seems like over an hour now yet she still won’t sleep. You’re frustrated and ask her, “Why won’t you just sleep?!”

Yet if you step back, that’s a whole hour you devoted to doing the same thing over and over, clearly to no success.

Instead, print out a list of ideas you can try when the baby is fussy and won’t nap and tape it to several walls. My list included techniques like:

  • Swaddle
  • Place in the Moby wrap
  • Use a pacifier
  • Give them Mylicon or gripe water
  • Add white noise to the room
  • Place the baby in the swing
  • Try the bassinet

It’s so easy to forget other ways to try and get the baby to nap. Having a printed sheet taped to the wall can serve as a reminder to try something different. At least you won’t feel like you’re going crazy doing the same thing over and over. Plus you won’t have to think too hard for new ideas to try when they’re all listed in front of you.

Have a contingency plan, too. For instance, try putting your baby to nap one way, and give yourself 20 minutes to do so. If that doesn’t seem to work, try another way. With a time limit, you’re less likely to drag out an unsuccessful attempt. You’ll also feel more accomplished for checking off a list of things you’ve tried and moving on to new methods.

Accept it.

Listen: Your baby is going to be all right. Yes, she skipped a nap and will likely be cranky. And you didn’t get your break like you hoped for. But it will pass, just as every other parenting challenge eventually does.

Sometimes we treat skipped naps like the biggest upset of the day. In hindsight, it’s a skipped nap. It’ll be okay. She’ll catch her sleep at some point in the day.

More importantly, be kind to yourself. You’re a good mom. Sometimes we take skipped naps so personally. You didn’t “fail” because your baby didn’t nap. And your day doesn’t have to be negative from this point forward.

You’ll decompress later. You’ll catch your much-needed rest, and you’ll eventually forget about this harrowing moment.

Because really, it isn’t so bad. It’s just a nap.

Your turn: Try one of these techniques and see if it helped keep you calm. What other tips did you do to keep yourself calm when the baby wouldn’t nap? Have you found yourself upset when the baby would skip a nap? Let us know in the comments!

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Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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    • says

      Haha MaryAnne I can’t imagine listening to an audio tape with older kids. I haven’t tried it though, but I’d probably be more irritated and telling them to hush. But yes, with a baby, what a great idea. Might as well get something out of it, right? 😉

  1. says

    I remember these moments all too well. I got so angry and impatient. Looking back it was silly but when you need a break, and she won’t nap, it’s the end of the world. And then I take it out on the older one too. Not good. When you said that baby feeds off your energy, it is SO true. I found when I remained calm and just “tried again” a few minutes later, she’d nap! But when I was frustrated, she would be hard to put down for a nap. Luckily for us, our baby is a good napper and sleeper. Maybe it’s “nature” but I’m pretty sure our more laid-back, take cues from baby, don’t rush to her when she fusses attitude helped her to be able to self soothe.
    lisacng @ expandng.com recently posted..DIY planner & free planner pagesMy Profile

    • says

      It does make sense in hindsight: cranky mom = cranky baby. Imagine trying to take a nap while someone’s looking all pissed off at you haha. I wish I learned that much earlier with my first kid. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get him to nap. With the twins I was more chill, although I’d still get irritated when I wouldn’t be able to finally rest.

    • says

      Right, Katie. I remember thinking it preposterous that my kids could go four or five hours straight without napping. I’d get really worried that they’d just suffer, but really nothing terrible happened from it (other than crankiness).

  2. says

    Happy belated Mother’s Day, Nina! (Sidenote, for some reason I wasn’t getting your post updates so I signed up again, I can’t believe I’ve been missing so many entries! I’ll have to go back and read them all).

    “It’s just a nap” — YES! I wish someone had told me this when Madeline was a baby because I got so frustrated whenever she wouldn’t nap, and I don’t know why but it felt like I was failing as a mom. But then as she started dropping her morning nap and now she skips her one and only nap every few days, I realize that it’s ok! So she’s a little sassy at dinner time, I’ll just go with it. Man, her not napping used to make me cry. Now, we go to the park, lol.
    Queenie recently posted..Happy Mother’s Day!My Profile

    • says

      Happy belated mother’s day to you too, Queenie! And thanks for signing up again on my email list. Glad you caught that!

      I hit the same feelings too, and also remember when they finally transitioned to one and then none and realizing that going long stretches of time awake isn’t the end of the world. It was like, “Oh, so they don’t actually DIE if they don’t nap, I see…” lol.

  3. Carla says

    Oh gosh! It’s been so long since I’ve been through this that I have no ideas. When I have my grandkids I’m okay if they don’t take a nap because they aren’t my responsibility full time.
    Carla recently posted..Workout WednesdayMy Profile

    • says

      It’s refreshing to hear how parents don’t fuss so much about the things we do in the beginning! I imagine being a grandmother affords you a few exceptions, one of them the freedom to not worry about naps :)

  4. Angel says

    This advice should be number one on 10 tips for new Moms! I would add that always going into the nap routine with a “give it a 10 min try” mindset and making a plan for what to do if they just are not sleepy enough can really delay frustration with the process. I spent to much time being the nap Nazi at first. Now i consider myself the “Sleep Facilitator.”

  5. says

    Ooh I like having a backup plan if they don’t nap. Even thinking about it forces you out of the mindset that they absolutely must nap at all costs. The backup plan reminds you that there’s a good chance they won’t nap—so now what? type of mentality.

    And yes, giving yourself a cap of how long you should try can help avoid the never-ending nap saga. Sometimes we end up spending more time putting them to nap than the actual nap time!

    I very much like the “Sleep Facilitator” title Angel 😉

  6. says

    These are great tips! I too once yelled at my tiny baby, “why won’t you stop crying?!” which I’m not proud of. I was having a really rough time at the beginning with my first, though.

    Also wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award!
    Laura @FitMamaLove recently posted..Liebster Award NominationMy Profile

    • says

      I admit I also had a tougher time with my first in the beginning than my subsequent kids. Something about being a first time mom, right? 😉

      And thanks so much for the award—I’m honored!

  7. says

    I had this a lot when my oldest was little. She was so tired, but just wouldn’t nap. As much as I could, I would put her in the stroller and walk to town. Often, the bumping on the stroller would quiet her, even if she didn’t sleep. It can be very discouraging and exhausting, so great post!
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    • says

      Yes, I can definitely relate. The change in scenery can be a huge help. I did that a lot with my twins and they ended up sleeping in the stroller during the walk. And at the least, I got a good break too!