Let’s start with a reassurance: if your baby wakes up crying from naps, you’re in the majority. Rare is the baby who wakes up from a nap, cooing and waiting for you to come get him. Instead, most babies let us know that nap time is over with their piercing, shrill cries.
Still… if you’re in the minority of parents whose babies did wake up just fine but are now cranky after naps, you’re not without hope, either. Perhaps your baby started waking up from naps crying so hard, only calming down once you pick him up.
He wants to be held all day long, crying if you so much as put him down. You know he’s not crying from hunger, a high temperature, or dirty diapers. And while he normally naps for at least an hour, now you’re barely getting 30-40 minutes. And of course, he wakes up screaming and crying.
Perhaps you’re even going back to work soon and have no idea how your caregiver is going to manage these cranky wake-ups. And while he doesn’t cry as much waking up in the morning, he continues to cry hysterically after waking up from all his naps.
What to do when your baby wakes up crying from naps
As a first-time mom, I beat myself up a lot if naps didn’t go as planned. And even if I finally did manage to get my baby to take a nap, all that “success” seemed to vanish every time he woke up crying.
Too often, we base how well our days went on whether our babies cried or slept. And if you combine short naps with cranky wake-ups, it’s tempting to call it a “bad day” and feel like we’ve somehow failed.
Dealing with a baby who wakes up crying from every nap is both tactical and mental. Many tips I’ll share in this article are strategies you can try to make those naps more bearable. But as you’ll also see, some of the biggest breakthroughs come from what you tell yourself about your circumstances.
So, let’s dive in on what to do when your baby wakes up crying from naps:
1. Feed your baby after waking up
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I figured that everyone simply fed their babies to sleep. After all, nursing or offering a bottle is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to get them to fall asleep.
The trouble is, feeding your baby to sleep creates a reliance of feeding or sucking to fall asleep. So much so that, should your baby wake up mid-nap, he cries because he can’t fall back to sleep on his own. Instead, he needs you to feed him—never mind that he’s not hungry—to calm him down.
Feeding your baby after waking up also has an extra advantage: you don’t have to worry about digestion issues during nap. No lying down flat on his back after he had just eaten, susceptible to spit-up and reflux. No discomfort as he digests, or gas that stays stuck while he’s trying to sleep.
Note: If you notice that your baby guzzles down milk (instead of dozing off mid-feed), there’s a good chance he’s simply hungry. Make sure you’re offering plenty of milk throughout the day and that he’s gaining enough weight.
2. Extend your baby’s nap mid-cycle
Most of us, including babies, sleep in cycles, typically in 45 minutes. If you’ve found your baby wakes up after a consistent number of minutes, he’s likely having trouble transitioning from one cycle to the next.
Help him continue sleeping by beating him to the punch.
A few minutes before he typically wakes up, or perhaps as you catch him stirring and moving, ease him into falling back asleep. You could:
- “Tug” at his pacifier, causing him to suck on it even harder
- Move him to a new sleeping arrangement (such as from the crib to a swing)
- Turn on white noise to lull him back to sleep
3. Shorten your baby’s wake times
You’d think that the more your baby was awake, the more he’d appreciate a nice, long nap. Instead, not only is he cranky for a nap, he’s cranky after waking up from one, too.
The problem could start not with the nap, but with how long he’s been awake. Being awake too long could be making him overtired, and harder to settle during and after his naps. Because if you’re waiting for him to be fussy before putting him down for a nap, he’s likely already overtired at that point.
Instead, put him down for a nap 15 minutes earlier than usual and see how that goes for a few days. His post-nap cries could simply be a result of being overtired from the start.
4. Wait it out
Several moms reported that, despite the sudden cranky nap wake-ups, their babies eventually settled back to their old patterns of waking up happy.
Your baby might be going through a growth spurt or developmental milestone that could be causing him to wake up cranky. Or perhaps something you’ve been trying—feeding him more, shortening his wake time—is finally working.
Either way, hang onto the hope that this simply could be a phase he’s going through, and will eventually pass.
5. Sleep train your baby
As much as we rely on useful baby items and routines to help our babies, at some point, they begin to rely on it so much that they know no other way to fall asleep.
Swaddles, pacifiers, rocking to sleep—all these measures were helpful when you were surviving the newborn stage. But as your baby has grown past that stage, he’s likely able to soothe himself back to sleep between naps, but hasn’t learned how (or been given the chance to).
If you feel like your baby has grown too reliant on external aids to fall asleep, consider teaching him how to self-soothe. Not only will you be able to put him down awake knowing he’ll fall asleep on his own, he’ll also be able to soothe himself back to sleep if he wakes up mid-nap.
Interested in learning about teaching your baby to self soothe? Get a preview of my guide, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping your baby put himself to sleep. As one parent says about the guide:
“Dear Nina, After weeks of theatrics trying to get my 14-week-old son to bed via bouncing, nursing, and singing (and countless hours of googling), I came across your website and your experience was uncannily similar. Even the thought patterns behind trying to get my child to bed rang true, but something in particular stuck with me, ‘what you’re doing now isn’t working.’ We had a very strict routine, but it sure wasn’t working.
Tonight at 8:11 I put my son to bed determined to use your method. I was prepared for potentially hours of crying. My son fell asleep at 8:21. After weeks of long, distraught nights trying to get him to bed he fell asleep in 10 minutes. It turns out my child just needed the opportunity to self-soothe. So, from the bottom of my sleep-deprived heart, thank you.” -Danielle Lothrop
6. Tell yourself it’ll be okay
My son had a great “nap day,” all because I told myself he would. Tired of feeling frustrated with each short nap and endless cries, I vowed that that day would be a good one.
Not only that, I also told myself that if he happens to wake up crying from a short nap (or doesn’t even take one at all), that it’s okay, too. If he wakes up right when I put him down in his crib, well, that’s also okay.
Sometimes, our biggest hurdles happen in our heads. We let one frustrating nap (or a series of them) determine the rest of our day, or even make us feel like a failure.
What if you simply chose to let that go? To step back and say that your baby waking up crying from naps isn’t a measure of your day, much less your worth? To ask yourself, Can I move on from this, even just for a moment?
One thing’s for sure: you’d be more likely to shrug it off and move on, perhaps focus on something more positive than dwelling on a frustrating nap. You’d realize that this is the season you’re in, and like all seasons, will come and go.
The next time you feel yourself tensing up and ready to lose your temper when your baby cries, pause for a moment and tell yourself it’s just a nap.
It’s frustrating when your baby wakes up crying from naps, especially when the naps were shorter than the time you actually took to get him to sleep. Thankfully, you can try a few ways to move past this stage.
Try experimenting with his schedule, from feeding him after he wakes up (instead of before) and shortening his wake times. See if you can help him transition between sleep cycles so that he gets the amount of rest he truly needs.
Give yourself a time frame to wait it out—this could simply be a stage he’s going through and will eventually pass. Once he’s past the newborn stage, consider sleep training so he has the opportunity to put himself to sleep (instead of relying on you to help him).
And finally, remind yourself it’ll be okay and shrug it off—that cranky wake-ups don’t have to ruin the rest of your day, much less determine how you feel about yourself as a mom.
After all, if your baby wakes up crying from naps, remember: you’re not alone. And more importantly, you’ll get through this in the end.
Get more tips:
- Baby Not Napping? Here’s What to Do
- How to Stay Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap
- How to Create a 4 Month Old Nap Schedule Using Real Life Examples
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- 5 Reasons Your Baby Wakes Up Screaming Uncontrollably
Interested in learning about teaching your baby to self soothe? Get a preview of my guide, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping your baby put himself to sleep: