What to Do When Your 3 Month Old Won’t Nap

It’s never easy when your 3 month old won’t nap unless held. Here are 6 secrets to get your baby to sleep!

3 Month Old Won't NapNap time had always been a nightmare, but after three months, it seemed to get even worse.

Rocking my baby on the yoga ball would usually take five minutes before he’d get drowsy. But somewhere along the 3-month mark, not only did rocking take longer than five minutes, but it seemed to get him even more upset.

Of course, the longer he stayed awake, the crankier he got, which only extended the cycle even more. Forget about putting him down—he wouldn’t settle for a nap if I wasn’t bouncing or walking around. And once he did finally fall asleep, he’d wake up 15-20 minutes later.

As much as a hit or miss naps can be, I found several tips I wish I knew from the start. These “secrets” seemed to work far better than anything else I tried. Some of them even seemed backward or illogical, but proved themselves effective. I hope they can work for you, too:

1. Keep your baby awake for no more than 90 minutes

As a first-time mom, I figured my baby would nap when he felt tired. It seems to make sense: the more tired we are, the more we want to sleep.

Unfortunately, I learned (a bit too late) that babies don’t always fall asleep right when they need it. Sometimes we keep them up much longer than they should, which only makes for a cranky, fitful nap.

The solution? Shorter wake windows.

So yes, rely on sleep cues to see if your baby needs to nap, but pay attention to the clock, too. To start, he shouldn’t be awake for longer than 90 minutes. And if he’s starting to look sleepy even before then, put him down for a nap.

Newborn Sleep Cues

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2. Put your baby down completely asleep (and do the “arm test” to check)

I’m a huge fan of putting a newborn down drowsy but awake. I truly believe we need to give them the opportunity each nap time to fall asleep on their own (otherwise, how else can they learn?).

That said, I also know how delirious we get when we try the same tactic over and over without it working. So, after you’ve tried putting your baby down drowsy but awake with no luck, do the opposite: put her down completely asleep.

Except you may have dealt with the Dreaded Wake-Up—when she wakes up the minute you put her down. Even after you think she’s already asleep.

The trick? Do the “arm test” to see if she’s really in deep sleep. Before you put her down, hold her hand up in the air and let it go. If it falls and flops back down, then she’s likely in deep sleep. If she pulls away, moves, or squirms, then she’s not (and will likely wake up if you try to put her down).

3. “Tug” your baby’s pacifier

Does your baby’s nap time always seem to end abruptly, even though you know he could use more sleep?

One trick that works wonders is to “tug” on his pacifier. If he takes to sucking to soothe himself, a pacifier allows you to put him down so he can sleep in a few minutes. The trouble is when he realizes he doesn’t have the pacifier in his mouth anymore and can’t exactly reach out and put it back in.

So, here’s what you do: a few minutes before he usually stirs and wakes up, give his pacifier a gentle tug. He’s likely coming out of deep sleep and will start sucking harder on the pacifier when he feels it coming loose.

This extra sucking encourages him to sleep once again, perhaps even into a new sleep cycle. You’ve bought yourself more time and prevented a few short naps.

4. Feed your baby after waking up

For many of us, feeding a baby to sleep can be a love-hate situation. We love that feeding almost always puts them to sleep, but hate that they rely on it to do so (especially when we know they’re not hungry).

That was certainly my case—that is, until I stopped feeding my baby to sleep, but fed him after he woke up.

This seems somewhat backward, especially when he fell asleep so quickly from feeding. But it’s exactly this reliance on feeding that made it harder to get him to sleep any other way.

Instead of feeding to sleep, feed your baby after she wakes up. That way, she doesn’t associate feeding with falling asleep. Plus, she might have fewer digestion issues when she isn’t asleep after having just eaten. She’ll also have more energy when she needs it—when she’s awake.

As I say in my book, How to Get Your Baby to Sleep:

“Feeding your baby to sleep makes him rely on the sucking motion to fall asleep, which he can’t replicate on his own (the closest would be using a pacifier). He’s also likely falling asleep at the end of each feeding, making it impossible for him to be put down awake and learn to sleep on his own. And finally, you’re probably holding him in your arms while you either nurse or bottle feed, further embedding the habit of sleeping while held.”

5. Create a conducive sleep environment

No matter how much your baby wants to sleep, sometimes the wrong environment can prevent him from doing so. A few items that can help create a conducive sleep environment include:

  • Swaddle: He might sleep better with his arms tucked tight next to him in a swaddle than lying with his arms outstretched. The Magic Sleepsuit also works for babies transitioning from a swaddle to having their arms free.
  • White noise: The shushing, constant sound of a white noise machine can help muffle sounds that could startle him awake. A fan, heater, or audio file can work just as well.
  • Baby wrap: If he won’t nap unless he’s held, a wrap can be a good compromise. He can stay close by during the day while you still have your arms free.

6. Follow a daily routine

Routines help babies adjust to life outside the womb. As young as your baby might be, a daily routine can help him learn what to expect, from when to eat to when to take a nap.

Except a “by the clock” sleep schedule doesn’t usually work for babies. Cat naps can be as short as 20 minutes, while others can last for three hours. You can’t always put him down for a nap at 9am exactly every morning.

Instead, follow a “flow” to your day, doing the same things in the same order every day. For instance, after waking up in the morning, you can feed and then play with him. Then, start a simple nap routine, such as reading a few books, darkening the room, and turning on the white noise. Doing the same things every time can “signal” the coming of naps.


Life can feel frustrating when your 3 month old won’t nap. You hardly get rest, doing chores is nearly impossible, and you feel stuck to her 24/7.

Thankfully, these simple tips can turn things around, especially with consistency. Prevent her from getting overtired by shortening her wake time to no more than 90 minutes max. If you can’t put her down drowsy but awake, make sure she’s completely asleep before setting her down.

Try tugging on her pacifier before she wakes up, as this might buy you more time and stretch her sleep even more. Feed her after she wakes up so she doesn’t rely on it to fall asleep.

Create a conducive sleep environment that can make her more likely to fall and stay asleep. Follow a routine, allowing the general “flow” of your day to signal what she can expect to happen next.

And finally, I leave you with this: try not to get too frustrated with her naps (or lack thereof). I know, easier said than done, but sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we forget to ask ourselves whether this truly is worth the frustration.

Instead, remember that whether she naps or not doesn’t define who you are as a parent. That this is a season in life that came and will surely go, as all seasons do. And that naps aren’t always the nightmare that they seem to be—even as you’re bouncing on that yoga ball for the millionth time.

Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up

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  1. My 3 month old daughter screams at nap time every time we go to put her down. Someone has to rock her for 30 minutes to 1.5 hr to get her to nap. Any advice? Thank you so much!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Wendy! It sounds like she has gotten used to falling asleep in certain ways, especially by rocking. At this newborn stage, this is common and normal, and once she’s older, you can likely sleep train her so she can put herself to sleep. It’s pure survival mode at this time, but know that this is temporary.

  2. Valentina says:

    During the day, my 3 month old is just not able to nap! He doesn’t want to stay in his crib at all. He cries as soon as I lay him there. Sometimes with huge efforts I manage to rock him to sleep and lay him in the crib but he usually wakes up crying hysterically after 20-30 minutes max. And I can understand that he cries because he’s not rested at all.

    Currently the only way to let him nap is take a walk on his stroller. He stays asleep up to 2 hours. I know that this is not sustainable and I don’t want him to rely on our walk to nap.
    I just can’t understand why at night he is able to fall asleep on his own and get back to sleep if he wakes up in the middle of the night, while during the day his behavior is totally different.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      That’s definitely amazing your baby sleeps through the night already! One thing that might help with naps is to re-enact some of your bedtime routine for the nap. Keep the room dark, have white noise, and you might even give him a bath. Also, keeping him awake for no longer than 90 minutes can help too. He might already be overtired to actually feel rested.

  3. As you can probably guess based on the way I found you, my biggest struggle with my parenting my 3 month old daughter at this stage is figuring out what I’m doing wrong when it comes to her sleep. She has always taken short naps and has been difficult to settle for bedtime, but used to give me a nice long first stretch of sleep once I finally got her to bed. Now she takes short naps (which she mostly wakes happy from so I’m not complaining too much there), refuses her last nap which means I either leave her way overtired by trying to get her to last until close to bedtime or she is only a little overtired and I try bedtime a lot earlier. The problem is that it doesn’t matter which method I choose she wakes up over and over again from the time she goes to bed until about 10:30 when she will finally sleep for about 3 hours (used to she would sleep for almost 5 hours straight the first part of the night).

    I think the other hard part about her naps being short and typically taking a lot of effort and time on my part to make happen, is that it leaves me unable to play with or even spend much time with my 2.5 year old son because I spend most my day putting her to sleep, holding her while she sleeps, or sitting by her bed trying to help her get used to falling asleep mostly unassisted so that eventually I’ll be free to be more present for my son while baby sleeps. I think if I can get naps under control, then nighttime will return to being what is expected from a baby her age. I don’t mind getting up 2 or even 3 times in the night. I mind going to her 3 or more times before 10pm.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely rough when they wake up so frequently, AND it’s still so early in the evening. Because you’re right—that first stretch of sleep is typically the longest, where we can catch a good break for a few hours.

      Do you think she might want to drop a nap? If she’s taking short naps, maybe she’s not really sleepy at that point. I’d consider whether you can drop a nap and space out her awake times more so that she takes fewer but lengthier naps during the day. I’m hoping that that would help her avoid being overtired come bedtime.

      As far as putting her to sleep so you can do other things, this is definitely the time to pull every trick to get her to stay asleep, from swaddling to swings to white noise and dark curtains. You can wear her in a wrap or offer her a pacifier so that she can lengthen the naps she takes.

      I hope that helps, Tanya! Hang in there, mama!

  4. My biggest problem is that I am my son’s sleep crutch. He is just over 3 months old. From birth I’ve been exclusively breastfeeding, and ultimately a human pacifier. I’ve also been co-sleeping with him, and I usually hold him during naps. We use a sleep sack with him, and we also have a bassinet, but when I put him in there for his naps, when he moves his legs, he hits the sides of the bassinet and wakes himself up.

    At night, I’ve been trying to put him in the bassinet, and he’s been sleeping for 4-5 hours without waking up some nights, but after he doesn’t want to go back to sleep in there so I keep him in bed with me.

    I always have to either nurse and/or rock him to sleep, and he won’t go back to sleep once he wakes himself up. I always go to him right away too, especially at night. I live with my boyfriend and his dad, and I don’t want the baby crying to bother them when they’re asleep. I also only put him down to bed after he’s already fallen asleep.

    I would love for my son to be able to fall asleep on his own and be able to self soothe himself back to sleep. I just don’t know how to do it in a way that won’t result in a lot of crying.

    Any help would be great. Thank you so much.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely rough when babies rely on us to fall asleep. And when you’re in the newborn stage like you are, it might be too early to do any formal sleep training just yet. To top it off, you’ve been going through this for 3 whole months, which isn’t exactly easy!

      You might be able to do a modified self soothing technique for now, where you always allow him to fall asleep on his own instead of relying on you to put him to sleep. If he cries, pick him up and soothe him back to calm, but put him down again and give him a chance to settle. You’ll likely do this over and over, and he might not nap long, but over time, he’ll eventually learn that it’s okay to fall asleep on your own, without crying for too long (because you’re always going in to get him and comfort).

      The other flip side is to get him to sleep in any way possible, which I think you’re doing right now. That he has a hard time sleeping again after that first 4-5 hour stretch is very normal. Usually babies will sleep a “long” stretch the first time they go to bed, but then wake up more frequently as the night progresses.

      Once he’s older, you can sleep train, though that usually does involve crying. I know it’s hard because others are sleeping, but hopefully they’ll understand that this is a temporary inconvenience for a lifetime of sleep 🙂 That’s actually what my guide is about—it walks you through how to do that exactly.

      If anything, rest assured you’re not alone, Gia! I can relate to everything you described. This won’t last forever 🙂

  5. My 3 month old hardly sleeps in the day. If I do manage to get her to sleep I either can’t put her down because she wakes immediately. If I try putting her down awake she just screams. And the most time she’ll nap for is about 30 minutes, sometimes only 20 minutes. At nighttime, she won’t go down to sleep properly until after 10pm. If we manage to get her to sleep before that, she’ll still wake after 30 minutes.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      At this point, you’ve gone through so much during the newborn stage, so it’s easy to get discouraged. Rest assured that after she’s past the newborn stage, you can certain sleep train her so that she can fall asleep on her own instead of relying on you to help her do so. She’s likely gotten so used to the habits she’s grown used to that it’s hard to expect her to do sleep any other way.

      Until then though, you’re still in pure survival mode, so it’s all about doing whatever you can to get her to sleep until she’s old enough to try to sleep on her own. For instance, you might see if putting her in a swing will help, carrying her in a baby wrap so that at least you have your hands free, or swaddling her so she feels nice and snug.

      I’d also make sure she’s not overtired. Her window of being awake is very short—I didn’t realize until much later that newborns can’t stay awake for long, and that despite what seems to make sense, being awake for a long time actually doesn’t help them fall asleep any better. In fact, being overtired makes for even more difficult sleep. So try to keep her window of awake time shorter. This should also hopefully help with putting her down at an earlier time, ideally no later than 8:30pm.