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3 times it’s okay to wake your baby from a nap

If you’re a new parent, you know that sleep is very, very precious. In some cases, you could be only sleeping when your baby sleeps, making that time all the more valuable. But if you’re finding that your baby’s sleep schedule is pretty erratic, and the frequent napping is hurting your routine more than helping it (like if those late-afternoon naps are resulting in later nights), you may be tempted to wake your napping baby up — only to face doubts on whether you actually should wake them while they’re napping, no matter how much you may want to. 

Turns out, that myth that you shouldn’t wake your baby is just that, a myth. There are actually several instances when you should definitely wake them. Here’s when and why. 

baby boy yawning

If it’s messing with an established sleep schedule

Newborns sleep more erratically than babies that are a few months old, but by the time they’re approaching six months, your baby should have a relatively normal sleep schedule worked out, and they should be getting about the same amount of sleep per day. 

Sometimes, though, things interfere with that schedule. Maybe you’re traveling or visiting with family, and nap time just didn’t happen when it normally does. Maybe it’s getting close to bedtime. Whatever the circumstances, if your baby is napping to the point that they’re throwing off that established schedule, don’t feel bad about waking them up. You’re actually doing them a favor in the long run.

Just like you feel cranky and weird when your sleep routine is messed up (like if you pulled an all-nighter and then tried to get a few hours of sleep in the morning), so do babies. So, if you find that they’re sleeping more than normal, like an hour more than usual, give them a nudge. Same thing goes if you find your baby napping close to bedtime, and it’s interfering with how well they respond to their nighttime routine. 

If it’s time to eat

Should you wake a sleeping baby to eat? Yes — under certain circumstances. Just like babies have their very specific sleeping schedules, they also have pretty rigid eating schedules. Especially for newborns, it’s important for them to eat every couple of hours. So, if you find that your baby is sleeping through their normal mealtimes, try waking them up, even if it’s just to eat. 

This usually only applies to newborns because, after a while, your baby will begin to develop a schedule of their own that you won’t necessarily need to interrupt just for feeding. And, once they’re aged up a few months, it’s not as vital that they eat every few hours as it is when they’re a newborn and need to gain weight rapidly. 

So, if you have a newborn who’s still figuring out their internal schedule, and you know it’s getting close to mealtime, go ahead and wake them up.

If you’re concerned about their safety

This one is a no-brainer, really. If you’re concerned at all about your baby’s safety, go ahead and wake them up. Yeah, you might have to deal with some crying or screaming, but that’s much better than the alternative.

To ensure the safest sleep for your baby, make sure that they’re sleeping on their back and that they’re in a crib that’s mess-free. That means no blankets, no stuffed animals, no crib bumpers. While these items seem harmless and are actively marketed toward new parents, they can cause a choking or suffocation hazard under certain circumstances. It’s best to simply leave them outside the crib.

Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only putting your baby down to sleep in their own space (so not on the couch or in your bed) and ensuring that their crib has a firm, flat mattress. 

dad holding baby in nursery
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

What’s the best way to wake up your baby?

Once you’ve determined you need to wake up your baby, how can you best go about it? Turns out, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a few tips for that, too. They recommend always waking your baby in a soft, soothing manner. You can try talking to or singing to your baby in a calm voice or moving their arms or legs about using gentle motions. If they’re not responding well to that, you can move on to changing your baby’s clothes or diaper, both of which can rouse them enough to stay awake for the long haul. 

These tips should help you and your baby get a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!

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