What To Do When Your Baby/Toddler Won’t Nap

what to do when your baby toddler wont nap
what to do when your baby toddler wont nap

Having a little one who is not a good napper can be really tough on the whole family. Naptime can be such a great break for mom and dad or whoever is looking after your little one that day. It can mean time to relax, shower, clean, cook, work, play with a sibling, or just regain your peace of mind! The most important part of naptime is that good naps mean good nighttime sleep for your little one as well. So if naps are not happening it can make the whole day a mess and can leave both you and your little one feeling cranky and exhausted.

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As a nanny first and now a mom I really relished in naptime as a great break for me and a chance to get things done that needed to be done(things that are much easier to accomplish without little helpers around). On the mom side, I know my kids go to bed much easier if they have had their nap. Naptime is something I have worked hard to perfect! Today I want to share with you, my secret weapons to making naptime happen!

How to set the stage for naptime…


  • CREATE A DAILY ROUTINE -The most important step in getting your little one to nap is to create a daily routine that he/she can learn. It doesn’t mean you do the same thing every day it just means you wake up, eat breakfast, do an activity, nap, wake up, eat lunch, do an activity, nap… and so on. Babies and children thrive on routines. It is how they know what to expect next, know that their needs will be met, and it allows them to feel safe and secure. If you don’t have a routine in place then that is a great way to get started!


  • CREATE A GOOD NAPTIME SPACE – Pick a space you would like your little one to nap and use the same space every time. Make sure that space will be quiet and safe. My number one naptime tool is a white noise machine! It drowns out the background noise and is a soothing, consistent sound. Room darkening curtains are a great idea as well. For babies, I also recommend using a swaddle or safe sleep blanket depending on your baby’s age and physical abilities. If you have a toddler or preschooler make sure that the sleep environment is boring. Kids can play with anything. So do your best to eliminate distractions. Consider having them sleep in a crib, pack n play or mom and dad’s bed(if safe) where there are no toys, fun things or easy escape routes to get something fun.


  • USE A WIND-DOWN METHOD – Once you have established when your little one usually takes a nap it can be very helpful to use a wind-down method. Essentially this means that 15-30 minutes before your child will be ready for a nap you start a routine or choose a calming activity. For my family this means we stop playing, grab some books to read in a darker, quiet room, my 3-year-old gets water or milk, my little man puts on his sleep blankie and nurses. It is simple but it helps their little bodies to wind down for sleep and know what to expect next.

How to get your little one to sleep…

  • WATCH FOR SLEEP CUES – Once you have a good routine in place it will be easier to watch for your child’s sleep cues. The cues you are looking for are eye/face rubbing, frowning, yawning, ear pulling, turning away, quietness, dazed or drowsy eyes, slowing down, clinginess, clumsiness, lack of interest in activity. The goal is to catch on to these cues right away! Stop what you are doing and take your little one to their naptime space. This little window of time is what makes naps happen. If you miss it then you end up with an overtired little one that is fussing, crying, throwing a fit, gets a second burst of energy, can’t get their body to slow down. If you get to this point it can be very hard to get your little one to nap. In fact, it may not happen at all. So set up a great routine and sleep space and get really good at watching for those sleep cues. All people have them. You just have to watch for them closely and soon it will be part of your routine, like second nature to expect them, and you will know when it is time for a nap.


  • SAME SLEEP SPACE EVERY TIME – For the first two weeks while you are working on making naptime happen, use the same sleep space every time(don’t worry you aren’t trapped at home for naptime forever! Just the first weeks while you establish a routine). The same space where your child goes to bed. Plan to be in the house around naptime for the first 2 weeks as well. You want to establish a consistent nap routine, one in the same space at roughly the same time every day for at least the first two weeks.


  • USE THE SAME SLEEP METHOD – However you get your little one to bed at night should be the same way you get your little one to bed at naptime. Whether you nurse, rock, bounce, pat, hold, swing or just lay down your baby to sleep, be sure to do it the same way at naptime. If you are not going to be there at naptime, tell your caregiver the way you usually put your child to bed, be specific. If this is the area where you struggle with naps like your little one cries when you lay her/him down then read this post about how to get your baby to sleep without nursing, rocking and bouncing.


  • MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD’S TUMMY IS FULL – We don’t want your little one to be waking or not sleeping because he/she is hungry. Make sure they have had a good breakfast or lunch and all the breastmilk, formula or milk that they need. Don’t over feed by any means but make sure that their little tummy is satisfied(Rice cereal will not make a baby sleep better and other than the vitamins added it doesn’t offer healthy nutrients for your baby).


  • BE CONSISTENT – This is the key to making naptime happen. Read your child’s cues and be consistent! Don’t second guess yourself, I know as a parent it is so easy to do this! Trust your instincts and the method you are using to get your little one to sleep for at least a week(if the method you are using is the problem go ahead and try a new one for a week). If you try different ways of getting your little one to sleep every day they will never know what to expect and it will much harder to get them to sleep. So wind down the same way every time, put in the same sleep space every time, put to sleep the same way every time if you want to make naptime happen. Babies and kids learn and feel safe, secure and loved through repetition, routine, and consistency.

How to do naptime on the go…

Once you have established a good nap routine at home for at least 2 weeks then you can start to try naptime out of the house. No one wants to feel chained to being home for every nap. Life is busy and there are fun places to go, people to see and things to get done. A nap on the go is sometimes a must for certain families. If you have a nice consistent routine in place it will make is so much easier for your little one to nap while on the go.

Be sure to watch the timing and cues and try to get your little one in the best sleep environment you can when he/she is ready. Bring whatever sleep tools you can with you. Meaning bring a safe sleep blanket, have a soothing music cd for the car, or a white noise one, turn on the air in the car to sound like the fan at home, bring the pacifier or lovey(if your child is 1 or older) your little one loves. Don’t forget the bottle, sippy cup or to nurse before naptime. Here are my tried and true methods for making naptime happen when we are out of the house.

  • NAP IN THE CAR – This the easiest on the go method. If you know you have a long drive ahead then time it for regular nap time and leave prepared(if your little one hates the car seat then read this first). The car seat keeps your little one restrained and still. Bring a white noise cd or baby music cd, turn it one, bring your little ones sleep blankie if it is safe for car seat use, crank the air to stimulate a fan or white noise and keep driving. The movement of the car and continuous sounds help your little one drift right off to sleep. Some little ones wake when you stop the car but for most, if you keep it running and the fan and white noise going they can stay sleeping. Plan ahead that if you will arrive earlier than your little one is ready to wake up bring a good book, something to work on, your phone with a car charger or something to keep productive with while your little one finishing snoozing.


  • BABY CARRIER – This works really well for the first 6-9 months and can work even longer for some little ones too. I found right away that the baby carrier(this one is so supportive and amazing!) was a huge tool to get anything done with my little ones. They were snuggled up on mommy the way they wanted to be and I had two hands to get things done. I would time my grocery shopping trips for nap time so that I could get my big shopping trip done while my baby would sleep. The sound of your heartbeat, the warmth and smell of mommy, and the motion of movement really helps your little one to fall right to sleep. I always tied a light swaddle blanket or nursing cover around my neck and over the top to block out the light and distractions a bit and it always did the trick.


  • STROLLER – Some little ones will fall fast asleep in a stroller(try this one that reclines). I found that for my little ones to sleep in a stroller they had to be really tired and have that constant motion. A walk outdoors in the fresh air worked much better to get them to sleep than if we were indoors. You could time your little ones nap for your exercise routine, maybe a walk around the lake or at the park or even just around the neighborhood.

Naptime on vacation or in a different place…

So you are taking a family vacation! Hooray! Or you are spending the night at grandma and grandpa’s house or spending the day visiting with friends. Obviously, naptime still comes into play and if your little one takes a nap you can too! Or you can visit and enjoy! Either way, if you want a happy kid then a nap is a must.

Make sure to bring the gear you need. It may be a pain to pack it up but it will be worth it almost all of the time. So, grab the baby monitor, white noise machine, pack n play(unless you can use one where you are staying), pack n play sheet, lovey(if your child is 1 or older), and safe sleep blanket or swaddle blanket.


  • USE A QUIET DARK SPACE – If you can afford it then book a suite so that baby can snooze in the bedroom(call ahead to see if there are rooms with the bedroom separated, often times there are) and you can relax in the living area. If not then my best advice is to use the bathroom(I know the bathroom…it is for a good cause and it won’t kill them. You will all have a more enjoyable vacation, so just go with it!). Of course make sure it is fresh in their, turn on the fan, close the toilet lid and drains to keep the yuck out. Set up the white noise and baby monitor and figure out how to fit the pack n play in there. It can be tricky sometimes but do your best to make it work. If the bathroom won’t work then next to the bed to eliminate light, noise and distraction can help. If you are at someone’s house find a quiet room, close the blinds, tack up a sheet if need be, and use your white noise machine(keep in mind upstairs is usually a better option than downstairs so your baby won’t hear the noise from above).


  • WATCH FOR SLEEP CUES – When you are traveling and off the normal routine make sure to watch your little one for sleep cues. When it is time then do your best to make the nap happen right away. Use an on the go method if needed.


  • FOLLOW YOUR HOME ROUTINE – Do the best you can to follow your home nap routine. Meaning nurse and rock baby to sleep, give a warm bottle or rub baby’s back if that is what you normally do. It may take some extra work to get your little one settled in a different environment but try your best to be consistent.


Remember to enjoy your vacation! Don’t spend an hour trying to get your little one to sleep. Sometimes it just isn’t going to happen, try it on the go instead. Make amazing family memories, soak in the together time and remember they are small for a very short time! Soon you will be begging them to hang out with you : )

If you are nervous about dining out with your little one then check out this post on how to enjoy dinner with the kids.


I’ll be wishing everyone blissful, easy and predictable naps! If you have any questions please leave a comment below! I would love to hear from you! Even if you normally don’t leave comments I would love if you left one here! My momma’s out there please add in your tips to making naptime happen. Join my village, I love when we all connect and help each other out!

6 thoughts on “What To Do When Your Baby/Toddler Won’t Nap”

  1. I’ll suggest giving a try to toddlers magic tea. My LO (little one) was doing the same when he was 1 and when I started with this tea twice in the night in his bottle, our nightmares came to end.

  2. Oh my!!! Thank you so much for this article. My husband and I have been having the worst time getting our baby to nap. She would eat, play, fuss, nap for about 20 minutes and then cry until she was hungry again. Always needing to be held during that time. She sleeps well at night and basically puts herself to sleep at night. I was told to make nap time different than bedtime so I would try and get her to nap in the living room. Well we just tried the “nap” routine in the crib (everything the same as bed time but no nursing) and she is down for a nap with no fuss. I am optimistic that this will help her sleep longer than 20 minutes. By the way, my daughter is 2 months old. I know, I’m a lucky momma for already having a good night time sleeper. I think that is why this nap time thing worked so well the first time.

    1. Hi Nicole,

      So happy to have you here! I have heard people say to do that so that your baby will nap anywhere. The truth is some kids are heavier sleepers than others and some will never sleep like that. Babies are all different. The best thing you can do is to create a routine and be consistent. So glad to help : )

  3. Is it ok to do this type of “sleep training” on a 3 month old? My son is a HORRIBLE napper and will only sleep if I hold him. Even if I’ve gotten him into a deep sleep and have his bed warmed up he still wakes up instantly or within minutes of being put down. And then he screams bloody murder (he’s a very dramatic baby!) until picked back up and then it takes forever to get him settled again. So I get basically nothing accomplished during the day because I have to hold him for naps so that he’s a bit happier during awake times. Would love/need all the advice I can get please.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      At 3 months old sleep training may not work. You can certainly try to form good habits by trying to put them into practice. When they are that tiny they really do need your extra love and attention. If your baby cries out for you it is in his best interest for you to hold him and make sure his needs are met. The growth rate that is happening at that age is amazing and it is so important for your child to be able to grow and develop properly. On the mom side of things, I know it can be very tough and demanding! I would really recommend trying a baby carrier! It will let him sleep and you get things done. Try your best to keep in mind it will only be like this for a few more months and then he will learn to get himself to sleep. It is tough when you are in the middle of it all, hang in there Mama!

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