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How to Leave the House when Following a Nap Schedule

Infant Sleep · Toddler Sleep

You’ve done the hard work of sleep training.  You finally got your little one to sleep soundly in the crib on a predictable schedule.  Your baby’s wake times are filled with feedings, diaper changes, and playtime and before you know it, it’s time to get ready for another nap.  Then the realization hits.  How will I ever leave the house when my baby is on a nap schedule? 

Unless you can shop, dine, etc. in record wake-window timing to get back home for the next nap, something has to give.  It can feel daunting, but leaving home is as important for you as it is for your little one.  Let’s break it down and make leaving home during the day feel much more attainable.  You can minimize the impact of temporarily changing the routine!

1. Lay a Solid Sleep Foundation.

It’s best not to “take the show on the road” the first several days of teaching independent sleep skills.  Once a new routine is familiar for everyone, things will go more smoothly.  If your little one has been sleeping well during the day for about two weeks, you can feel pretty confident about switching things up a little bit every once in a while.

How often is once in a while?  Well, we often say “train for the 80% and improvise for the other 20%.”  Thus, four out of five days is typically consistent enough so as not to throw anything out of whack for your little one.  It is also pliable enough to let you get some things done!

Before you ask, you can’t “bank” those days.  It doesn’t work well to keep the nap schedule well-timed for 12 days and then be on-the-go for three straight days in a row.  Back-to-back inconsistency can be more difficult for little ones.  If you have a family outing planned for the day, go and enjoy it!  However, then reserve the dinner out for a different day.  When needed, an early bedtime can help your little one recover from a poor nap day.

2. Plan Accordingly.

If you have to skip a formal nap for a nap in the car or the stroller, have a plan!  Do not leave the house without some kind of plan for sleep when the time rolls around.  An overtired infant is no fun for anyone.

We suggest prioritizing the first nap of the day at home when you can.  The morning nap is usually when your baby achieves the deepest, most restorative sleep of the daytime.  If possible, it is best to save the car nap for later on in the day.

If your little one will be at another location by the time it is nap time, just bring along the pack-n-play, sleepsack, and sound machine to make sleep in a new environment as familiar and comfortable as possible.

3. Make Naps on the Go Count.

If you do end up planning to have your baby nap in the car, stroller, or carrier, try to make sure it’s at least one full sleep cycle.  Thus, if your child falls asleep five minutes into a ten-minute drive, you might consider just taking the scenic route until she’s had a more decent nap.

 Generally, we do not recommend trying to move a sleeping baby into her crib in the middle of any unplanned nap.  If she has already fallen asleep, let her sleep.  When she is awake, you can plan her next wake time and subsequent nap time.  The mid-nap transfer approach is not commonly successful.  Most often, you are better off just letting her sleep wherever she managed to fall asleep in the first place.*

If your baby does wake up before she’s had a decent nap, don’t try to put her back to sleep right away.  At that point, some sleep pressure is already restored, so she will need awake time to prepare for another stretch of sleep.

4. Ask for Help.

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for some help if you can.  Ideally, your little one will sleep in her crib for the majority of naps within a week.  An “off day” here or there won’t de-rail sleep skills.  However, if you can pass her off to a willing grandparent, friend, or caregiver who has offered to help at home for a few hours, you should take advantage of it.  It is good for both you and your little one!  

5. Bounce Back.

When you return home, jump right back into age-appropriate wake times and normal nap-time schedules and routines.  This will help your little one bounce back to great sleep at home more quickly too! 

Leaving the house is doable!  A nap on-the-go here or there is not too troublesome for most sleepers.  Sleep is so important, but you certainly have our encouragement to go ahead and live a little. Self-care and the need to accomplish normal life tasks matters, too! 

If you want to learn more about how we can support your child’s sleep journey, book a free 15-minute evaluation here

*Car seats must be clipped into the car seat base or stroller to be considered safe sleep spaces.