Contact Naps: Everything You Need to Know

contact-naps

A parent’s gentle embrace soothes babies to sleep. More than just a peaceful moment, contact naps – with baby sleeping skin-to-skin on an adult’s chest – offer lifelong benefits. For infants, these snug naps promote better sleep, immunity, and parent bonding through the power of touch. And for caregivers, contact napping reduces stress while fostering connection. Though not without challenges, when done safely, this nurturing ritual comforts babies and delights parents. Let’s explore how to make contact napping work for your family.

Benefits of contact naps:

There are many benefits to contact naps for both babies and adults:

For babies:

  1. Improved sleep
  2. Babies sleep more soundly and for longer periods during contact naps. The closeness helps regulate their breathing, heart rate, and nervous system.

  3. Better immunity
  4. Contact naps can boost babies’ immune systems and lower the risk of infection. Skin contact exposes them to parental antibodies.

  5. Reduced crying
  6. Babies tend to cry less when their needs for touch and comfort are met through regular contact naps.

  7. Calming effect
  8. A parent or caregiver’s warmth and heartbeat provide comfort that helps soothe babies during contact naps.

For adults:

  1. Bonding time
  2. Contact naps provide quality one-on-one bonding time between parent and baby. This supports secure emotional attachment.

  3. Convenience
  4. Contact naps allow the adult to rest while also comforting and bonding with baby. This makes them ideal for busy parents.

  5. Oxytocin release
  6. Contact naps trigger the release of oxytocin and other feel-good hormones in parents just as in babies. This reduces stress.

  7. Better sleep
  8. Many parents find they sleep better alongside their baby during contact naps. The closeness is comforting for both.

When to start contact naps?

Contact naps can be started right after birth. Early and regular skin-to-skin contact after delivery helps stabilize babies and initiate breastfeeding. Continuing contact naps helps maintain the benefits.

Premature babies may need a few weeks to gain strength for sustained contact naps. But kangaroo care, with periods of skin contact, should begin in the NICU when possible.

Contact naps are easiest during the newborn period when babies sleep up to 17 hours a day. But they remain beneficial at any age, especially for babies who have sleep challenges or separation anxiety.

How to do contact naps?

Follow these tips for safe and successful contact naps:

Choose a quiet place with few distractions where you can sit or lie comfortably without being disturbed. Turn off phones and screens.

Place baby naked or in just a diaper directly on your bare chest. Secure them lightly with your arm and a blanket. Keep their head visible. 

Play soft music, hum, sing, or shush to help soothe baby to sleep. Gentle rocking or swaying can also help.

Once baby is in deep sleep, you can move them to a bassinet or crib. Or keep napping chest to chest. Expect contact naps to last 30 minutes to 1 hour.

If you fall asleep, be sure to place baby in a safe sleep space as soon as you wake up. Don’t sleep together all night long.

Positions for contact naps:

Some good positions for contact naps include:

  1. Chest to chest
  2. Baby rests directly on your chest facing you. This allows for eye contact, kissing, and stroking baby’s back.

  3. Tummy to tummy
  4. Baby lays tummy down on your chest looking over their shoulder. Allows them to hear your heartbeat and breathe easily.

  5. Reclined cradle
  6. Baby is cradled in your arm in a semi-reclined side position while you both lie down.

  7. Koala
  8. Baby sits upright, arms and legs clinging to you like a koala. Good for older babies learning to self-settle.

  9. Lap nap
  10. Baby naps cradled in your lap, leaning back on your chest. Allows rocking and patting baby to sleep.

Experiment to find positions that work best for you and your baby. The main thing is ensuring the airway is free and baby feels secure.

Some tips for making contact naps work long-term:

Set aside consistent contact nap times like after nursing or midday. This helps establish a routine.

Watch for tired signals like rubbing eyes, yawning, or fussiness. Have a wind down ritual before contact naps.

Limit daytime contact naps to 1 or 2 so night sleep isn’t disrupted.

Use a sling, carrier, or wrap to enable contact naps on the go if baby no longer naps on your chest.

Make the environment conducive to sleep by darkening the room, using white noise, and avoiding stimulation.

Experiment with positions as baby grows. Side-lying, lap sitting, and babywearing maintain closeness for older babies.

Offer a pacifier, sing lullabies, or rub baby’s back to help a squirmy baby settle into contact naps.

Transition to the crib or bed when baby falls into a deep sleep, so they learn to nap independently, too.

Potential challenges with contact naps:

While contact naps have many advantages, there can also be some challenges:

  1. Restricted movement
  2. Contact naps limit the parent’s mobility, making it hard to accomplish other tasks.

  3. Disrupted sleep cycles
  4. Frequent stirring or early waking may interrupt the adult’s sleep cycles.

  5. Neck, back, and arm pain
  6. Maintaining certain positions for long periods can lead to muscle strain or soreness.

  7. Feeling “touched out”
  8. Some parents may crave personal space after constant physical closeness with baby.

  9. Dependency on contact naps
  10. Babies who only nap with contact may become unable to nap on their own.

  11. Safety concerns
  12. Risks like sudden infant death syndrome, suffocation, and falls make supervision essential.

  13. Spit up and drool
  14. Excessive spitting up or drooling on caregivers can be annoying and messy.

If you experience any of these challenges, try tweaking the duration, position, or environment of contact naps to make them work better for you.

Signs it’s time to end contact naps:

There’s no set age when it’s time to stop contact naps. Look for these signs your baby may be ready for independent sleep:

Baby starts resisting contact naps and fusses to be put down.

Baby begins climbing, rolling, and moving too much during contact naps.

Baby is sleeping well and napping consistently without contact naps.

Baby is able to understand sleep transitions and cooperate with being put to bed awake.

Even when regular contact naps end, they can be used occasionally for comfort during periods of separation anxiety, sickness, or after vaccinations. Respond to your individual baby’s needs.

While contact naps require time and close attention, parents who adopt them often find the bonding and soothing benefits make it worthwhile. With some creativity and flexibility, contact naps can work for families well beyond the newborn stage. Experiment to find the best contact nap techniques for you and your baby.

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