The Truth About Contact Napping And What It Means For Baby

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 12/07/23 •  Sleep / Naps

Contact napping, or when a baby takes a nap while being held by an adult, is a popular practice among parents to help their baby fall asleep. But is it safe? Are there benefits? And what does it mean for you as a parent? 

Contact Napping Featured Image

Key Takeaways

  1. Contact napping is a safe sleep method for babies as long as the caregiver is awake and alert. It provides benefits like increased bonding and lowered stress levels.
  2. While common and beneficial in the short term, contact napping can create dependency issues in the long term if relied on exclusively. Babies need to learn to sleep independently as well.
  3. The ideal time to have transitioned away from contact napping is between 3-4 months, as babies are more developmentally able to self-soothe at this stage. However, every baby’s timeline is different.

What Is Contact Napping?

Is Contact Napping Safe?

As the American Academy of Pediatrics states and what I professionally agree with, it’s “imperative that the mother/caregiver who is providing skin-to-skin care be awake and alert.”

This is because the parent or caregiver must be able to monitor the baby’s breathing and ensure that their face is not obstructed… And these safety measures cannot be done when you’re asleep.

While contact napping can be a safe and comforting way for parents to bond with their baby, it is important to remember that it should not be the only method of napping in the long term. Letting babies gradually increase the amount of time they spend sleeping independently in a crib or bassinet is what I advise.

Therefore, if you do choose to contact nap with your infant, always ensure to have a safe sleeping environment to put them down to sleep on their own, should you need to.

Is Contact Napping Common?

Yes, contact napping is very common. A 2014 survey by BabyCenter found that 76% of mothers had practiced skin-to-skin contact after birth, which often led to contact napping in the months following. Many parents prefer contact napping as it is a wonderful way to connect and bond with their new baby.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

Benefits And Challenges Of Contact Napping

There is nothing more special than having your new baby fall asleep on you and I remember fondly how my son loved to fall asleep on my chest when he was first born.

While research into contact napping undoubtedly has its benefits for both you and your baby, it can also present issues moving forward.

So to help you decide whether contact napping is for you, here are the benefits and challenges you need to be aware of:

✅ Benefits Of Contact Naps With Baby

Benefits Of Contact Naps With Baby

❌ Challenges Of Contact Naps With Baby

Challenges Of Contact Naps With Baby

Overall, contact napping can be a healthy and normal part of a baby’s sleep habits. However, it is important to have realistic expectations about how to do it and to always follow safe sleep guidelines. 

If you are falling asleep, please put baby down in a prepared sleep space to keep them safe.

The worst may never happen, but you don’t want to take the risk.

How To Make The Most Of Contact Napping

Contact napping can be an essential part of the bonding process and there are things you can do to ensure its success.

To make the most of contact napping, preparation is essential. 

Before baby is due for a nap, or when they start to show sleep cues, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and get a snack ready. 

Choose a comfy spot and lay out all your supplies within arms reach. Settle in with your baby on you and help them drift off for a nap.

During this time you can read your book, watch a quiet TV show, or listen to some music on your headphones. 

The aim should be to enjoy the moment, relax, and watch your little one sleep.

My essential supplies include:

  1. A cup of tea
  2. A bowl of prepared fruit and some dark chocolate
  3. A blanket
  4. Cozy socks
  5. Tissues
  6. My favorite book

Contact Nap Positions

There are several contact napping positions that your baby will more than likely fall asleep in. These include:

How To Transition From Contact Napping

Transitioning from contact napping to independent napping can be a daunting task, but it is a necessary step towards independent sleep for your baby. 

To make the transition smoother, quicker, and less stressful, here are my top tips:

  1. Gradual Transition: Start by slowly reducing the amount of physical contact during nap time. You can use a wrap or a weighted sleeping bag to make your baby feel more safe and secure in their crib or bassinet. Then gradually decrease the amount of time you spend settling your little and gradually increase the distance between you and your baby as they settle until they are comfortable sleeping on their own.
  2. Be Conscious With Your Timing: Avoid transitioning to independent sleep during times of illness, teething, or any other stressful event. Your baby will not appreciate having lots of changes happening at once! 
  3. Put Your Baby Down Drowsy But Not Asleep: Practice makes perfect with this tip. Firstly, watch for sleep cues to make sure you are putting your little one down when they are ready for sleep. Then, start by holding your baby for a short while so they begin to fall asleep in your arms before putting them down to sleep. If, after lying down, your baby grizzles… leave them for a short while to see if they will self-soothe to sleep. If not, pick them up and repeat the process. Over time, gradually reduce the amount of time you hold baby before putting them down so they learn to fall asleep on their own.
  4. Practice When Awake: Allow your baby to practice being awake in their sleep space during the day when they are awake. Put up a crib mobile for them to watch. This will help your baby get used to their sleep environment and feel confident being in there by themselves.
  5. Sleep Environment: Ensure that your baby’s sleep environment is safe, comfortable, and conducive to sleep. This includes maintaining a comfortable temperature, using a white noise machine, singing a lullaby, and if need be, using black-out blinds.
  6. Bedtime Routine: You can start establishing a consistent bedtime and nap routine from very early on and the sooner you do, the better. Helping your baby associate certain activities with sleep is the best way to help them be primed for sleep. This can include a bath, storytime, and soothing methods such as rocking or singing for a short time before putting them down to bed (drowsy but not fast asleep)!

When Should Babies Stop Contact Naps?

Most babies start transitioning out of contact napping around 3-4 months old but many babies may go through the transition earlier. 

Generally, by 3-4 months, your baby is more capable of self-soothing and their sleep schedule will become more consistent, making it the ideal time to stop contact napping.

Remember that every baby is different, and some may take longer to transition out of contact napping. It is okay to take it slow and follow your baby’s lead. Be patient and consistent, and eventually, they will learn to sleep without contact napping.

Frequently Asked Questions About Contact Napping

Looking for more information about contact napping? Here are the most frequently asked questions, answered just for you.

Q: Is it bad to always contact nap?

A: While contact napping can be a great way to soothe and bond with your baby, it is not recommended to always contact nap. It is crucial to encourage your baby to learn to sleep independently to avoid creating a habit that may be difficult to break in the future.

Q: Should newborn daytime naps be in the dark?

A: Newborns tend to sleep a lot during the day, and it is not necessary to keep the room dark during daytime naps. However, it is essential to ensure that the room is quiet and comfortable for your baby to sleep in.

Q: How can I encourage my baby to nap without contact?

A: Encouraging your baby to nap without contact can be challenging, but it is possible. Start by creating a consistent nap routine, such as dimming the lights and playing soothing music. You can also try swaddling your baby or using a pacifier to help them fall asleep.

Q: How many contact naps a day is OK?

A: The number of contact naps a day that is okay for your baby depends on their age and individual needs. Generally, newborns may need up to six contact naps a day, while older babies may only need one or two contact naps.

Q: Why do babies sleep better when held?

A: Babies sleep better when held because they feel safe and secure in their parent’s arms. The warmth and comfort of being held can also help to regulate their breathing and heart rate, leading to a more peaceful sleep.

Q: Do babies sleep longer with contact naps?

Not always. If your baby normally takes short naps, then contact napping can help to extend these naps. But if your baby naps for a long time already, their nap length will not change.

Remember, during skin-to-skin contact, most newborns easily fall asleep within a few minutes – and they achieve deep sleep for an hour or more, which is especially beneficial to a baby’s developing brain.

Need More Parenting Help?

Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

Keep Reading