Confessions of a Contact Napper

A few days ago, I exchanged a few quick texts (and a couple of memes) with a friend who is in the thick of the baby stage. Her little boy isn’t a newborn anymore, but she’s still working through all those “little baby” things – sleepless nights, solids, sterilizing bottles, pajamas with feet, wake windows, and achieving a solid nap schedule.

On one hand, I’m pretty glad that I’m no longer in that phase of life. On the other, I felt a little sad that my three-year-old son isn’t a “baby” anymore, and when I picked him up for bedtime he felt even bigger and heavier than usual. He stopped napping almost a year ago now, and I’m finally ready to get something off my chest.

My name is Natalie, and I’m a contact napping mama.

For over two years of my life, I spent a good chunk of my time each day sitting in the rocking chair of our nursery holding, rocking, nursing, and cuddling him as he slept.

And I do not regret a single second of it.

I will freely admit that in the moment, I felt frustrated that I just wasn’t able to lay him down for a nap (despite trying) and get on with the laundry, the washing up, and the cleaning that was piling up around me.

I felt upset that I didn’t get a second of time in the day to myself, to shower without him in the bathroom, to dry my hair, or paint my nails and feel vaguely like myself again.

I felt embarrassed that my baby was the Velcro kind that just couldn’t seem to nap without me.

I felt alone and avoided conversations about my son’s sleep and what I did during the day.

I felt like I was failing in some way as a mother, by having a child who was “too attached” to me.

I felt exasperated that my life revolved around ensuring he got enough sleep to thrive, because everything I read scared me – that he wasn’t getting enough sleep to develop properly, that he wasn’t able to nap independently, and that contact sleep wasn’t as restful as other sleep (a myth if ever I’ve heard one! But sleep deprivation is real, and sleep really is sleep, mama). Literally everything I read made me feel worse… and funnily enough, I read most of it when I was sat in the chair with him asleep in my arms. My only regret now? I didn’t listen to more audiobooks.

I do only have one (albeit extremely spirited) child, so I freely admit that my view is skewed by that – but I also realize now just how short-sighted all these worries were. They seemed all-consuming in the moment, but really, they didn’t matter in the long term. Whether your child stops napping at 2 years old, 3 years old, or more, the years when they actually take a nap are very short – just a small percentage of their childhood, and the blink of an eye in the larger picture of their time in our homes (let alone, the lifetime beyond!). Having a child who is reliant on you for daytime sleep isn’t an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t the end of the world. Whether they have to sleep on mom, Dad, a grandparent, or carer, if they are healthy, happy, and well-cared-for, you are doing the best you can by meeting that need for closeness.

All too soon, the newborn who slept most of the day has predictable “wake windows”… three naps become two…  two naps become one… naps become prized, then they become dangerous… and suddenly you forget what it was like to have some peaceful, quiet downtime in your day. You are ON from the moment your preschooler wakes in the morning til you tuck them in at night – and those sleepy midday cuddles seem like a distant, happy memory.

What I can now wholeheartedly say is that all those hours spent holding him as he napped are some of my hardest but most valuable, precious moments of motherhood. I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, and I truly think that it was fuelled by my expectations of how things “should” be vs. how they actually were. Social media told me I should have an easy baby, and if I didn’t – well, that was on me. Yet, when I felt pushed to my absolute limit, I could always find something beautiful in seeing my son asleep in my arms.

When I watched his eyes flutter closed and succumb to sleep, or he’d fleetingly wake and smile because I was still there holding him, I found the part of me that was a natural mother – I was led by him, and I was better for it. It kept our nursing relationship strong, it offered a million chances for singing songs and telling stories; we listened to Taylor Swift, his coos became giggles, his giggles became words. The dimples on his knuckles gradually disappeared. It gave me a much needed moment of rest and recuperation in my day, and looking back on it, I realize I needed that as much as he needed me to hold him while he napped.

This post isn’t about whether sleep is better contact-napping or in crib, nor does it pit stay-at-home-moms against working ones, sleep trainers against co-sleepers. We are all mothering the only way we know how; making the best of the situation we are in and the child we have been blessed with.

It’s just a simple reminder that the days are sometimes excruciatingly long, but the years – their childhood – is short. I already know that when my hair is gray and there are deep lines around my eyes, I’ll see my son cradle his own baby and remember for a moment the little baby who wouldn’t nap outside my arms. And I’ll smile, because however difficult it felt in the moment, it made me a better mom – and gave me the warmest, softest, and most loving memories that I’ll treasure forever.

Natalie is the editor and content manager of Alamo City Moms. A proud Brit, she moved to Texas in late 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian; she became a US Citizen in 2022. Their son was born in October 2020, and they are one and won! She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, and joined the ACM team as a contributing writer in summer 2021. The rest, as they say, is history! Natalie lives on the north side of San Antonio with her husband, son, and their English cocker spaniel Oban. She loves searching out and sharing the best places to eat, drink coffee, and shop in San Antonio, and she’s never shy about sharing the highs - and lows - of motherhood. Favorite Restaurant: Tardifs Brasserie Favorite Landmark:World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights