Naps on The Go: Getting Your Baby to Sleep When You Are Out

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November 09, 2021
7 min read

Updated on 25 June 2024

Sleep programs and routines need to be flexible

The Dr Golly Sleep Program – or any sleep program for that matter – needs flexibility for, well… life!


  • You have a Paediatrician appointment 😜
  • Swimming lessons are at a really inconvenient time
  • You’ve got a picnic with your parents’ group
  • Lunch at your friend’s house   
  • Older children need to be picked up from school or daycare
  • You just need to get out of the house for a while in the fresh air… the list goes on!

Sleeping on the go is a muscle you’ll learn to flex and in my opinion the earlier you flex it the easier it will be!  In this blog we’ll work through how to manage sleep while you’re not at home, how to re-create a sleep environment when you’re out and about; and how to do it all safely. We’ll also cover how to adjust your schedule after unexpected naps.

Sometimes sleep is disrupted and naps have to be ‘on-the-run’.

A good balance is the 80/20 rule.

Most sleep (80%) occurs in a normal sleep environment (their nursery, daycare, grandparent’s house, etc), but on-the-go out and about life (20%) is allowed to (and should) happen too! 

Some parents who are nervous to leave the house are completely surprised that their baby will actually sleep anywhere. If your baby won’t sleep in the stroller or won’t sleep anywhere but home there’s hope…keep reading! 

Please note this is only relevant for a baby over 4 weeks – prior to this they’ll most likely sleep anywhere without a problem.

The most common sleeping environments for naps out of the house:

  1. Pram
  2. Car – see safety notes below
  3. Carrier – see a full rundown of baby wearing in my wraps and carriers blog
  4. Portacot or pack n play

My top tips for managing naps on the go:

  1. Solid sleep foundations are the key – if they have a good routine and great sleep hygiene it will make sleeping anywhere else easier 
  2. The younger they are – the easier this is – practise some sleeps on the go from a young age
  3. For babies still taking 3 naps, the late afternoon one is the best one to do in the car, carrier or pram
  4. From 12 weeks onwards, if you have to pick one nap to have at home, pick the lunchtime nap – this is the one we want to encourage to be the longest
  5. Don’t always expect your baby to transfer from the car seat or pram to the cot & keep sleeping soundly – if your baby does, thank the sleep gods for your blessings! If they don’t there are some options below about what to do 
  6. From about 6 months onwards, getting them to sleep past one sleep cycle when they’re out gets really tricky, so don’t be disheartened – this is where it’s handy to do their short morning and afternoon naps when you’re out and about as linking sleep cycles isn’t an issue

…and my biggest tip for managing your baby’s nap away from home:

Recreate their sleep environment as much as possible!


    • If outside, darken the pram or portable bassinet with a breathable blackout cover. 
    • Don’t use a blanket, as this doesn’t usually provide enough darkness and the temperature can become dangerously high.
    • If you’re sleeping at someone else’s house choose the darkest room possible there are also pack n play style breathable covers you can use over porta cots

    • Use the same white noise nature sounds that you use at home. 
    • There are many portable white noise machines available that run on batteries.

    • If your baby is still swaddled and you want to encourage them to nap in the pram,use the same swaddle as at home.
    • This goes for their sleep suit if they have transitioned to arms out

    • If they are old enough, always have their sleep comforter with them
    • If they take a dummy make sure you have some extras packed in case one gets dropped or gets dirty 

Other tips to help babies sleep when you’re out and about:

Follow age appropriate wake windows 

  • The wake window between each sleep is really important – it’s a balancing act of ensuring they get enough sleep and appropriate awake times to build up enough sleep pressure or sleep debt before the next nap
  • We don’t want an overtired baby and we don’t want them undertired 
  • Watch for their sleep cues 
  • See my baby sleep and toddler sleep programs for recommended nap time routine for each age group

Continue with any nap tor bedtime routines you do at home

  • If you have a wind down sleep routine at home, as much as possible do it while you’re out

E.g. if you feed, burp, play, swaddle, cuddle (try and do this as much as possible while you’re out) 

read our blog when do babies stop napping

Travelling with a baby?

Sleeping on the run is an inevitable part of travel whether it’s interstate or overseas. Adjusting to new time zones, changing accommodation (check out at 10 and you don’t check in until 3pm?!?) it’s impossible to manage all sleeps in a cot – see my blog on flying with a baby and another one long car trips with babies for more sleep tips to help guide you 

As always, remember the safe-sleeping guidelines for baby sleeps on the run:

  • Very few prams in Australia are aerated enough or recommended for sleep.
  • Be conscious of pram and car temperatures in Summer months 
  • Never leave unattended babies asleep in car seats – there’s a risk of baby’s chin or neck position obstructing their airway 
  • Always make sure your baby is in TOG attire appropriate for the temperature.

You don’t need textbook perfect sleep everyday 

We know our babies and children LOVE consistency but sustainable sleep habits aren’t ones where all daytime sleep or nap time are at home in their cot – if you try and do this you’ll feel trapped as a parent – nap jail is not healthy for anyone. 

Can a baby sleep on the go? The answer is yes, but if they are used to sleeping in their cot – the sleep may not be as consistent or as restorative – but that’s not the end of the world! If your baby’s sleep is disturbed or missed, never be disheartened. Their sleep doesn’t have to be textbook perfect every day.  Remember, every morning is a chance to reset and start fresh.  If they slept poorly the day or night before you may need to allow them to catch up with a quiet day the next day.

The good news is that babies who sleep well most of the time are more flexible when it comes to occasional naps on the go. This is because they’re well rested and not chronically overtired. 

Are car naps ok for babies? 

Red Nose Australia and the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) both don’t promote sleeping in car seats for long periods of time due to the increased risk of SIDs. Babies are top heavy (their head is disproportionately heavier than the rest of them) and when they sit in an upright inclined position like they do in a car or baby seat it may cause your baby’s neck to flex forward or chin down which may block their airway not allowing airflow.  Never leave a baby asleep unsupervised in a car seat.

What if your baby wasn’t meant to fall asleep while you’re out? (a car nap is very common!) 

If your baby falls asleep as you’re walking home in the pram or in the car (these are the most likely scenarios) try and keep them awake and stimulated as much as possible.  

  • Blast the Wiggles (at a safe volume) and sing together
  • If there’s a passenger in the car tickle their chin
  • Wind the windows down and let in some fresh air
  • If they are in the pram – have them face you so you can keep them engaged 
  • You may look deranged in the front seat or walking along…but if you know you know …sometimes all you need is an extra 5 minutes to get home and you know they’ll sleep the full 2 hours…PLEASE STAY AWAKE LITTLE ONE!! 

If they do nod off it’s not the end of the world – there are 2 main options: 

  • OPTION 1: If they do fall asleep you could treat this as a little power nap and wake them after 10-15mins. Be flexible with their routine if this happens – restart their awake time but depending on age, bear in mind they probably won’t make the full awake window before getting tired again.
  • OPTION 2: If you have the time, allow them to complete their full sleep and take the long walk or drive home.  Pick up a coffee (decaf if you’re planning to breastfeed in the next hour or so) turn on a podcast and settle in. 

If you have an older baby/toddler and they nap unexpectedly in the late afternoon then push bedtime out a bit to increase their sleep debt.

The Dr Golly recommended routines and bedtime routine will give you a guide as to how your day will look – see the course content for more information on how to manage each age group and adjust specific routines.

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