My 8-month-old daughter has been napping for 1-2 hours every afternoon for the past 4-5 months. However, the past month or so it has been very difficult to get her to go down easily for her nap. She will nurse and fall asleep, then I lay her down and instantly she wakes up and starts to scream. She was colicky through her first couple of months so I sort of became desensitized to her screaming, and usually she will fall asleep within an hour, but I don't know how else to get her to nap. When she doesn't get her nap for a couple days in a row, she will start waking up in the middle of the night in hysterics (which has obvious repercussions for the rest of the house!).
I thought that perhaps this was a brief phase that she would move out of, but it's been over a month. We follow the same naptime routine that we always have--curtains closed, fan on for white noise, nursing and rocking. I don't know what else I should try! Is this separation anxiety, or what?
Sorry you're having trouble. Your daughter is at a prime age for separation anxiety, which usually peaks between 6 and 12 months. But I don’t think that’s all that’s going on.
First, your daughter is on an unusual routine for an 8-month-old. 9pm is a late bedtime for a child her age. It sounds like she's getting around 10-11 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, which is significantly below the recommended average sleep time of 14-15 hours for her age. Not all children will sleep 14-15 hours, but very few infants can get by on fewer than 12 hours per day.
To help her get more rest, I recommend an earlier bedtime. When she’s better-rested, your daughter will be less likely to resist her nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children who sleep less at night have more trouble falling asleep and nap less during the day.
Also, most 8-month-olds are still taking two naps per day. The average age to switch to one daily nap is 15 months. However, there’s a chance that your daughter is one of the few infants ready to switch to a single nap before her first birthday.
I recommend that you continue offering a nap at a consistent time each day, with a highly consistent wind-down routine. Another thing that stood out to me is that you say you can't hold your daughter to nap "every day." If you hold her to nap on some days, but want to put her down to nap on other days, you're creating an inconsistency that's confusing for her. Babies, especially those who resist naps or need a bit less sleep than average, need absolute consistency for naps.
Another thing to keep in mind: If she naps with you holding her, but resists napping in her crib, she has what's known as a disordered sleep association—she associates sleep with being held, and is understandably upset when she’s placed in her crib. In Ready, Set, Sleep I walk parents through the process of breaking this sleep association, and I also get into more detail in a sleep consultation.
Separation anxiety or not, it’s worthwhile to preserve her nap. By correcting her overtiredness, maintaining a consistent naptime, and offering extra comfort during periods of separation anxiety, you’ll keep her naps on track until she outgrows this phase.