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Nap Transitions: A guide to help you navigate each one with your baby!

Written by: Aileen Dunbar, Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist

In today’s blog post, I will focus on an aspect of baby sleep that parents can find quite challenging- nap transitions. Even though it can be challenging, it can also be viewed positively as it means your little one is connecting sleep cycles!

Typically, babies’ naps are not very consistent in terms of number of naps per day as well as consistency in terms of length of naps from 0-4 months of age. For example, some naps may be 30 minutes while others may be over an hour. Also, some days they might take 5 naps and other days 3 or 4. By 5-6 months, most babies are taking 3-4 naps per day. In this post, I will discuss signs baby is ready to drop a nap as well as tips for navigating the 3 to 2 transition, 2 to 1 transition and when child drops naps altogether.

Part A. Figuring out when it’s time to drop a nap!

I. Signs baby is ready to drop a nap
  • they are taking much longer than normal to fall asleep at nap time/for one of the naps, they may be skipping it all together despite your efforts

  • they don’t seem tired after their typical wake window (time between naps)

  • they are taking very short naps (15 minutes or less) and it is a struggle to get them back to sleep once awake

  • it is very difficult to get them to sleep at night and/or they have a later bedtime than usual

  • they may be waking up much earlier than normal

  • when you extend their wake window, they don’t seem overtired and they take a longer nap than usual

II. Signs they are NOT quite ready:
  • when we increase the wake windows, their nap time shortens

  • when we drop a nap, the baby can’t make it to bedtime without being overtired

  • when other factors are more likely the cause of them fighting sleep such as teething, sleep progression, being overtired, or illness

A final general point- the overall transition may take a few weeks so it definitely requires patience, flexibility and understanding.

Part B. 3 to 2 Nap Transition

I. Firstly, when does this transition typically happen?

Each baby is unique so the most important thing is it to tune into cues they are ready, but the most typical age for this is when baby is approaching 8-9 months.

II. Tips for how to best handle this transition:
  • be prepared that some days baby will take 3 naps instead of 2 during transition. This would typically be based on length of first nap (for example, if first nap is only 30 minutes, it will most likely be 3 nap day but if they have a first nap of at least an hour and a half, then it will most likely be a 2-nap day.)

  • remember to be flexible during this time and avoid trying to force naps to ensure you continue to be a calming presence for your child at sleep time

  • focus on ensuring window between last nap and bedtime is not too long so baby doesn’t become overtired (you can try to stretch out time between nap 1 and nap 2 instead)

  • when you are trying to stretch wake windows, focus on doing activities that keep baby awake and busy such as playing and interacting with them

  • in the beginning of transitioning, you may need to give baby an earlier bedtime as they adjust to longer wake windows. Once baby is adjusted, you can shift back to regular bedtime.

Part C. 2 to 1 Nap Transition

I. When does this transition typically happen?

Similarly to the 3 to 2 nap transition, it is unique for each baby, and actually there is a wider time range for this transition compared to the 3 to 2 shift but the most common time is when baby is between 13-18 months. It is typical for baby to fight second nap around 11 to 12 months and so parents may think they should transition to one nap at this time. However, this is usually too early so it is better to use some strategies to keep the two naps.

II. Here are a few strategies to keep two naps when baby is too young or not ready to transition:
  • do whatever you can to get this second nap (car drive, stroller nap, holding baby for nap, etc.)

  • cap the first nap at an hour to help you get second nap

  • make sure you start the day early enough to fit in both naps and avoid a too late bedtime!

III. Tips for when baby is actually ready for transition:

  • if when you cap 1st nap, baby is still resisting 2nd nap (for at least 2 weeks) then this is good sign baby is ready for 1 nap/another way to tell is if baby still seems happy despite missing nap

  • slowly move 1st nap to be later (half hour increments) so eventually nap is happening about 5 hours after wake-up

  • during transition, you may need to have earlier bedtime to prevent baby becoming overtired and then can slowly shift back to regular bedtime

Part D. When child is ready to drop nap altogether

I. When does this transition usually happen?

Typically when child is between 2.5 and 3.5 years. Similarly to transitioning from 2 to 1 nap, you will want to make sure you don’t do this too early, so I will discuss some strategies to keep the one nap if child is not quite ready to stop napping.

II. Strategies to keep one nap if child is not quite ready to drop nap

  • cap the nap at an hour

  • move nap earlier than normal if possible to avoid overly late bedtime

  • during transition process, tune into your child. Before they completely drop nap, there may still be a few days a week where they need a nap.

III. What are signs your child is ready to completely drop nap and how can we best support them?

  • if when you cap nap and/or move it earlier, bedtime is still late then this is a good sign child is ready to drop nap

  • during process of adjusting, you may need to shift bedtime earlier until they are used to no longer napping

  • it’s a good idea to incorporate quiet time in lieu of the nap as even if your child no longer needs their nap, it is still beneficial for them to have some rest time (and nice for you as well!)

In conclusion, nap transitions can be challenging but by following your child’s cues and having extra patience and flexibility during these times, it will make it that much easier! If you are looking for individualized support during these times, I have a variety of packages available to support you as a Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist. Please reach out and we can set up a free discovery call.


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