How to Transition Your Baby from 3 Naps to 2

 

3 to 2 nap transition for 6-12 month babyHere’s a parenting truth I’ve come to learn over the years: Nap transitions are tricky. Sometimes, they can be downright awful.

Deciding when your baby can drop the third nap can be confusing on the best of days. Sure, your 6-9 month old may be suddenly crying at nap time or taking shorter naps, but is this a sure sign that she’s ready to drop the third nap and settle into two naps each day? And if so, how does this affect bedtime and night sleep? 

I’ve worked with exhausted parents of crappy nappers for many years now, so let me ease your worries by assuring you…

 

Getting your baby through the 3 to 2 nap transition
can be simple when you
follow a few important tips.

Before I share these important tips with you, let’s first discuss IF your baby is ready to transition from 3 naps to 2.

This post may contain affiliate links.

 

Jilly walks you through the 3 to 2 nap transition in the video below

 

 

 

Signs that your baby is ready to drop to 2 naps

 

 

  • Your baby is 6-12 months old AND is/has been sleeping great at night. This means baby sleeps 10-12 hours at night with minimal wakings. Ideally your baby sleeps through the night. (I don’t recommend dropping a nap if your baby still wakes a lot at night, needing your help to fall back asleep. Best to fix night sleep first. Want help? Here’s my sleep training program.)
  • Naps have recently gotten shorter & baby cries or takes longer to fall asleep. This is usually a sign that awake times aren’t right. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Baby consistently refuses the 3rd nap
  • 3rd nap consistently pushes bedtime too late
  • Your great sleeper has recently started waking throughout the night & staying awake for long periods. (She may be crying or happily talking / playing.) This is often caused by too much daytime sleep.
  • Having 3 naps makes baby wake before 6 am & isn’t able to fall back asleep. Also caused by too much daytime sleep.

Some of the above should be occurring multiple times over multiple weeks before dropping the 3rd nap. 

 

 

Signs that your baby is NOT ready to drop to 2 naps

 

•   Your baby’s first 2 naps total less than 2 hours sleep.
Your baby needs 2-3 hours total daytime sleep each day. If he gets less than 2 hours of napping between his AM & PM naps, he’ll need a 3rd nap to make it to bedtime. If your baby has always been a serial short napper, work on extending naps first. If baby’s short naps are a recent issue, he’s probably ready to drop the 3rd nap.

•   Most days of the week, your baby takes a third nap.
Despite occasionally fighting the third nap, most days of the week your baby seems to need that third siesta to make it to bedtime.

•    Your baby is going through a big development / regression 
Is your little one trying to sit up, stand or crawl? A surge in brain development happens during developmental milestones (like learning to stand) and this often coincides with another part of development regressing (like sleep.) So if baby’s short naps (or fighting naps) is a recent problem and you notice big developments happening, hold off for a few days. It’s hard to change habits during a regression, so better to wait it out a few days. 

 

RELATED: 7 Month Sleep Regression Advice That Works!

 

How to help your baby drop the 3rd nap

 

1 ) Naps 1 & 2 must total two hours daytime sleep (or more)

  • For babies younger than 6 months, short and unpredictable napping is common and not worth stressing over. What’s most important for young babies is to nap often.
  • In order for baby to drop the third nap, the first two naps need to total 2 hours (or more.) Ideally morning and afternoon naps are each 1 – 1.5 hours. If your baby tends to have one long nap of 1.5-2 hours and another 45 minute nap, that’s ok. 

 

2 ) Nice and early bedtime

  • Once you decide to transition from 3 to 2 naps, bedtime needs to move earlier so baby’s awake times aren’t too long. (More details on this below.)
  • Most babies napping twice per day settle into a bedtime of 6-7 pm.

 

3 ) Monitor awake times

  • Your baby will nap well with age-appropriate awake times. Awake times that are too long over-tire and over-stimulate babies, making them fight naps. Awake times that are too short make babies fight naps (because they’re not tired enough) or wake early from naps.
  • Keep awake times of 2 – 3 hours (6-8 month olds) and 2.5 – 3.5 hours (9-12 month olds.)
  • Typically, the shortest awake time of the day is between morning wake up and your baby’s first nap. Each subsequent awake time gets longer by 15-30 minutes. If this is too much for you to keep up with, stick to a consistent awake time throughout the day. For example, keep all awake times at 2.5 hours for your 7 month old.
  • If your baby is used to shorter awake times, push naps later by just 10-15 minutes every 2 days and see how she responds. 

 

4 ) Wean off the 3rd nap

  • Once your baby is ready to drop the 3rd nap, wean off it slowly.
  • Limit the 3rd nap to 20-30 minutes for a few days. Then cut it down to 15 minutes. I find it’s easiest to have this 3rd cat nap in the stroller or baby carrier (while supervised.) 
  • As you wean off this nap, keep adjusting bedtime to ensure you’re sticking to the recommended awake times. 
  • As your baby lengthens naps 1 & 2, the 3rd nap may push bedtime too late. If that’s the case, drop the 3rd nap and move bedtime earlier. 
  • You can also drop the 3rd nap “cold turkey” if your baby usually fights it. Simply extend awake times by 30 minutes and move bedtime earlier to fit the recommended awake times. That typically leaves no time for a third nap!

 

5 ) Measure progress by the week, not by the day

In my years working in the pediatric hospital setting, we always measured progress by the week, never by the day. Simply put, when deciding if something is truly a new trend (and worth freaking out over) make sure it’s been happening for many days. 

A helpful tips I give clients of my naps program is to put a note on your fridge every Sunday. Quickly jot down how many naps your baby is taking and for how long. Each Sunday, have a look at last week’s note. This helps you see real patterns. 

 

 

Here are some 2 nap schedules for babies 6-12 months.

Important Points

Most nap transitions take a few weeks.

You may have to give some 3-nap days and some 2 nap-days as your baby works through this transition.

By paying attention to your baby’s awake times and moving bedtime earlier, you can glide through this nap transition without tears, frustration or pulling your hair out!

In my opinion, nap transitions are a GOOD thing because they consolidate your baby’s naps. And consolidated naps means LONGER naps. I dare you to find me a parent that doesn’t love long naps!

 

Need More Help With Your Baby’s Naps?
Check Out My Naps Program!

Get your baby taking long naps everyday

Let’s stay connected!

12 Comments

  1. Silvana

    Hi! Super helpful article!
    I have a 8.5 month old baby and I am trying to transition to 2 naps because I have seen his wake times increase. My question is – with earlier bedtime, how to avoid earlier wake times if baby only sleeps 11 hours at night? With 3 naps – he was waking up at 7am, with a 7.30 to 8pm bedtime depending on naps. Yesterday, I dropped the 3rd nap and had a 6.30 bedtime… but he woke up at 6.20 am. So today’s schedule shifted and I had to do 3 naps again to avoid a 5.15pm bedtime (afraid of a 4 or 5am wake time). Can you please advise how to manage? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • panagiota

      Hi there Silvana.

      You could move bedtime a bit earlier than 8pm, like 7 to 7.30 gradually, and your LO’s sleep won’t be affected. Please check out our 8 month old sleep guide that has many age based tips, on awake times, appropriate bedtime, etc. Here’s the link –> https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/how-to-beat-the-8-month-sleep-regression
      Good luck. Panagiota, BSMS Support Team.

      Reply
  2. Aysha

    Hi, I have a 6 month old cat napper (each nap 30-40mins). However, as his wake times have increased to 2.5hrs, 4th nap was running too late so we dropped it to 3 naps and give him an early bedtime cuz he’s still cat napping. The problem is he’s waking up pretty early in the morning after about 11hrs of sleep and barely sleeping 2hrs during the day in 3 cat naps. What should I do to make him sleep longer for naps, have an appropriate bed time and prevent early morning wake up. Should I extend wake times more and make him have 2 naps ? Won’t a jump from 4-2 naps be too big ? Please help !

    Reply
    • Leena

      Hi Aysha! Thanks for your comment! I think that a jump from 4 to 2 naps would be a little bit too much, every baby is different, but usually babies transition to 2 naps around 13-18 months. If these changes to your baby’s sleep are recent, it could be the 6 month sleep regression. I will link that guide for you to check out and implement for 1-2 weeks and you should see a change for the better 🙂

      https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/sleep-training-6-month-old

      We recommend fixing night sleep first and usually that itself can help with bedtime and early waking struggle.When night time sleep is “in order” we can work on naps. Until then you simply follow awake times and help your baby get at least 2 hours total daytime sleep. Our program, 21 Days to Peace&Quiet will walk you through all the steps in fixing both night time and daytime sleep. We offer 4 different step-by-step methods for you to choose from (from super gentle & gradual to quick & efficient.) Each step of the way you get advice based on your baby’s developmental stage, energy levels, and temperament. I’d happy to answer any questions about the program!

      You enroll on this page: https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/21-days-to-peace-quiet-program

      Good luck and let us know if we can be of any additional help 🙂 / Leena, BSMS Support Team

      Reply
  3. Emily

    Hi!
    This article is super helpful!
    My daughter is just past 7 months and has been sleeping through the night for just over a month. When she started she was waking about 6.30 most days which was fine with me. Lately though it’s been anywhere from 5.15-5.45 and I’m losing it. With an almost four year old my exhaustion hits hard in the afternoon.
    Her typical day was up 6.30 and nurse, solids at 7.45 and nap 8.15-9.50. Nurse when up, solids 11.45 and nap 2 at about 12.30/12.45 until 1.45 ish. Nurse when up, catnap from about 3.30-4.15, dinner (recently introduced, was nursing previously) at 5.45 and bath at 6.30 followed by bottle and bed (story/prayers/song after bottle) around 7. She’s usually be asleep within 10 minutes.
    Bedtimes are still pretty smooth, but for some reason she keeps waking earlier. I’m trying to stick to the routine but with the early mornings everything gets thrown off. Help please!!!

    Reply
    • Jilly Blankenship

      Hi Emily,

      I’m so happy you enjoyed this article.

      Once babies start sleeping through the night, they often want to consolidate naps. Plus your LO is right at the age when many babies want to transition to 2 naps.

      I would start making the switch. The 3rd cat nap can often lead to early mornings once baby is developmentally ready to drop it, but hasn’t.

      Start extending her awake times slowly so that her naps move a little bit later, especially the afternoon nap. And you’ll probably have to move bedtime earlier too, to around 6:30 pm for a while. That should help her settle into 2 naps / day and sleep later in the morning.

      Good luck!
      Jilly

      Reply
  4. Dan Myers

    Hi Jilly,

    Thanks for the helpful article and video. I have a question about navigating the 2-3 nap transition for almost 7 month old.

    He currently takes two long naps of about 1 to 1.5 hours and we usually end up waking him to fit in a third nap. This nap is a cat nap in the evening of up to 30 minutes, but it usually takes some time for him to fall asleep in our arms. The problem is that this last nap has been getting later, which makes his bedtime quite late. Sometimes he doesn’t fall asleep until 5:45 or 6 PM, which puts his bedtime around 8:45 PM. He typically wakes up between 7 and 7:30 AM.

    How would you suggest transitioning to two naps while gradually adjusting the bedtime earlier? His longest awake time is about 2:45, so if we drop the last nap it would move his bedtime to 6:30 or 7 PM, which seems like too big of a change all at once. We tried two naps a couple of times about a month ago, but he didn’t react well to the earlier bedtime. Should we try to gradually extend his awake times at the same time? We can try shortening his evening nap, but he sometimes takes so long to fall asleep that the schedule wouldn’t end up being any earlier.

    Thanks for your help!

    Reply
    • Jilly Blankenship

      Hi Dan,

      I would let him sleep 1.5 hours for the first 2 naps and work on dropping the 3rd nap.

      You can extend awake times by 15 minutes to help push naps a bit later, and you’ll have to move bedtime earlier. A bedtime of 6:30-7 pm is perfect for his age.

      It may take a few days to get used to the earlier bedtime, but he should be sleepy at that time. Start your bedtime routine 30 mins before bedtime to help him unwind and understand it’s time for night sleep. This article explains how to create a peaceful bedtime routine, in detail: https://www.babysleepmadesimple.com/how-to-start-bedtime-routine-baby-toddler-2

      A month is a long time in “baby years” and by now he could be more ready for an earlier bedtime.

      I hope this helps,
      Jilly

      Reply
  5. Nicole Massa

    Hi Jilly,

    I’m following your reply to Meghan Frys comment because I’m in the same situation with my almost 9-month. As of two days ago I have dropped his third nap and everything was going great Except today his naps have been shorter than an hour so do I add the third nap back in today or do I put him to bed early?
    His schedule is: 530 wake. 830 first nap for about an hour. 1250 second nap for about an hour. 600 bedtime. I am trying to get him to stop waking up at 5:30. If I put him to bed at five today and don’t give him that third nap is this going to be too much sleep and will it cause him to wake up even earlier than 530?

    Thanks,
    Nicole

    Reply
    • Jilly Blankenship

      Hi Nicole,

      On short, crappy nap days I’d offer a 3rd nap IF he needs to sleep before 6 pm. If the 3rd nap would run into 6 pm, I’d skip it and go for an early bedtime.

      Yes, a 5 pm bedtime would make for a very early morning! He can only be expected to sleep 11-12 hours at night.

      I hope this helps,
      Jilly

      Reply
  6. Meghan Fry

    Hi there! This article explains the 3-2 Nap transition very well. I’ve currently got an almost 9 month old and I need to drop the 3rd nap, but I’m stuck with a 5:40 am wake time from the third nap causing too late of a bedtime. She is capable of sleeping 12 hours (until 7:30 am), like she was last week, but we had one bad nap and now we are stuck on 3 naps again. I’m going to try the things you mentioned about pushing naps 1 and 2 further apart and only letting the 3rd nap be 15 minutes and then 10 minutes in a few days. Does decreasing the 3rd nap length ultimately lengthen the two naps the next day? I just feel I’m in a viscous cycle. Wake 5:40 am, Nap 1- 8:30-9:40, Nap 2- 12:40- 1:25, Nap 3- 4:15-4:30, Bedtime 7:45. Any other helpful tips to get that second nap to lengthen?

    Reply
    • Jilly Blankenship

      Hi Meghan,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article.

      Yes the third nap can often push bedtime later, resulting in early wake ups. I’d drop it now and try awake times of 3/3.5/3.5-4 for 1-2 weeks and see how baby adapts. I’d also limit TOTAL nap hours to 3 hours.

      This should help extend naps and result in later morning wake ups.

      All the best,
      Jilly

      Reply

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