Here’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…
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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.
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.
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.
- Once your baby reaches 6 months AND is sleeping well at night, we can work on extending nap lengths. If your older baby is a serial cat napper, my naps program will guide you through getting your baby to take long, restful naps everyday.
- 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.
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!