Nap Transitions

Figuring out if your baby is ready to drop a nap is a big stressor for a lot of parents. 

The  most important piece of the nap puzzle is tuning into your baby – every baby is different and trying to force them onto a generic schedule will make both of you crazy. 

My daughter dropped her last nap when she was 23 months old. ? I spent weeks struggling to get her to sleep because it didn’t occur to me that she could be ready to drop her mid-day nap. Of course she still needed one from time to time, but when I gave up what I thought she needed and paid attention to what her little body was telling me, things fell into place.

In addition to following your child’s unique cues, below are my tips for making nap transitions as smooth as possible. 

Under 9 Months of Age

Around 8-9 months of age your baby may be ready to transition from 3 naps to 2 (or 4 to 3 for those little cat nappers). 

If you’re having a hard time getting your baby down for their third nap – it’s likely they are ready to transition from three naps, to two longer naps with longer wake windows.

If you take the plunge and lengthen the wake windows, and naps become shorter, your baby may not be quite ready for the transition.

If your baby IS ready to extend the wake window, signs to look for include – your baby will not be as tired as usual, or will take longer to fall asleep at the original nap time. 

Being patient and flexible is key – during the transition your baby will still take three naps some days, and other days only two.

If the first nap of the day turns out to be short – this will likely mean that a third nap will be needed for the day. 

If for several days the third nap hasn’t been happening, stretching the wake windows between the two naps is usually a good idea to avoid having an overtired baby at bedtime. Say for example, the second nap was usually around 2:20 – stretching the window may look like keeping your baby awake until 2:30-3:10ish for the second nap. Again, doing this will protect the window before bedtime to keep things as smooth as possible. 

When going through this transition, bedtime will likely need to be as early as 6:30 (I recommend 6:15 at the earliest). Even when transitions are as smooth as possible –  it’s very likely that the shift to longer wake windows will still result in a bit of fussiness while your baby adjusts. Cue the flexible and patience piece of the puzzle for the parents!

As your baby gets used to the longer wake windows you can gradually move bedtime back by 15 minutes. 

Two Naps to One Transition

By 10-12 months of age, some babies will show signs that they are ready to drop another nap. 

A common situation is that your baby’s wake windows have become longer, eventually pushing bedtime later and/or making bedtime much harder. If your baby is ready to drop to one nap, they are likely still playful and alert during the nap time.

Keeping in mind most babies won’t be ready to drop down to one nap until 13-18 months, here are some tips for when you think it’s time.

Option One Child-led):

Spend a few days figuring out the perfect wake window for the second nap. A motion nap, taking a walk in the stroller, or bedsharing is a great way to take the pressure off and allow the sleep to come naturally. This may mean spending an hour or so walking or snuggling to allow your baby to relax into their natural rhythm. After doing this for a few days, you’ll be able to find their ideal wake window. 

Does the ideal wake window require a second nap? Could you drop the second nap and offer an earlier bedtime? Or keep the nap and make bedtime a little later?

Option Two (Parent-led):

If you are hoping to keep the two naps and current bedtime, you can try capping the first nap at one hour. Remember this is a parent-led change and you will likely have to support your baby’s big emotions through this change. 

Capping the first nap should allow your baby to keep their second nap at the same time, and build up enough sleep pressure for bedtime. 

In order for one nap to get them through the day, their morning nap (now only nap) will likely need to be around 11am. 

If you have transitioned to one nap around 11 and you think their nap is too short to get them through the day – you can try a 10:30 nap to see if they are able to nap a bit longer. You may need to inch towards the 11am mark if it seems to be making your baby too tired and they are waking quickly and are fussy.

You can always move bedtime forward if needed, I recommend 6:15/6:30 as the earliest.

Dropping the Final Nap

If you breezed through the other nap transitions with ease, this might be the one that’s a little more difficult. Not only are you going to have to support your little one through the change – but you are losing the 1-2 hours during the day that you had to yourself while your toddler napped. Yikes! 

Most toddlers stop napping between 2.5 and 3.5 years of age. But again, every baby is different… The most common sign that a toddler is ready to drop their nap is when bedtime starts to get later and later. 

If you haven’t already you can try moving the nap as early as 11:30 am, and capping the nap to see if this will allow you to keep the nap for a bit longer. But if your toddler is still having a hard time falling asleep at bedtime, you can give dropping the nap a shot!

When you do decide to drop the nap – be prepared for a sleepy and grumpy toddler in the afternoon as they adjust. 

Many toddlers will still nap a couple times a week while they are going through the transition. 

When I dropped my daughter’s final nap, she still napped every fourth day or so, and I adjusted bedtime accordingly.

Stay tuned into your child and the new routine will fall into place. 

Moving bedtime forward to 6:15/6:30 can help ease the transition. As your toddler gets used to the change, you will be able to move bedtime later.

As always, how you feel and how your baby is handling the change is the most important factor. You are always the best answer for your child. Your gut, trumps what anyone else has to say everyday of the week!

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