(This is Part 1 of our three-part series on nap transitions.)
To determine whether your child is truly transitioning from 3 to 2 naps, make sure to rule out acute teething (cutting a tooth through the gum), illness, a brand-new motor milestone (such as crawling), or other circumstances that would temporarily affect naps (such as a move or a trip).
You do not need to decide when it is time to transition from 3 to 2 naps; your baby will let you know when it’s time by changing her nap patterns. Somewhere between 6 and 9 months, your baby’s third nap will begin to shrink slowly (eventually dwindling to perhaps only a 10 or 15 minutes “blip”) until it disappears altogether. (Blip naps are usually easiest to get in a car or stroller, if you have that option.) Gradually, your child will begin to resist taking the third nap entirely; when she refuses this nap consistently for 4 to 6 days in a row, she is ready to drop the nap. Warning: you will then enter what we fondly call the “Yuck Zone,” where three naps seem like too many but two naps don’t seem like enough. On some days your child may still need a third “blip” nap, and on other days two longer naps will seem sufficient. The key is to follow her lead, allowing for a bit more flexibility with naps until she has fully transitioned to two naps (this usually takes one to two weeks).
When your child transitions from 3 naps to 2 naps, you’ll need to adjust her daytime wake windows later by 30 minutes each, so that the first nap is scheduled 2.5 hours after wake time and the second nap is scheduled 3 hours after the end of the first nap. So if your child wakes at 6:30 am, move the first nap to 9 am. If she sleeps an hour, the second nap will now occur at 1 pm. Also remember to adjust your bedtime earlier at night temporarily to avoid overtiredness (and the dreaded cortisiol effect), as she’ll have longer to stretch now between her last nap and bedtime.
To see sample schedules for a baby transitioning from 3 to 2 naps, click here.
Remember, the sample schedules and waketimes windows we offer are guidelines that will work well for most babies, but there will always be babies who can’t quite stretch as long, or who can stretch longer than average. Aim to put your baby down for a nap before she’s overtired (rubbing her eyes or fussy) but long enough after the last sleep period that she’s tired enough to go down and stay down for the right length of time.
Last thing: there’s a reason we titled the nap chapter in our book, The Sleepeasy Solution, “The Art of the Nap”! Naps have a lot of moving parts (timing, environment, way that the baby goes to sleep, the way you respond to her if she’s learning) that need to coordinate for a nap to go well. Fine-tuning naps can take 1-2 weeks, so hang in there and stay positive!
Coming soon: transitioning from 2 naps to 1 nap