I belong to several mom groups on Facebook—where parents drop in to ask questions about everything from introducing solids to potty training—where they discuss their post-partum bodies and arrange playdates.
All too frequently, I see questions about sleep, particularly naps.
When do you put an infant on a nap schedule? When do they drop to one nap? Are they sleeping too much during the day? When will they sleep through the night?
Recently, I saw someone say, “I think the dreaded day is finally here. My child is giving up naps. How do I handle this?”
For a parent, there are few things more stressful than your child’s sleep. During that first year, you constantly wonder if they’re sleeping enough or trying to figure out if they’re going through a sleep regression or a growth spurt. Then one day, they sleep all night and you panic, thinking something happened to them during the night.
Here’s the thing. Naps are an absolute necessity for babies. They need to sleep, but during that year the amount of sleep they need changes frequently.
When you bring a newborn home, they often have their days and nights mixed up. They’ll nap all day long and then stay up all night, which is impossible for parents to deal with. For the first two months, they might nap 3-5 times a day, but that nap could last as little as 15 minutes, leaving a parent no time to actually do anything. Then they need to go back to bed 45-60 minutes later.
No wonder it seems like babies do nothing but sleep.
Those first 2-3 months may be exhausting for a sleep deprived parent, learning how to navigate a newborn, but it’s also the time when baby sleep is the most flexible. A newborn typically will sleep anywhere (except, of course, their cribs at night), making it easy to take them places.
Around 3 months, daytime sleep starts to solidify into three solid naps. Again, they may be no more than an 45 minutes to an hour. Babies also start to need more structure around this time. Newborn sleep still changes frequently in those early months, so a schedule might be too much to hope for. However, introducing a simple routine that incorporates sleep cues is helpful.
I try to stick to the basics to avoid prolonged bedtime struggles. From 3 months on, I did a pre-nap diaper change, read at least one book and then nursed. Once I finished breastfeeding, that routine became 2 books and straight into bed, with a sound machine on and the shades closed to indicate that this was time for sleep.
Around that 3 month mark, I stopped taking my newborn out. We stayed home, getting that routine down and working towards a real schedule. I learned to pay attention to sleep cues. My older daughter would tug on her ear when she was getting sleepy and I’d bring her right into her bedroom then.
My younger daughter had no cues until much later, which was really frustrating. Eventually I learned about wake times. A baby has a certain window of time when they should be awake. So as a newborn, there’s maybe a 45 minute window between naps. Ideally, you should let your child learn to fall asleep on their own, so it is recommended that you put them to bed 15 minutes before that window is up. And then if you have a pre-bed routine, you need to incorporate that in too.
Basically, that means you’re constantly putting an infant down for a nap. Thirty minutes after the last nap, I’d get her back upstairs for the routine and then pop her into bed 15 minutes before that wake time ended.
I was constantly checking sleep charts and keeping a timer to make sure I was putting her down at the right time. It was exhausting!
Just when you think you have a handle on sleep, everything changes.
A growth spurt hits and suddenly the baby takes super long day time naps and is up all night. Then there’s the wonderful sleep regressions. Around 3 months, your baby might be sleeping 5-8 hour stretches and you begin to think you have it made, but then the 4 month sleep regression hits and your baby starts waking up like a newborn again.
They drop to 2 naps and then 1 and suddenly one day, they won’t nap at all. Then what do you do?
Like most parents, a nap is necessary for parents too. While your child gets their required daytime rest, parents can recharge. Maybe that’s a time to fold laundry or cook dinner. Maybe it’s time to sit outside or call a friend. Or maybe it’s time to flip through a magazine or watch something on Bravo.
So when a child stops napping, it can seem like the end of the world. When is the parents’ break now?
Here’s the thing. Nap strikes are totally normal. Around 2, kids often refuse to nap and a parent thinks that’s the end, no more naps. But it’s usually just a trick. Here’s where the routine comes in handy. Stick with it. Bring them to their room at the same time a nap was. Stick to the routine. If they sleep, wonderful. If not, let them hang out. Unstructured time is wonderful for children! Let them babble to themselves or leave safe toys in their cribs for them to play with. If they’re in a bed, prepare a basket of “quiet time” toys. Make sure their room is fully baby proofed, including anchoring the furniture.
From 2 until 3, my older daughter took sporadic naps. Some weeks she’d nap every day. Sometimes, it was only every other day. At 3, once she went close to two weeks with no naps, I decided to institute quiet time. I filled her room with quiet toys like puzzles, coloring books and a dollhouse. We still read together before she went into her room but once in there, she had to stay for a full hour.
This can seem daunting for a toddler. Starting with a shorter time like 15 minutes and working up to an hour sometimes helps. I also put a piece of paper with a red circle on one side on her door. This meant it was time to stay. The other side had a green circle so when quiet time was over, I’d switch the paper and she could leave. Sometimes I used an Amazon echo as a timer.
Eventually we worked up to 60 minutes, enough for me to quickly get some work done. At 3.5, she got a nasty virus and was suddenly napping again. After months of no naps, she now insists on daily naps. While she doesn’t always sleep, she gets at least an hour of quiet relaxation. On the no naps days, we make sure she has an earlier bedtime to ensure she gets plenty of rest.
Every kid stops napping at some point. When bedtime suddenly starts taking 2-3 hours and your 4 year old isn’t falling asleep until 10 PM, it’s probably time to lose the nap. No nap usually means an early and easy bedtime, giving parents more downtime at the end of the day. That being said, a stay at home parents usually needs some of that downtime during the day too, which is why quiet time is key.
After all, everyone needs some time to charge, whether you’re 4 or 34! How do you deal with the napping stage? I’d love to hear your suggestions and tips!