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Most babies under the age of one need at least two naps a day — one in the morning and one in the early afternoon.
Unfortunately, as much as your child might need the sleep, they aren’t always willing to cooperate when it’s time to go down.
Getting your baby used to a napping schedule can help ensure that they get the rest that they need while taking some of the stress out of the process for you.
The key is learning your baby’s natural sleep patterns, so you don’t try to force them onto a schedule that won’t work for them.
Listening to Your Baby
Make sure your baby is ready.
It’s important to start a baby on napping schedule when they’re ready for it.
In most cases, you should wait until your baby is 3 to 4 months old before you try to start a nap schedule.
That’s usually the point when they start to develop more regular patterns of daytime sleep, so starting before that age can be difficult.
If your baby is younger than 3 months but is starting to develop more predictable sleep patterns, you can try to encourage them by introducing a schedule.
Track your baby’s natural routine.
You’ll have an easier time getting your child to adhere to a schedule if you use their natural routine as a guideline.
When you decide that you’re ready to start a schedule, start tracking the times that your baby naturally falls asleep during the day.
Pay attention to how long they sleep as well.
Keep track of your baby’s natural routine for at least a week.
The longer that you do it, the easier it will be to pinpoint a natural schedule.
You can track your baby’s napping in a notebook or a spreadsheet on your computer.
There are also apps, such as Trixie Tracker or Baby Bundle, which allow you to track your baby’s sleep schedule, as well as their feeding and diaper change schedules.
Learn your baby’s signals.
When you start tracking your baby’s natural napping routine, you may begin to notice certain signs that indicate they need a nap.
Pay attention to things like yawning, rubbing at the eyes, pulling at the ears, sucking on fingers, or becoming cranky to determine what your child does when they’re tired.
You may notice other signals that mean it’s a good time for your baby to take a nap, such as always falling asleep after lunch or an afternoon walk in the park.
Once you know your baby’s natural routine and signals, try to start your napping routine just before their usual sleepy time or just as the signals are starting.
It’s better to start the routine before they get overtired.
Devising a Napping Schedule
Decide how you want to arrange the schedule.
There are two main ways to plan your baby’s napping schedule.
You can use a baby-led schedule, where you follow the baby’s cues and put them down when they appear tired, or you can use a parent-led schedule, where you train the baby to nap at certain times.
A baby-led schedule is more flexible, while the parent-led schedule tends to be more strict.
While a baby-led schedule may not seem like much of a schedule, keep in mind that most babies are developing natural sleeping patterns by 3 or 4 months of age.
That means they’ll start to nap at roughly the same time on most days.
No matter what type of nap schedule you decide on, the key to getting your baby to stick to it is consistency.
You don’t necessarily have to put your child down at the same precise time everyday, but don’t put them down right after lunch one day and two hours after lunch the next.
It will be much more difficult for your child to develop regular napping patterns, so try to put them down within the same half hour to an hour each day.
Keep your child’s usual napping times in mind when you’re planning their activities.
For example, if you want to take your child to a music class, try to find one that’s scheduled when they are usually awake.
Another way to be consistent with your baby’s napping is developing a napping routine.
Do the same things each time you put your baby down, so they can start to learn when it’s time to nap.
Allow for some flexibility in the schedule.
While consistency is crucial to getting your baby on a napping schedule, it’s also important to allow for possible interruptions in the schedule.
Your doctor’s appointment may run late one day, or you may get stuck in traffic on your way home from running errands.
Try to stick to the schedule as much as possible, but think of it as window of time, such as 11 to 11:30, rather than a precise time.
Don’t worry if your baby misses a nap or winds up napping an hour or more later every once in a while.
If you have a schedule in place, it will be easy to get your child back on it.
Being too rigid with a schedule can lead to stress for you and it may also cause you to miss out on some fun times with your baby.
Creating a Napping Routine
Lower the lights. Setting the right mood when you want your baby to nap is just as important as it is when you fall asleep yourself.
Start by lowering the lights in your nursery or wherever your child naps, so they can start to wind down.
If natural light filters into the baby’s room, make sure to draw the curtains or lower the blinds too to keep the space dark.
You can also try some light blocking curtains to help make the room even darker.
Consider the temperature of the room too.
You want it to be cool enough for the baby to nap comfortably, so you may want to turn on a fan if necessary.
Read a story and/or sing a song to the baby.
You can help your baby relax further by reading a favorite story and/or singing a favorite song as you rock them.
Eventually, your child will begin to recognize the story and song routine as signal that it’s time to rest.
Use soothing activities to calm the baby down.
If your baby fights going down for a nap, it helps to make a soothing activity part of your nap routine.
Consider nursing them or giving them a warm bath just before nap time to help calm and relax the baby.
Taking the baby on a drive or for a walk can also help lull the baby to sleep.
Giving your baby a gentle massage can help relax their muscles and make them more receptive to sleep too.
Place the baby safely in the crib and leave the room.
After you’ve finished your song and/or story, you may want to cuddle with your baby a moment before putting them down in the crib.
Try to put your baby in the crib while they are drowsy but not yet sleeping.
Be sure to place your child on their back in the crib to ensure that they’re safe.
Don’t wait around until your baby has fallen asleep; leave the room as soon as they’re safely in the crib.
Make sure that your baby’s crib is free of stuffed toys, pillows, and blankets before you put them down for their nap too.
If your baby cries when you put them down, it usually means they’re overtired so try to pay closer attention to their signals when they’re first getting tired the next time
To get the baby to nap, try holding them closely and rocking them or taking them for a stroller ride to soothe them until they are drowsy.
If your baby refuses to drift off, give them a few more minutes to get drowsy.
If this does not work, then you may want to give up on the nap for now and move up their next nap by an hour.
Wake your baby if the nap gets too long.
While it probably doesn’t seem like a good idea to wake a baby who’s sleeping peacefully, it may be necessary in some cases.
Your baby should nap between 3 and 5 hours a day.
If they’re napping longer than that, you should wake them to prevent the naps from affecting their sleep at night.
You should also wake your baby if they’re sleeping so long that it will affect their next nap or their bedtime.
By waking your child, you’ll help get them on the regular nap schedule that you’re trying to create.