Baby naps can be a restful time for you and your little one — but the process of getting your baby to sleep during the day can be anything but. Understand the basics of baby naps.
How many naps a day does a baby need?
It takes a while for newborns to develop a sleep schedule. During the first month, babies usually sleep and wake round-the-clock, with relatively equal periods of sleep between feedings.
As babies get older, baby nap times typically lengthen and become more predictable. For example:
- Ages 4 months to 1 year. After the newborn period, your baby will likely nap at least twice a day — once in the morning and once in the early afternoon. Some babies also need a late afternoon nap. Many babies nap a total of three or more hours during the day.
- Age 1 year and older. At this age or in the coming months your baby will likely drop his or her morning nap and only nap in the afternoon, often for a period of two to three hours. During this transition, consider moving up your baby's bedtime by a half hour to help him or her feel more rested throughout the morning. Most children continue taking an afternoon nap until ages 3 to 5.
Remember, however, that every baby is different and baby nap schedules can vary considerably.
What's the best way to put my baby down for a nap?
To ease your baby into nap time:
- Set the mood. A dark, quiet and comfortably cool environment can help encourage your baby to sleep.
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but awake. Drooping eyelids, eye rubbing and fussiness might be signs that your baby is tired. The longer you wait, the more overtired and fussy your baby might become — and the harder it might be for him or her to fall asleep.
- Avoid holding, rocking or feeding your baby to sleep. Eventually, this might be the only way your baby is able to fall asleep. If your baby tends to fall asleep in your arms after a feeding, do something gentle right afterward — such as changing his or her diaper or reading a short story.
- Be safe. Place your baby to sleep on his or her back, and clear the crib or bassinet of blankets and other soft items.
- Be consistent. Your baby will get the most out of daytime naps if he or she takes them at the same time each day and for about the same length of time. Occasional exceptions are inevitable, of course, and won't harm your baby.
What if my baby sounds fussy after I put him or her down?
It's common for babies to cry when put down for sleep, but most will quiet themselves if left alone for a few minutes. If the crying lasts longer than a few minutes, comfort your baby and then give him or her time to settle again.
If your baby wakes shortly after you put him or her down for a nap and isn't wet, hungry or ill, try to be patient and encourage self-settling.
Also, keep in mind that babies are often active during sleep — twitching their arms and legs, smiling, sucking, and generally appearing restless. It's easy to mistake a baby's stirrings as a sign that he or she is waking up or needs to eat. Instead of picking up your baby right away, wait a few minutes to see if your baby falls back to sleep.
Should I limit the length of my baby's naps?
It depends on how well your baby is sleeping at night.
Some babies confuse their days and nights — sleeping more during the day than at night. One way to set your baby straight is to limit daytime naps — especially those in the late afternoon — to no more than three or four hours each. If your baby is napping for too long at the end of the day, it can make it harder for him or her to fall asleep at bedtime.
What should I do if my baby suddenly resists napping?
Some babies and older children go through periods during which they refuse to nap — even though they still need the rest. If this happens, try adjusting your baby's bedtime. Making bedtime a little earlier or later can sometimes help a baby nap better during the day.
Helping your baby get the right amount of daytime sleep isn't always easy. Don't feel bad if some days are more challenging than others. Remember to look and listen for the signs that your baby is tired and try to keep his or her nap routine consistent.
If you have questions or concerns about your baby's napping schedule, talk to his or her doctor.