Sleep is vital for babies and young children, whose brains and bodies are developing at an extraordinary rate – but nighttime rest isn't enough. Regular naps help them get the sleep they need.
Do your best to encourage your baby to nap consistently. But keep in mind that his temperament and natural rhythms will help determine how and when he naps. Some babies nap for long stretches every day right from the start and settle easily into a pattern. Others do just fine taking shorter naps or napping at less regular times.
How many naps a day should my baby take?
As a newborn, your baby will sleep for two to four hours at a time, day and night. At this stage, you shouldn't expect any sort of napping pattern. Just let your baby sleep as much as she needs to.
When your baby's 6 to 8 weeks old, she's likely to start consolidating her sleep – she'll sleep less often and for longer stretches at a time. She'll probably need two to four naps a day, and perhaps even more.
At 3 to 4 months of age, many babies begin to follow a more predictable pattern of daytime sleep. This is a good time to start developing a nap schedule (see our tips, below).
By 6 months, your baby will probably be taking two or three naps a day: one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and another later in the afternoon.
At 9 to 12 months, most babies are down to two naps a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
And by 18 months, most children give up their morning nap altogether but continue to snooze in the afternoon. They'll continue with this pattern until they're 3 or 4 years old.
How to start scheduling your baby's naps
When your baby's 3 to 4 months old, you can work on developing a nap schedule that's compatible with his natural sleep cycles.
Read the signs
Pay attention to your baby's sleep signals. Does he begin to rub his eyes and get fussy midmorning or right after lunch? Does he often fall asleep in the car in the early afternoon? Do you notice a difference in his alertness and overall mood when he sleeps for longer or shorter periods?
You might want to keep a record of your baby's sleep signals and naps for a week or two. This will help you see your baby's patterns so you can anticipate naps.
For example, if your baby gets cranky and ready to nap by 10 every morning, you can ease him into it before he gets overtired. Start 15 to 20 minutes before you expect his sleep signals to show up – feed, change, and rock him quietly, turn down the lights, and keep your voice low. That way he's already on the road to sleep when that tired feeling overtakes him.
Stick to a schedule
Consistency is the goal: Try to schedule your baby's naps for roughly the same time every day. If you routinely put your baby down for his afternoon nap at 3 one day and right after lunch the next, your child will have more trouble developing a regular sleep pattern.
Try to avoid activities that conflict with your baby's nap schedule. If your baby yoga class happens during naptime, for example, see if there's one offered at a time when your little one tends to be more alert.
If your baby is in daycare during the week and has a regular nap schedule when he's there, follow a similar schedule on the weekends when he's at home with you.
Don't stress over interruptions
You won't be able to arrange it so your entire household revolves around your baby's nap schedule – especially if you have other children. Life events will interrupt your schedule, and if naps are skipped or delayed from time to time, it isn't a disaster. If you have a regular structure that you can rely on, it'll be easier to get back on track after the inevitable disruptions.
Figuring out the best nap schedule for your baby will take some trial and error, and it will change as your child grows and reaches new developmental milestones. You'll need to assess your baby's sleep needs and habits regularly and alter the schedule accordingly.
Developing a nap ritual
A naptime ritual is a good idea, for the same reason it's recommended at night: It helps your child wind down and signals that the sleep period is approaching, so your baby is prepared to rest.
Your naptime ritual can be shorter and less elaborate than the bedtime ritual
: a story, a song, and a cuddle, for example. Once you've developed a routine that works for you and that you both enjoy, stick to it as closely as possible.
More practical tips for naps
- Put your baby to sleep safely by gently placing her on her back on a firm mattress and in a space without toys, blankets, or pillows.
- Pajamas aren't necessary, but make sure your child is dressed in comfortable clothing that's neither too light nor too heavy.
- Playtime right before your baby's nap should be quiet. Avoid loud noise and stimulating play that could make it hard for your child to settle down and go to sleep.
- When you can, put your child down for her nap in the same place she sleeps at night, which she'll associate with going to sleep.
- If you're going on a trip or you know you'll be away from home at naptime, be sure to pack books and anything else your child has come to associate with sleeping. This will help you maintain your baby's sleep routine wherever you are.
- Don't wait until your child is overly tired before beginning your going-to-sleep routine. If you do, your child may be too wound up to sleep well – or even to go to sleep at all. If your child isn't much of a napper, don't blame yourself or your parenting skills – even if your best friend reports that her child is taking three-hour naps every day. All you can do is offer your child the opportunity to sleep by preparing her and putting her down on a consistent schedule.
- Your baby may be a natural catnapper, consistently napping for less than an hour at a time. As long as she doesn't seem too tired, fussy, or difficult during waking hours, she's getting the sleep she needs.
"My 4-month-old has finally begun to nap without a fight. For us, the trick was getting her down the second we saw tired signs (rubbing eyes, yawning, restless). Also, sticking to the same time each day – within an hour at least because sometimes the exact same time isn't doable for Mom and Dad. I take her into her room and rock her for a few minutes while singing a lullaby
.This is what we do at bedtime at night, so it's helped her learn that it's time to sleep."
"My 4-month-old used to be horrible with naps. Finally I tried nursing her to sleep on my bed. If I didn't move her once she'd fallen asleep, she'd stay that way for an hour or two. Gradually she got so that I could move her to her bed. Now she'll nurse and then go peacefully into her own bed still awake. We have a crib vibrator under her bassinet mattress that plays music and gently shakes the bed like a bouncer chair would. She loves it! She takes two or three two-hour naps a day."
— First-time mommy
"My 10-week-old baby is finally napping well, and it's because of what I'm doing differently! I'm now putting her down before she's tired, and it's working wonders. I always waited until she was too tired, and the screaming was unbearable. Then we had to walk the floor, rock, bounce, swing, hold her, you name it! It has taken me going in a few times to pop the pacifier back in, but the difference is amazing."
"An hour or two after my baby wakes up, he tends to seem tired (lets out little whimpers, may briefly rub his eyes). As soon as I feel it coming on, I head to his nursery. I have the swaddle blanket already laid out in a convenient place. I lay him on top and calmly put the pacifier in his mouth (if he's calm, he'll take it). As soon as he takes it, I gently wrap the blanket around him, pick him up, and rock him. He may protest for a couple of minutes, but he soon falls asleep. Works like a dream!"
"If your 3-month-old wakes after 30 to 45 minutes, it doesn't mean he's done with his nap – he just hasn't figured out how to get back to sleep after the first stage of the sleep cycle. Help him do that and you'll have a more well-rested baby! The second stage is much longer – about an hour and a half for my son. Sometimes I have to go in and pat my baby's back and bottom for a few minutes to get him back to sleep. Sometimes I have to let him cry for a few minutes. And sometimes, finally now at 5 months, he wakes up, whimpers, and goes back to sleep all on his own."
"My daughter, now 4 months old, has always needed to nap on me and would sleep for hours if I held her. Once I put her down, she'd wake right up. What I've started doing lately is to put her in her bed and let her cry. I set the timer for ten minutes. If she's still crying after ten minutes, which she always is, I pick her up and apologize and burp her. Then I lay her back down and set the timer again. About halfway through the crying, I give her the pacifier. She goes to sleep and sleeps by herself anywhere from half an hour to three hours."