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During the early years of life, nap schedules are in a continuous state of change. After a newborn period of all-day napping, babies eventually settle into a regular two-nap-a-day routine.


Most children switch from these two daily naps to one nap sometime between the ages of 12 and 24 months. However, that year of difference is a very long span of time. This shows that age alone is not the only factor to consider when changing your baby’s nap routine.

Changing your baby from two daily naps to one nap isn’t about what your child thinks he wants, nor is it about the schedule you’d like to have. It’s about the biological need for two naps versus one.

Naps at different times of the day serve different purposes in mind and body development at different ages. For example, morning naps have more dreaming, or REM sleep, which makes them important for young babies who require it for early brain development. You don’t want to rush the process if your child is still benefiting from this important sleep time.

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There is another consideration when deciding to make a schedule change—the length of time your child is awake from one sleep period to the next has an effect on his mood and behavior.

No matter how well your baby sleeps at night naps are still very important. The older your child is, the longer he can go between sleep breaks without getting cranky. The biology behind this reason dictates that young babies need to divide their day up with two naps, but older babies can handle a full day with only one nap.

Since there is a wide range of what’s normal, it’s important to study each child’s behavior to see when he is ready to transition to one nap a day. Use the following lists as a guide.

Signs that your child needs TWO naps daily:

  • Your child is under 12 months old
  • When you put your child down for a nap he plays, resists, or fusses for a while but always ends up sleeping for an hour or more
  • When you take your child for car rides during the day he usually falls asleep
  • If your child misses a nap he is fussy or acts tired until the next nap or bedtime
  • Your child is dealing with a change in his life (such as a new sibling, sickness, or starting daycare) that disrupts his nap schedule
  • Your child misses naps when you’re on the go, but when you are at home he takes two good naps

Signs that your child is ready to change to ONE daily nap:

  • When you put your child down for a nap he plays or fusses before falling asleep, and then takes only a short nap, or never falls asleep at all
  • Your child can go for car rides early in the day and not fall asleep in the car
  • When your child misses a nap he is cheerful and energetic until the next nap or bedtime
  • Your child naps well for one of his naps, but totally resists the other nap

How to make the transition when signs point to change

Instead of thinking in terms of dropping a nap it’s better to think in terms of a schedule change. The change from two naps to one nap is rarely a one-day occurrence. Most often there will be a transition period of several months when your child clearly needs two naps on some days, but one nap on others.

You have a number of options during this complicated transition time:

  • Watch for your child’s sleepy signs, and put your child down for a nap when indications first appear.
  • Keep two naps, but don’t require that your child sleep at both times, allow quiet resting instead.
  • Choose a single nap time that is later than the usual morning nap, but not as late as the afternoon nap. Keep your child active (and outside if possible) until about 30 minutes before the time you have chosen.
  • On days when a nap occurs early in the day, move bedtime earlier by 30 minutes to an hour to minimize the length of time between nap and bedtime.

The danger of dropping a nap too soon

It’s my belief that the reputation toddlers have known as the “Terrible Twos” is very likely caused by inappropriate napping schedules. There are a great number of toddlers who switch from two naps a day to one nap, or drop naps altogether, many months before they are biologically ready. This can result in a devastating effect on their mood and behavior—the dreaded “Terrible Twos.”

For those parents whose children suffer the “Trying Threes” or the “Fearsome Fours,” it’s likely your child is misbehaving for the same reason—an inappropriate nap schedule may be the culprit.

The good news is that a modification of your child’s napping routine can make a wonderful and dramatic difference in his day—and yours.

~~~~~~

From The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, January 2009). Find more information and excerpts here.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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