The 3 to 2 Nap Transition

Nap transitions may seem daunting, but they are actually a good thing! Fewer naps mean more freedom and flexibility in your baby’s schedule and less to plan around. Plus, a schedule change can often help with challenges like short naps or early morning wakeups. 

The 3 to 2 nap transition usually happens between 6-8 months old. Signs that your baby might be ready for this transition: 

  • Your baby is fighting their last nap 
  • Your baby is spending most of their first nap playing and talking instead of sleeping 
  • Most naps are suddenly and consistently short 
  • You’re noticing new early morning wakeups that are becoming routine 
  • You’re having a hard time fitting the third nap in without pushing bedtime too late 

If your baby is showing any of the above for 5 or more days within one week, and they’re between 6-8 months old, it may be time to let go of the third nap! 

Keep in mind that some of the above signs may be present if your baby is working on a new motor skill like sitting or crawling, and then once your baby has mastered that skill they will return to their old schedule. If your baby is on the younger end of the range and is in the thick of a new motor milestone, sit tight with their schedule for a bit before dropping the nap.  

How exactly do I transition my baby from 3 naps to 2? 

If you think your baby is ready to drop that third nap, you will want to increase their wake windows by 10-20 minutes, starting with the first wake window of the day. You may be able to stretch wake windows more easily as the day goes on. We don’t want to push your baby to the point of becoming overtired, so it’s best to do this gradually, adding a little more time each day until you reach their new desired naptime (see schedule example below). If you see sleepy cues, here are some things you can do to make it to the next sleep: 

  • Change your baby’s scenery – go outside or head to a new room in your house 
  • Offer a snack if you’ve started solid foods 
  • Put your baby in the carrier, facing out if you have that option  
  • Give them an extra long bath if it’s before bed. If it’s before a nap, play with some water in a bin or in the sink 

There may be some days during the transition period where you still need to have a third catnap to bridge you to bedtime. This may be just a quick 15-minute “micro nap”. However, once your baby has successfully taken only two naps for three or more days, try not to offer a 3rd nap anymore, as this can be confusing for their circadian rhythm.  

Early bedtime is your friend! 

Your baby will likely need an earlier bedtime during this transition, as it can be hard to adjust to longer wake windows. Bedtime might be as early as 6 or 6:30pm the week of a nap transition and will usually settle around 7 or 7:30pm once your baby is used to longer wake times.  

Your Baby’s New Schedule 

A 2-nap schedule is a favorite of mine, because you can now shift from using wake windows to using the clock to guide your schedule! Babies on two naps are typically less sensitive to becoming overtired compared to younger babies on 3 naps or more. Because of this, it’s reasonable to use a timed schedule, even if a nap was shorter than normal, because an older baby can more easily tolerate occasionally longer wake windows.  

We are still using the principles of age-appropriate awake times but allowing for more flexibility. Wake windows on this schedule will typically be 2.5 hours between morning wakeup and nap #1, 3 hours between nap #1 and nap #2, and 3.5-4 hours between nap #2 and bedtime. If your baby has lower sleep needs, they may need longer wake windows to get adequate sleep drive. You may be wondering how to fit in your baby’s feedings on this new schedule. Here’s an example of a by-the-clock two nap schedule, including suggestions for feeding times: 

Yes, there are a lot of feedings in the schedule above! This schedule is taking advantage of the Mama Coach MAMAS routine:  

M Milk 

A Activity (Awake Time) 

M Milk (or Meal if your baby has started solids) 

A Activity (pause between the second feeding and the nap, including a short nap time routine) 

S Sleep 

This routine helps give your baby lots of opportunities to take in daytime calories, which will encourage more consolidated rest at night. As your baby begins to take in more calories through solid foods, some of the milk feedings may be fully replaced by a meal or snack. This will happen gradually, closer to 9-12 months. Remember, breastmilk or formula is your baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first 12 months of life, and solids are a complement.  

How long should my baby’s naps be? 

On a two-nap schedule, naps are typically 1.25-2 hours in length. However, some babies do prefer to take one chunky 2+ hour nap, and one nap that’s closer to 45 minutes. This is normal! Focus on an overall daytime sleep goal of 2.5-3.5 hours, rather than the exact length of each nap. If you exceed 4 hours of daytime sleep, this may impact your nights.  

Remember, if your baby is doing well on a schedule that works for you and them, no need to make a change simply based on age! Wait for the above signs before rocking the boat. 

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