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Mastering the 3-2 Nap Transition

I am SO excited for you!  This is my very favorite nap transition. The two-nap system is like a breath of fresh air. Wake windows are finally long enough that you can leave the house AND come back before nap time starts. Naps have the potential to become predictable, occurring at (or close to) the same time every day, and that awkward pesky third nap goes away!  This is the SWEET spot when it comes to a nap schedule, if you ask me.

As a stay-at-home mama, this nap system gave me the perfect balance. I would relax for one nap and be productive for the other. It felt like I was truly getting out of the newborn fog and into living life again (despite the fact that we were in the THICK of the pandemic at the time… but let’s NOT talk about that)!


Signs that your baby is ready for this nap transition (your baby may experience one or ALL of these symptoms):

· Your baby is between 7-9 months

· Your baby ONLY takes short naps

·  Bedtime has gotten awkwardly late

·  That third nap is downright impossible sometimes

·  You are experiencing night disruptions all of a sudden (split nights, additional wakings, or early morning wakings)

If you’re not POSITIVE it’s time for a nap transition then check out this blog to be sure:


The schedule:

When we first transition to two naps, we are going to plan our day around wake windows.  After you feel like you have gotten into a good rhythm with wake windows, you can then transition to a time-based schedule (this usually happens 4-6 weeks after transitioning to two naps but may happen sooner if your baby is on the older side)! I’m going to leave a wake window schedule below, but if you want a comprehensive guide of schedules from birth to four years old, then download my free schedule guide!


Wake Window Schedule:

First wake window: 2.5 hours

Nap one: 1.25 - 1.75 hours

Second wake window: 3 hours

Nap two: 1.25 - 1.75 hours

Third wake window: 3 - 3.5 hours

Bedtime should fall between 7 and 8 PM

Time-Based Schedule (with feedings!):

Daily Wake Time: 7:00 AM

Formula or breastmilk upon waking

Breakfast (solid food): 8:30 AM

Nap one: 9:30-11:00AM

Formula or breastmilk upon waking from nap

Lunch (solid food): 12:30 PM

Nap two: 2:00 - 3:30 PM

Breastmilk or formula upon waking

Dinner: 5:30 PM

Breastmilk or formula: 6:45 PM

Lights out/bedtime! 7:00 PM


How to transition:

With this nap transition, I prefer to rip off the band-aid! Usually, when it comes time for this transition, our babies are READY to handle longer wake windows. I know lengthening out wake windows can feel intimidating at first, but if your baby is between 7-9 months, then they can do this!

If you have been on a very consistent wake window schedule leading up to this transition, then it will be NORMAL for your baby to send you sleepy cues around the time you would normally put them down. You may see them start to rub their eyes or yawn close to the 2-hour mark and think, “How on earth are we going to get to 2.5 or 3 hours?” 

Here’s the deal, a baby who has been on a consistent routine will naturally start to get sleepy at the time they would typically go down for a nap. Their little brains are SO smart, and our bodies LOVE routines, so their brains try to help them fall asleep by sending sleepy cues to their body at a time that they would normally nap. My best advice is to get OUTSIDE.  Now, if you are reading this in December you might be laughing at me (unless you live south of the Equator). Getting outside in 20-degree weather with an 8-month-old baby does not sound like a recipe for success…

If you cannot get outside, then a good indoor alternative is a bath! Bath time is a very stimulating play environment and can keep your baby awake with lots of good distractions. At a minimum, keep the house BRIGHT until nap time: open up the curtains, engage with your baby, have music going. We want to send them every signal that it is NOT sleep time yet!


Beware of the cat nap

One of the biggest culprits of unsuccessfully transitioning to two naps is that babies will sneak in a cat nap between naps. While a two-minute nap may not seem like much, it can really affect the sleep pressure they will have going into their next scheduled nap. 

During feeding sessions, ensure that your baby remains alert. This is another reason why I love keeping feedings toward the beginning of the wake window to keep this sneaky nap from taking place!


Transitioning early or late

Every baby is unique! While it’s rare, SOME babies will be ready for this transition as early as six months or as late as 10 months. I always want to remind you that it’s important that you pay attention to what your baby is telling you. It’s helpful to know “average” ages for nap transitions, but it shouldn’t be your ONLY clue that it’s time to transition.


The long/short schedule

While uncommon, some babies will naturally fall into a rhythm of having a longer nap and a shorter nap. This can happen in two different scenarios:

1.Your baby has low sleep needs: A baby with lower sleep needs may not need two full naps during the day, therefore they may take one long nap (over an hour) and one short nap (around 45 minutes). As long as your baby is acting content and is eating well, then I wouldn’t second-guess this! Not all babies need the same amount of sleep!

2.Nap 1 is getting too long: If we let your baby nap for a long time for their first nap (think closer to two hours), then they may not need a long nap in the afternoon as well. If this is working for your family, then you don’t need to change things. If your baby is struggling to make it to bedtime after a short second nap, then we may want to cap their first nap at 1.5 hours, or even 1.25 hours. This will create more sleep pressure for their second nap.


The Daycare Dilemma

It is normal for babies to take shorter naps at daycare[ES1] , AND it’s often frustrating to parents. At this age, a daycare rarely has an ideal nap environment. Often, it is bright and noisy during nap time. Please don’t let this cause you too much stress. Instead:

1.Once you have switched to a time-based schedule, share that schedule with your daycare.  If your daycare is able to accommodate that schedule, then that can increase the likelihood of a longer nap or two during the day. This is not a guarantee - your baby may still take short naps – but it’s always worth a try!

2. If your baby only takes short naps at daycare, then I encourage you to continue offering three naps on daycare days. Otherwise, you will end up with an overtired baby at bedtime. The third nap should be an assisted nap. Even if you have a sleep-trained baby, I encourage you to rock or feed your baby to sleep for this last nap so that they fall asleep quickly. Wake them up after 30-45 minutes and offer bedtime about an hour and a half after wake up. On weekends, you can follow your regular two-nap routine!


In Closing

Nap transitions can feel daunting; and, for some of you, it may feel discouraging to have to change the schedule AGAIN. Babies are always growing, and their sleep needs are always changing. If you’re someone who craves predictability, the grass really is greener on the other side of this transition! You may feel discouraged or overwhelmed in the short term, but this part WILL get better. Before you know it, you will settle into your new routine and your day will feel better with it!

Do you want more help with the ever-changing patterns of baby sleep? Check out my sleep survival guide below, which will walk you through every sleep transition you will face in the next few years!


Edited by Emily Schafer

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