Nap transitions can be tricky! When to do them and how to do them are constant questions that I receive. Although every baby is different there are some averages in terms of when babies go through nap transitions.
Going through nap transitions are hard because it is all about finding a balance between reaching total sleep hour goals, keeping baby from becoming overtired and transitioning to the new schedule. It is very common for babies to get cranky during the transition period as their body makes the adjustments.
It is always important to remember that nap transitions are a NORMAL part of development! As your baby gets older they need more awake time to learn and develop their skills. This is why naturally as they age naps continue to drop until eventually you have an older toddler who does not nap anymore. As those naps drop we want to see night sleep consolidating so that they are never missing out on total sleep hours.
Babies also need to stay awake for longer periods of time during the day as they age because this is what helps build up sleep drive/pressure for them to sleep well at night. If we had a 12 month old who was still napping 4 times a day then they would for surely be waking lots in the night because they flat out would not be tired! This is also a balancing act of making sure they get enough daytime sleep without those sleep hours taking away from nighttime sleep.
I will break the information up into the main transitions that will take place! Keep in mind that these are my suggestions but your baby may transition a little sooner or later than what is outlined. You know them best!
4 to 3 Transition
I often find that the 4 to 3 nap transition occurs more naturally than other transitions. Babies 4 months and younger tend to still have unorganized sleep patterns and so parents may not notice any regular rhythm to naps in terms of how many they are having on a day to day basis. It is like we are on survival mode just getting through that newborn phase! Then next thing we know more often than not there are 3 naps happening and we realize that they have transitioned to a 3 nap schedule.
This transition typically occurs around the age of 4.5-5 months and marks the time period when your baby will officially be getting on a more consistent schedule. This does not necessarily mean that they will be sleeping great since they are just on the flip side of the 4 month sleep regression but generally this is when the body’s sleep cycles even out and we see a pattern of 3 naps during the day and more consolidated sleep at night.
During month 5 I suggest beginning the transition from 4 to 3 naps if you have not done so already so that by 6 months your baby is on a solid 3 nap schedule. At 6 months most babies do best on 3 naps as their body is able to stay awake a little longer and they can handle more awake time without it disrupting too much sleep.
Signs Your Baby is Ready:
They constantly fight the 4th nap of the day
They regularly skip the 4th nap of the day
They are happy and in a good mood after skipping the 4th nap
They are not showing any tired signs before that 4th nap
You notice they are fighting the earlier naps a bit more than usual which could be a sign they are ready for some slight increases in those wake times as well which will naturally push that 4th nap out
How to Transition:
At 4.5 to 5 months babies awake times are still quite short but during the 5th month they are able to stay awake a little bit longer and so we can phase out the 4th nap by increasing the wake times throughout the day.
Approx. 4.5-5 month awake times: 1.25-1.5/1.5/1.5/1.75/1.75-2
Start by stretching 1 or 2 awake time at a time by 15 minutes. I usually stretch the morning one last although if your baby is resisting that first nap and taking short naps and waking up happy then they could probably stretch there.
Example of stretching:
Step 1: 1.5/1.5/1.75/1.75/2
Step 2: 1.5/1.75/1.75/1.75/2
Step 3: 1.5/1.75/2/2/2
Approx. 5-5.5 month awake times: 1.75-2/2-2.25/2-2.25/2.25
As you can see we slowly extended awake times to help phase out nap #4. One rule we want to follow after that 4 month sleep regression is to have the last nap of the day ending between 5-5:30 p.m. This allows for an age appropriate bedtime. You will begin to see as you extend awake times that the 4th nap starts to get shorter or if you have a good napper on your hands there simply is not room for the 4th nap to occur and end between that 5-5:30 p.m. mark. This is how the transition occurs.
Once your baby is on that 3 nap schedule I would encourage you to have the last nap ending by 5:15 p.m. latest and aim for two longer naps (1+ hours) and 1 shorter nap (under 1 hour). Waking your baby up at a time in the morning where you can fit in appropriate naps and awake times all before 5:15 p.m. Usually 7-8 a.m. depending on your baby and the length of their naps.
3 To 2 Nap Transition
The 3 to 2 nap transition I find is trickier than the 4 to 3 transition because babies sometimes get stuck in a pattern of what seems like them needing 3 naps or else they are super cranky but they usually only take 2 which causes the awake time between the end of the second nap and bedtime to be very long!
On average babies go through this transition between 7 and 9 months. I most often see the transition between 7 and 8 months. I recommend that if by 8 months your baby has not started the transition to gradually begin increasing their awake time in between naps to give the transition a push. This way by 8.5-9 months your baby can be on a solid 2 nap schedule!
Signs Your Baby is Ready:
They constantly fight the 3rd nap of the day
They regularly skip the 3rd nap of the day
They are happy and in a good mood after skipping the 3rd nap
They are not showing any tired signs before that 3rd nap
You are at a point where you have to cap the earlier naps at 1 hour to try and fit in the 3rd cat nap that is often being resisted or skipped.
Your baby is awake in the middle of the night and seems ready to play. This could mean they woke for a feed and now are babbling, playing, trying to interact with you or when you put them down they stay awake for a long period of time. This could be a sign they need more awake time during the day which will most likely phase out that 3rd nap.
Your baby is waking up early (before 6 a.m.) and is super happy and ready to start the day even when bedtime was appropriate (sometimes a bedtime that is too late causes early mornings!)
How to Transition
I find the best way to do this one is to jump into it. Your baby is already fighting that 3rd nap or skipping it all together and so now we need to slowly increase the awake times during the day to even out the first 2 naps and eliminate the 3rd one for good.
As with all transitions babies need to often catch up on the sleep they are permanently losing so don’t be afraid to pull bedtime a little earlier as you transition in fact I encourage you to do this! Pushing bedtime later and making your baby overtired will only make the transitions harder. Once naps even out then you can push that bedtime back to a more regular time!
Step 1: Use awake times of 2.5/2.75/3
Step 2: Use awake times of 2.75/3/3
Step 3: Use awake times of 2.75-3/3.25/3.25