How do you know when your child is ready to drop a nap? It’s a common question, and there is no easy answer. Here’s a quick recap of my experience with naps with my 2 kids.
Months 0-6 – during these early months, my children napped whenever they were tired. They nursed and slept “on demand’. I generally nursed them to sleep either on a bed (if we were home) or in a carrier if we were on the go. I kept an eye out for signs of sleepiness and always tried to nurse when they seemed sleepy, and if they were tired, they would usually fall asleep easily when nursing. If they seemed tired but didn’t fall asleep nursing, I would hold them and bounce on a yoga ball (if at home) or bounce in a carrier if out, and they’d usually pass out within minutes!
Months 6-9 – with both kids, a fairly predictable nap pattern began to emerge. They napped three times a day – usually 2-3 hours after waking either in the morning, or from a previous nap. The last nap was usually a cat nap around dinner time. During this stage, naps were mostly at home and sometimes on the go in a carrier or the stroller if we were out and about. Kids were nursed to sleep.
Months 9-12 (or a bit longer) – at this point, both kids napped twice a day – usually once around 9 am and then again around 2 pm. I still followed sleepy cues and would nap them a bit earlier or a bit later if necessary. At this point, naps were almost always at home, and kids were nursed to sleep.
Months 12 – approx 2.5 years – naps dropped down to once a day, at around 12pm. At this point, naps were almost exclusively at home, as I found they slept better in the quiet of our house, and I used the downtime to do things around the house. Kids were nursed to sleep.
It’s always hard to know when a child is ready to drop a nap. I found that there were two predictable signs – either the child wouldn’t nurse to sleep easily at naptime, or bedtime was getting really late. When I noticed these signs, I would try to drop a nap and observe what happened.
There are also signs that a child is not ready for dropping a nap. If you’ve tried dropping a nap, and the child is falling asleep at an old nap time either in the car or the stroller, or the child is super cranky around dinner time, it is possible that he or she was not ready to drop a nap, in which case I’d recommend reverting to the previous nap schedule.
Also, it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. Some kids benefit from a transition period – where they nap some days, and then don’t nap other days. This can be hard as you really have to pay attention to your child’s sleeping cues, and you have to be really flexible with your schedule and be ready to nap your child when they need to sleep!
I should add that I personally have never been a big fan of carseat naps – I prefer my kids to nap at home so I can either get things done around the house, or nap with them!!
Also, as you can see from the above, the main sleep cue I use for my kids is nursing to sleep. We don’t have a long, drawn out naptime routine. If we are home, we go into a quiet room, turn on a sound machine, lie down, nurse, and usually the child is asleep within minutes. An added bonus is that I get a few minutes of rest when I lie down with them. When they fall asleep, I can sneak away. When I hear them waking from a nap, I always go to them quickly and try nursing again. Quite often, they will fall back asleep and the nap is extended. (I should add that my kids can nap without me, even though nursing to sleep is their main sleep cue. Dylan was the star napper at his daycare and Jake can easily get Ben to nap by cuddling together.)
I’ve mentioned before that nursing to sleep has always been a wonderful experience for us. I know it goes against all the advice that traditional “sleep experts” espouse. I stopped listening to those experts a long time ago, and I’ve never looked back!
How have you been able to tell that your child needs to drop a nap? Do you have a nap time routine?