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3 to 2 Nap Transition: How to Drop The Third Nap





So you think it’s time to drop your baby’s third nap? This transition often feels harder than it ends up being- but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. You’ll need some patience and consistency to help your baby get used to longer wake windows, skipping that third nap and having an earlier bedtime. 


In this blog post, I’ll share: 

  • At what age does the transition happen

  • Possible signs indicating your baby might be ready

  • Schedule adjustments to keep the three-nap schedule a bit longer

  • Two strategies you can use when transitioning

  • How long it takes for your baby’s body to adjust to two naps fully

  • Practical tips to ease this shift


At what age does this nap transition take place?


Typically, this nap transition takes place between 6-8 months of age. If you can hold the transition off until 7 months, you’ll have a smoother time dropping that third nap. However, your baby may force your hand a bit sooner than 7 months and that’s okay too.



Recognizing the signs that it’s time for this nap transition:


  • You’re beginning to see unusual night wakings and/or early morning wakes

  • You may find that your baby is refusing one or more naps (typically it’s the third nap that gets refused)

  • The third nap is still happening but it’s starting to get pushed too late and therefore it’s creating a later bedtime than you’d like

  • Overall, you may notice nap lengths decreasing

  • The time it’s taking for your baby to fall asleep at naptime and bedtime is increasing

  • Your baby no longer seems tired at their regular nap time

  • Night sleep is less than 10.5 hours (i.e. baby is going to bed at 8pm and waking before 6:30am)

  • Your little one can nap 60+ minutes for naps one and two on a 3-nap schedule (if they can't do this yet, aim to work on longer naps before cutting out one nap entirely)


Pro Tip: make sure you are seeing signs for at least 1-2 weeks before making the change.



How (and why) to hold onto 3 naps longer:


While age is definitely a factor in determining if your baby is ready for a nap transition, it’s not the only factor. And if your baby is showing the signs above earlier than 6 months or maybe they are showing small signs here or there but still not a pattern, then there are some things we can do to hold off the nap transition.


Transitioning too early can cause its own problems like short naps, painfully early bedtimes, extra night wakings, early morning wakings, and a cycle of overtiredness. If you are close to a nap transition but not quite there, it can be helpful to micromanage your baby’s schedule for a few weeks instead of jumping right into a nap transition.


Below are two example schedules using both awake windows and clock-time naps. Remember, the examples provided are stretched out to the max. The naps in the example are capped at 60 minutes. If your child is currently taking naps longer than 60 minutes, you’ll start by capping the naps in 15-minute increments until you reach 60 minutes. 



Example Using Awake Windows:

Morning wake-up

2.5 hours awake

Nap 1: (capped at 60 minutes)

2.75 hours awake

Nap 2: (capped to 60 minutes)

2.75 hours awake

Nap 3: (capped at 30 minutes)

2.75 hours awake

Bedtime


Example Using Clock-Time Naps:

Morning wake up: 6:30am

Nap 1: 9-10am

Nap 2: 12:45-1:45pm

Nap 3: 4:30-5pm

Bedtime: 7:45pm


If you find that your baby is STILL showing signs even after making these adjustments, then you may need to transition down to a two nap schedule. But don’t worry! Keep reading, and I’ll share exactly how to do that.



Two strategies to choose from: Cold turkey or gradual


COLD TURKEY: This is an extremely simple approach where you jump to the new two nap schedule on day one. This can work well for babies who are in the older part of the age range for 3 to 2 nap transitions (8 months or older) and babies who are less sensitive to changes in their sleep schedule (think late nights and skipped naps). On the day that you choose to “make the transition,” you will push to wake windows of 2.75/3/3.25 hours. 


Don’t be surprised when your baby shows you tired cues and gets fussy during their awake time. This is completely normal and to be expected. Overtiredness is unavoidable during any nap transition and it will just take your baby’s body time to adjust to being awake for longer periods. 


You should also be prepared for bedtime to feel earlier than it did on 3 naps. When your baby was taking 3 naps a day, they were maxing out their wake windows and fitting in 1 extra nap and 1 extra wake window compared to what they are now doing. This means an early bedtime is part of the process. Plus, it helps to compensate for the overtiredness that your baby is feeling from the longer wake windows. 


GRADUAL: With this approach, your goal is to more slowly shift your baby to a sustainable 2 nap schedule. This approach is best for babies who are sensitive to schedule changes or are on the young side for this nap transition. We will incrementally increase their wake windows to more slowly help them adjust. See the suggested progression below:


Step 1: 2.5/2.75/3

Step 2: 2.5/3/3

Step 3: 2.75/3/3

Step 4: 2.75/3/3.25


You can shift as quickly or slowly as you would like. I recommend moving onto the next wake window progression every 2-3 days until you reach your goal. While shifting the naps later, you can allow your child to sleep up to 3.25 hours total during the day. 


If your child wakes up from a short nap, I recommend giving them space in their crib (or assisting them back to sleep only if they are used to that). Ideally, we’d love for the 2 naps to total at least 2.5 hours.


If giving them space and/or helping them back to sleep doesn’t work, then you may need to throw in a third nap for the day. This can be a quick cat nap of about 20-30 minutes. This cat nap could be done in the car, carrier, stroller, or crib, and its main purpose isn’t for restorative value but rather to help your child get through to bed without melting down!


For both strategies, once your baby is used to the 2-nap schedule, you may find they need a bit more awake time during the day. Aim to follow goal awake windows of 3/3/3.5 hours.


How long will it take for my baby’s body to become used to two naps?

All transitions have an element of toughness and I’d say this particular nap transition could be a challenging one for your baby. It’s very common for babies to still show signs of being tired around their old nap times. For example, your child may yawn and be fussy around 9am when they USED to go down for a nap. This WILL get better with time! Allow your child 2-4 weeks or even longer to consider them “fully adjusted” to the two nap schedule.



Practical Tips To Help Ease the Transition:


Check the sleep environment:

Make sure that your baby’s room is VERY dark at naptime. This can be extremely helpful during this transition as it will encourage longer and more restorative naps. If you haven’t already, cover all sources of light in their room, and aim to play white noise to help drown out external noise (i.e. siblings playing!) and make transitioning between sleep cycles easier on your baby. 


Scheduling feeds:

Sometimes parents can get tripped up when dropping a nap because it also means adjusting your feeding schedule. One big tip I have is that you connect your feeding and sleep schedules together so that you aren’t trying to remember and keep track of 2 disconnected schedules.


This can look like offering a feed each time your baby wakes (in the morning and from each nap). This helps to ensure that your feeding schedule won’t conflict with your baby’s nap schedule. No one wants a baby to wake early from their nap because they are hungry!


If you are worried your baby is feeling particularly hungry as they adjust to a new schedule, you can also offer a smaller feed about 30-45 minutes before nap time. They may not be interested, and that’s okay, but then at least you’ll know.


Daycare naps take time:

Naps at daycare can be shorter than you like and often more difficult for babies. Remember to give your baby time to adjust to the new nap schedule and communicate with your daycare provider your preferences around sleep.  


If your baby has transitioned to 2 naps prematurely due to daycare, you can add an extra nap on the weekend if it helps your baby catch up on sleep. Only offer this extra nap as your baby works through the transition, and then do your best to replicate the daycare schedule at home. If your baby compensates on the weekend and sleeps longer than normal, make sure to cap your baby's naps at 3.25 hours (if you have a 6-month-old) and 3 hours if you have a 7-month-old or above. The main goal is so that day sleep doesn't pull away from their nighttime sleep.


Wrapping Up:


Remember, patience and consistency will help get you through this nap transition. If you have questions or concerns about this transition, please reach out to me. I’d love to help you navigate this transition as seamlessly as possible. I offer 30-minute support calls that are a perfect option for nap transitions. Together, we can come up with a solid game plan tailored to your child’s unique sleep schedule. 


Click the button below and scroll to the very bottom of the page to inquire about booking a 30-minute support call.






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