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How To Build a Baby Nap Schedule That Makes Sense

Getting a baby to nap on a schedule requires planning, forethought and a good routine.

For many parents establishing a 3-month-old nap schedule can be a mystifying process. That’s because baby sleep seems to occur with no rhyme or reason. For some parents, a baby stays up all night and naps all day. For other parents, a baby won’t nap despite sleeping fitfully through the night. The whole thing can make baby naptime feel chaotic and stressful. But with some planning, perseverance, and consistency, baby napping can become less of a chore and more of triumph.

Why Doesn’t My Baby Take Naps?

There are a couple of things that can disrupt a kid’s sleep schedule. The main one is that babies need help figuring out how to learn night from day during their first month on the planet.

“Babies don’t know their days from their nights because their brains haven’t gotten used to the fact that there’s light during some times of the day and dark during others,” explains Dr. Phil Boucher a fellow with the American Association of Pediatrics.

How to Help a Baby Nap on Schedule

  • Make sure that the baby knows the difference between bright noisy daytime and quiet dark night time by keeping the environment day and night appropriate.
  • Develop a routine that will give the baby clues that it’s almost naptime, including a diaper change, a story, and a feeding.
  • It’s okay to wake a sleeping baby to keep them on an optimal schedule, particularly if it means getting the baby fed and making sure everyone can get sleep.

That confusion might mean that babies are up all night eating and sleeping all day. Meanwhile, it leaves parents to find some time to get some sleep, which is crucially important for everyone in the house. The best plan of action is to teach the baby night from day.

“When it’s daytime we should try and makes sure we’re in bright rooms. There should also be more noise because daytime is usually louder, “ Boucher explains. “At night keep things dark and quiet.” In the end, the arrangement will promote babies taking light, short restful naps during the daytime, while sleeping soundly during the night.

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How to Develop a Nap Schedule

After about two months of following the babies lead, Boucher says, parents can begin to shift the baby’s nap schedule to their own needs. It will be particularly helpful if parents develop a nap routine — essentially a set of cues that help the baby understand that it’s time to nap.

“This could include a change of diaper, a quick snuggle, read a short book and do one last feeding before we fall asleep,” Boucher explains. That said, if parents are hoping for a long nap, it might help to give the child a few extra calories before they sleep. “If the baby is starting to doze off while they’re eating before their nap, wake them up and rile them up. Then sneak extra calories by restarting the feeding,” Bouchard says.

That might startle some parents who have heard that they should never wake a sleeping baby. But there’s truly nothing wrong with waking a sleeping baby if it means that everyone gets more sleep in the end. This is particularly true if the baby is sleeping so much during the day that they are missing feedings, a reality that could keep them up and hungry during the night and perpetuate a terrible sleep cycle.

“It’s okay to wake a sleeping baby if it means optimizing the sleep schedule,” Bouchard explains. “If your baby has been sleeping 3 hours in the middle of the afternoon and you need to get them fed, it’s fine to wake the baby up.”

How Much Time Do Babies Need to Nap?

A baby will usually take three to four naps during the day. These will be split between early and late morning naps and early afternoon and evening naps. Each of these naps will be somewhere around 30 to 90 minutes.

Importantly, there’s nothing wrong with having so many naps as long as they are relatively consistent. The important part is to keep the baby as active as possible between naps. This will actually help the baby sleep at night.

Finally, if a baby seems to be having serious trouble either napping too much or too little, parents shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help. A pediatrician will always be happy to provide guidance