Daytime naps

Sleeping baby girl in daytime

How can you get your baby to nap? And how long should a nap last? There's never a straightforward answer, but getting a baby to nap at the right time, for the right time, can feel like you've hit the jackpot.

The key to getting your baby to nap is timing. You need to make sure that naptimes coincide with her sleepiest moments. Put her down too soon and she might fight it or just catnap; put her down too late and she may be, well, 'over' the whole idea and full of energy.

How long should my baby nap for?

Newborn babies sleep a lot during the day but they don’t stay down for long. Their naps tend to be short but frequent, so it’s rare that they will sleep for longer than two hours at a time. The average baby under three months old needs twice as much sleep as an adult, although they soon wake up when they need feeding.

By four to six months, most babies are ready for a couple of longer daytime naps. These could include a two-hour morning nap a couple of hours after getting up and a one-to-two-hour afternoon nap after lunch. A few very sleepy babies also like a shorter late-afternoon nap. That said, not all babies follow these patterns, so don’t worry if your baby has her own unique routine.

Establishing a nap routine

At first, you might need to experiment with different nap times to find the right one for your baby. Babies give off sleep signals which include rubbing their eyes, getting fussy and becoming less alert (you can see it in their eyes).

I pop him in his cot with his dummy and bear when showing sleepy signs. He goes off in a few minutes but I want to introduce a short routine prior to this. I'll start doing a song or story in his room first.

If you see your baby exhibiting sleep signals then they are probably ready for a nap. For the first few weeks, you might want to keep a record of these, so that you can pick up on any patterns that will help you establish your routine.

After you've got the timing sussed, you need to settle on your nap rituals. These needn’t be as elaborate as what you do at bedtime but a quick story or lullaby, along with a cuddle, will help your baby get ready to nap.

Rigid or relaxed?

Once you’ve got all this in place, you can build your own daily routine around your baby’s naps. Some Mumsnetters like to stick to a rigid timetable. For example:

“I wake my son up at about 7am, then make sure he is awake and active for two hours before allowing him a nap in his room of no longer than 40 minutes. He then goes down for his lunchtime nap at around 12:15 and now sleeps for 90 minutes to two hours.”

While others are more laid back about their baby’s naps:

“We go for a walk until he's asleep and then I park up outside the back door or in the conservatory, leave the door open and have a cuppa where I can see the pram.”

If your baby naps at a nursery or child minder's then speak to them, find out what time your baby’s naps take place there, and try to follow the same routine on the days when your baby is at home with you.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Don’t panic. Some of these suggestions are easy to make but difficult to follow, so don’t worry if it takes a while to establish a routine. If you find you’re frequently interrupted – by your other children if you have them, people popping around, appointments or any of the other number of things that crop up in an average day, try not to get frustrated and worry about it too much. Life has a way of messing up the best-laid plans and not everyday will pan out as intended. Chalk it up to experience and try again the following day.

African American baby sleeping

What to do when your baby won't nap

Some babies manage on little daytime sleep. This can be frustrating if your new-mum mates can bank on a couple of hours of spare time but handy if you actually want to leave the house mid-morning or early afternoon.

If your baby sleeps well at night and seems happy and rested in the day on very short (or no) daytime naps, then there's really no need to fret. But if she seems irritated or unsettled during the day, you may need to help her get more naptime sleep.

You can do this by:

My daughter went from doing a couple of 10-20 minute catnaps a day on my lap to reliably doing three 40 minute naps a day (two of those in the cot) when I introduced a routine.

Sticking to the naptime routine. If you find your baby isn’t napping enough you might need to be ruthless about imposing routine and shutting out any distractions. Simply don’t make appointments and tell people not to come around in the daytime. If they have children they will understand.

Keeping pre-nap play quiet. In the run-up to naptime, make sure your baby’s play isn’t too stimulating. Keep lighting low and the radio or TV off so that the house is quiet and the mood is conducive to sleep.

Putting them down in the same place as where they sleep at night. This will allow your baby to associate her nap place with sleep, which will help her nod off.

Taking your props out with you. If you are going to be out during nap time, then taking with you the toys or blankets that your baby usually has at nap time could help them settle wherever you are.

Letting your baby sleep whenever she's ready. If she seems to want to sleep outside of nap time don't try to keep her awake – break the nap routine and let her nod off when she pleases.

Settling your baby to sleep. A nicely drowsy baby should nod off quite easily with a song or a gentle forehead stroke. If you still get no joy then try some rhythmic tummy-patting and shushing. Or stick them in the pram and go for a walk.

Settling him back if he wakes too soon. With the same pat-sshh routine you used to get them off in the first place. Or by rocking the pram up and down the hall.

Getting tough. If you're determined to crack the napping thing and nothing else is working, you can try one of the sleep-training techniques some parents use to get their baby to sleep through the night. They're not for everyone (especially the controlled crying method) but they could be your passport to some peace and time to yourself.

Dropping from two naps to one

Dropping naps is a gradual process but the good thing about it, in my daughter's case, was that her bedtime got earlier.

At about 10 to 12 months, you may find your baby needs to drop from two daytime naps to one. You'll know when the time is right to go down to one nap: either your baby will fight sleep at naptime or they'll start waking ridiculously early in the morning.

Usually, the morning nap is the first one to go. As a result, you might want to modify your routine by moving the afternoon nap to an earlier time. For example, if your baby is used to having their second nap at three o’clock then you could try putting them down at two o'clock. Between you and your baby, you will work this one out for yourselves. Most children stop napping altogether at three to four-years-old.

Mumsnetters' experiences of daytime nap

“My son wasn't at all keen on proper naps at six months. But at about eight months, he suddenly got really into them and now goes down for two hours in the morning and an hour at lunch with no niggles at all.”

“I always reckoned the most reliable need-a-nap signs are rubbing eyes, yawning, fussiness and staring into space – though, obviously, not all at the same time!”

“I put him in his pushchair in the hall when he shows signs of being tired. I rock/push the pushchair for a few minutes and he falls asleep.”

“What do I do? Put her cot mobile on and give her a dummy and leave her to cry for a few minutes at a time, returning to ssshh her and replace the dummy. Not a technique that some people like but it works for me.”

“My son, now eight months, has not had a proper daytime nap since he was about four months. He does, however, sleep very well at night. I don't think it's such a big issue.”

“I had a blue baby blanket my aunt had made and I always got it out for naptime. It meant, within a few weeks, that when he saw it, he knew it was time to sleep – whether we were at home, in the car, at my mum's, whatever.”

“If he wakes crying, I try very hard to get him back to sleep for another half hour or so as I find it makes a real difference to his mood once he's up.”

“Be warned: it can take a while for your baby to adjust. For a very messy few days after dropping his morning nap, my son kept falling asleep, nose-first, into his lunch.”