There is a lot of confusion about how many naps your 6 month old baby needs. The short answer is “It depends on the baby.” This article will go into more detail about how many naps your 6 month old baby needs for her development.
During a recent sleep consultation, I was contacted by a mom of a 6 month old who was only giving her baby two naps per day. When I asked her why, she said a competing website’s product said that 6 month old babies don’t need more than two naps and she was trying to lengthen her daughter’s naps. I immediately recommended she go back to three naps because her baby sounded overtired, and once she is caught up on sleep, she would need to tweak her schedule, in general, to get those longer naps (those in-between schedules can be tricky!). As I was typing this up, I decided to check in with this mom to see how she was doing and she had this to say:
“Hi Nicole, Thank you for checking in. My daughter is napping a lot better. She still has the odd day when either her morning nap or afternoon nap is short but for the most part she sleeps for an hour and a half in the morning and afternoon. Now that she is a little older, she most often is just taking two naps now, but sometimes needs a third. She’s also sleeping a lot better at night! She used to wake 2-3 times, now most nights she only wakes up once between 2 and 3 to nurse, goes right back to sleep, and then wakes up for the day between 6:30 and 7. Thank you so much for your suggestions, they really did work!”
One thing to keep in mind is that all babies aren’t the same and some transition to two naps at 5 months while others still have 4 shorter naps, at the same age. Some transition to 2 naps at 6 months old and others not until 9 months and I even had a mom with a 12-month old still taking three naps! All babies vary.
A very popular sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth, says that only 17% of babies need a third nap after 5 months old. I can imagine this might be one of the sources of that competing website. I very much learned a lot from this book and recommend it often, however, you must still keep in mind that studies are often on very small samples (groups of people) compared to the fact that over 12,000 babies are born daily, in just the U.S. alone.
In my experience with countless parents, more than 17% of 5 and 6 month old babies still need three (or four) naps. In fact, I would say it’s rarer for me to find a baby who needs less than three at such a young age, but even my sample is “tainted” by the fact that I hear about the babies with trouble sleeping, not those that might transition to two naps just fine at 6 months old and sleep two hours each time.
I can’t tell you how often I hear that a parent is skipping the third nap so “baby is tired enough at bedtime”, but I assure you, this often does more harm than good. Too much over-tiredness at bedtime usually sabotages efforts of sleeping through the night. Regardless, most 6 month old babies can take a catnap at 4:30 p.m. for 30 minutes and still go to sleep by 7 or 7:30 p.m. and still sleep 11-12 hours. Having a baby up from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. at such a young age can be the equivalent of you getting up at 4 a.m. for an early flight and going to bed at 11 p.m. at night without a snooze in between. It’s a loooong day! More frequent sleep is better for your 6 month old baby’s development (if she needs it) and to ward off any crankiness, if your baby is prone to that.
How Do You Know if Your 6 Month Old Needs 2 or 3 naps?
First, consider your 6 month old baby’s behavior. Any fussiness or crankiness is a sure sign of a baby being overtired. They don’t play well and some don’t even eat well. Some may be happy, though, and that can make it tougher to tell, but if she isn’t napping at least 2 to 3 hours in the daytime, that is a sign she needs more sleep. You need to first encourage your baby to nap longer because a baby who is short-napping most often will need more naps in the day to make it through. If she’s napping as long as she can (at least one hour each for the first two naps), it is easier to transition to two naps, when it’s time. Being overtired at nap time can lead to shorter naps, because it’s harder for your baby to get through that first sleep cycle.
Having said that, keep in mind that your baby might not take longer naps until she has transitioned to just two naps. This is because a baby can only sleep so many hours in a day, so as long as she is napping three times, it is possible her other two naps are as long as they can get. In this case, you need to use your cool mommy instincts and decide whether she is sleeping well for her age or not. It’s okay if the neighbor’s baby is napping three hours per day and yours is only napping two, if that’s all he needs. Just like your 4-month old went through brain development that affected her night sleep, your six month old needs to go through brain development to help her nap longer (the first nap is generally the first to lengthen).
Take a look at our sample baby sleep and feeding schedules and decide whether it looks realistic to put your 6-month old on the 9-month old sample schedule (sleep-wise only, excluding amount of food). Can your 6 month old comfortably stay up 3-4 hours until bedtime or are you having to ward off crankiness by 5 or 5:30 p.m.? Is he falling asleep eating his dinner (it happens! (video))?
Lastly, are you “fighting” for an hour for a 20-30 minute catnap in the late afternoon every day? If getting your baby to take a third (or fourth) nap is a fight not worth fighting anymore, then it is probably time to permanently transition to fewer naps. Save your frustration and his! Or, has bedtime become too late (typically past 8 p.m. is “too late” but all families have different schedule requirements)? Make sure you make changes to his schedule to compensate for the loss of the nap, though. Missing one nap on one day is one thing, but chronic over-tiredness can make sleep unravel over the course of 3-4 weeks.
My personal story is my eldest son (who inspired this site) still took four naps until a bit over 7 months old because he was extremely sensitive to being overtired and CRANKY to show it. But, then, he transitioned to three naps at that age and then to two naps at 8 1/2 months old just that quickly. He also transitioned to one nap at 12 months (rather than the 15 to 18 month average) and stopped napping at 2 1/2 (average is 3 to 4 years old). So, even though it might feel like you are stuck in the house napping with your 6 month old all day, things change very quickly in the first two years of your baby’s life. Enjoy it now because before long you’ll have a non-napping preschooler energizer bunny like I do and you’ll
want need a nap yourself!