How to Manage Your Baby or Toddler’s Nap Transitions

blankYou know what frustrated me most when my oldest son was a baby and a young toddler?

The fact that just when I’d worked out a nice, predictable daytime sleep schedule, he’d get a little bit older, and that would blow my perfectly-crafted routine to pieces.

I’m positive a lot of you know exactly what I’m talking about (even those of you who’ve never been able to establish a nap schedule.) The first few years of a child’s life are full of changes, and those changes add up to mean ever-shifting sleep patterns and schedules.

This is really apparent when you consider a child’s typical nap schedule from birth to toddlerhood. Newborn babies take 5 or more naps each day; by 18 months, toddlers are taking one nap. That’s a lot of change and a lot of nap expectations to manage. And transitioning between all those nap schedules can be a huge headache for little ones and for their parents.

That’s what we’re tackling today. It’s time to talk all about nap-transitions – let’s get started!

When Do Nap Transitions Usually Happen?

There’s no blueprint, of course, that’ll let you know exactly when your baby or toddler is due for a nap transition. However, there’s a general timeline (we’ve shared it previously in this article) that most babies and toddlers seem to follow, and that will be helpful in pinpointing when nap transitions are most likely to occur:

  • From 1-4 months, the number of naps your baby takes will be variable, but will hover around 4-5 naps per day, depending on how long his naps are and how long he can stay up between naps.
  • By 3 or 4 months old, she will lean towards just 4 naps, rather than 5.
  • From 5-8 months, most babies will have three naps per day. They will start to resist the fourth nap, no matter how tired they are. There are a few babies who will only have two naps at a very young age, but those naps are usually long.
  • From 9-15 or 18 months, on average, your baby will nap two times a day. Although many people believe most babies can transition to one nap at 12 months, the average age is actually 15 to 18 months.
  • From 18 months to 4 years, toddlers nap once a day. The age to transition away from all napping varies a lot, from 2 to 5+ years old, but the average age is between 3 and 4 years old.

The early nap transitions (from five, to four, to three) usually happen quickly and aren’t as problematic. It’s the other nap transitions (from three, to two, to one, to none) that tend to frustrate parents. Those nap transitions take longer, for one thing (my middle son has been transitioning from one nap to none for the past YEAR), and they seem to affect children more noticeably.

Nicole’s Note:
“By far, we get the most questions in the Helpdesk about the transition from 3 to 2 naps and from 2 to 1. The 2 -> 1 transition can be the most difficult, for some, because you now have a toddler who has tantrums and a mind of her own! 😉 It also causes the most sleep deprivation, usually.”

How To Tell If A Nap Transition’s Approaching

How will your baby or toddler let you know that a nap transition is coming? Here are a few signs to look for:

  • Your baby or toddler begins consistently refusing a nap: Most parents find that their little one suddenly starts refusing a nap (usually an afternoon one) that, just yesterday, they agreed to without a problem. That tends to be the classic sign that a nap transition is approaching.
  • The timing of your baby’s or toddler’s naps begins to change: Other parents discover that before a nap transition, the schedule generally goes crazy. Naptime goes from being predictable to being all over the place. This can interfere with nighttime sleep, too — if the afternoon nap doesn’t happen until late afternoon or early evening, for example, it can interfere with bedtime.
  • The length of your baby’s or toddler’s naps begins to change: You may notice that one or more of your little one’s naps are suddenly much shorter than normal. This can be a sign that your baby or toddler is getting ready to drop a nap.

Signs of an Approaching Nap Transition, or Signs of a Sleep Regression?

One thing to remember — not all nap craziness is a sign that a nap transition’s coming on. Let’s not forget about those sleep regressions! Refusing to nap is often a symptom of a sleep regression; in those cases, it shouldn’t be treated as a sign that a nap transition is coming on.

For example, a baby who’s in the throes of the 8/9/10 month sleep regression may start to resist naps. But that’s not a sign that she should downshift from two naps to one — not at all! Most children aren’t ready for one nap until 15-18 months. Similarly, an 18 month old who suddenly starts refusing to nap probably isn’t giving up naps altogether — he’s probably just going through the 18 month sleep regression.

How to tell the difference? Wait a bit. Most regressions work themselves out within a week or two. If the napping issues haven’t resolved themselves within a few weeks, then you can think about making a nap transition.

Nicole’s Note:
“We tend to be cautious about jumping into a nap transition. Our general rule of thumb is to wait until your baby is skipping a nap more than 4 times a week. All situations can have the ‘What ifs’ of course, so we evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. Many times, your baby doesn’t seem to give you a choice and you know what to do.”

Making Baby and Toddler Nap Transitions Easier

For some babies and toddlers (especially those who are highly adaptable), nap transitions are a piece of cake. They only take a few days, and there’s little (if any) “pain and suffering” involved. If that’s the case in your home, then a sort of “cold turkey” approach to nap transitions might work well. Simply cut out a nap, re-vamp the schedule, and endure a few fussy days. Bam. Done.

For others, though, nap transitions are difficult and loooong. If your baby or toddler is in that second category, you’d probably appreciate some suggestions as to how to make those transitions a bit easier, right?

We hear you. That’s why we’ve included so many nap-focused resources in our VIP Members Area. Check them out below!


Special VIP Members-Only Nap Resources

bss_ebook_masteringnaps_left Mastering Naps & Schedules. For starters, all Baby Sleep Site® VIP members receive unlimited access to all our e-Books. That’s right – for the price of your membership, you can read all our e-Books at no additional cost! That includes Mastering Naps & Schedules. With over 45 sample schedules (all available for you to view in the Members Area), Mastering Naps & Schedules is THE e-Book for tired parents of non-napping kiddos! We tackle all your top napping issues, including how to get your baby or toddler to take longer naps, how to get your child’s naps to be more consistent and predictable, how to manage nap transitions, how to encourage good napping while traveling – and more! Become a VIP member today, and access the e-Book instantly – no download necessary!

Tele-seminarNap Audio Courses — Another great VIP members-only resource? Our audio courses. Hosted by Nicole herself, these audio courses offer you insider information and our trademark sleep coaching methods and techniques. And guess what? We have a special audio course that’s completely focused on managing nap transitions. That’s right – as a VIP member, you will have access to this coaching session with Nicole! She’ll walk you through the basics of navigating nap transitions without destroying your existing daytime schedule, or ruining night sleep.

VIP Members-Only Nap Articles — And now, we’ve recently added a special members-only article on this very topic: 5 Practical, Hands-On Tips For Managing Common Nap Transitions. Learn our 5 top secrets for how to gently and painlessly navigate nap transitions, and help them happen in a way that preserves your child’s sleep while also preserving your own sanity! 😉

For more details about all our VIP member benefits (including weekly chats with a trained sleep consultant and our Ask the Author feature), visit our membership page. Consider becoming a VIP member today!


Don’t feel up to working on your baby or toddler’s nap challenges on your own? While our VIP Members Area is great for DIY moms who prefer to tackle sleep challenges on their own, we know that other moms much prefer to go straight to one-on-one help. Well, good news – we offer that, and you can start getting the personal help you need TODAY!

Browse our list of consultation package options here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to log in and start your Sleep History form right away. It’s that simple!

How have you handled nap transitions with your baby or toddler? Share your wisdom with us!

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