Hey mom, hey dad.
Is your newbie baby sort of on a routine? That's so cool right? It's kind of like one day it just started to happen, and the blurry newborn days were over. Okay, sweet. But, what's next?
The first comfortable place baby's schedule lands is on a 4-nap schedule. Usually, in those instances, wake windows are around 90 minutes each across 4 naps throughout the day. Two to three chunkier naps and a 4th cat nap. Bedtime may be a little on the "late side" during this time. You'll know your baby is on a routine because you notice dedicated times throughout the day when your baby is awake and engaged. It no longer seems like your baby's day is just one long string of naps and dozing off.
If you're reading this, your baby is likely 3-5 months old. Three months old is the super early side to transition to three naps per day and 5 months old is the super late side to be transitioning to 3 naps per day. If your baby is 4 months old, it's the perfect time.
So what signs are there to let you know if it's the right time to drop from 4 to 3 naps per day?
Signs your baby is ready for 3 naps per day
Bedtime has become late. Like, really late. Your baby may only have something like 10 hours of sleep time dedicated to overnight sleep. As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I recommend nothing fewer than 11 hours in bed overnight.
All of the naps your baby takes are short; 30-45 minutes.
Your baby wakes up really early for the day which causes their first nap to start inside the window where bedtime sleep should still be taking place.
Age. The sweet spot for this transition is usually somewhere inside the 4th month.
It's not always easy to know when your baby is ready to drop a nap. Especially at this early age when over-tiredness is still a thing. Signs of over-tiredness included: inability to sleep, excessive crying, rubbing eyes, falling asleep in the car or stroller almost immediately and more. To prevent over-tiredness as best you can, following wake windows is where you want to be.
What are wake windows?
Wake windows are the time your baby is awake in between sleep periods; either between naps or between naps and bedtime/morning time. The slash below signifies a nap and the number is the wake window in hours. Your baby's wake window starts as soon as they wake up. It includes the time they spend awake doing activities like eating and playing.
4 month old sleep schedule
Starting out, a 3-nap schedule may look like: 1.75/2/2.25/2.25-2.5 wake windows between naps and bedtime.
5 month old sleep schedule
A more settled 3-nap schedule may look like 2/2.25/2.25/2.5 wake windows between naps and bedtime.
6 month old sleep schedule
And finally, a maxed out 3-nap schedule may look like 2/2.25/2.5/2.75 wake windows between naps and bedtime.
It makes sense, then, that your baby's night will become longer in the beginning of the nap transition and get shorter at the end (or when it's settled). It will get shorter again as you start their NEXT nap transition!
I'm hoping that's not too confusing! Once in practice, it will make more sense. Just understand that your baby's sleep needs are always changing, and it's hard to stay stagnant with wake times within the first year. If you'd like to get a sneak peek of what's to come, checkout my schedules throughout the first year and a half!
What is the 4-month sleep regression and why does it happen?
Something else that coincides with this nap transition is the 4-month sleep regression. YEP. You may find yourself feeling like something just isn't working with your baby's sleep like it used to. It's likely that their sleep stages are now matured (that of an adult), and now night wakings are more frequent and independent naps are non-existent. If you want guidance on the fastest way out of the 4-month sleep regression, download my bedtime guide or my bedtime guide for twins. Inside those guides are my best tips for putting baby down for independent sleep in a safe space like a crib or bassinet. With these tips, you can crawl your way back out of the 4-month regression and back to longer stretches of sleep!
Key takeaways for the 4-3 nap transition:
What age does it happen: 3-5 months old.
Understand the signs of an upcoming nap transition: take note of the need for a schedule change; short naps, late bedtimes and early morning wakings.
Educate yourself on the 4-month sleep regression .
Start keeping track of your baby's wake windows.
Lindsay Loring is the author of this article. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and mom to twin girls. She lives in the metro St. Louis, MO area and helps families all over the world get better sleep after kids.