Which is harder: infancy or toddlerhood? It's a tough choice, honestly. But one bright spot of caring for the tiniest of babies is that they often sleep a good chunk of their days away. Between feeding and changing, life is exhausting for babies — and mamas. As they become older, though, their naps slowly taper off. They go longer and longer without taking a nap until, finally, they drop down to just one nap a day. When, exactly, do babies drop to one nap? Every child is different, but there is an estimated range you can look toward.
That may incite a slight panic in your current state of new mom fatigue, but when baby drops to one nap a day, you'll find life actually gets a bit easier. That one nap won't be like the 15-minute naps of the past. They'll be longer (at least for a while). Your babe will also start sleeping longer spurts during the night. When there's just one nap a day, your day opens up.
Suddenly, you can start planning things like coffee breaks or playdates. You can visit friends and family without stressing as much about hitting those in-between-nap windows. You can even have a Zoom meeting or get some other work done! As long as your kiddo doesn't fall asleep for a dreaded five-minute car nap, your life really will start to feel easier and more predictable. But, first...
When do babies change nap schedules?
From the first day of their tiny little lives through the first year of existence, your baby will be on a constantly evolving nap schedule. Consistency and reliability will be practically nonexistent, honestly. Here's what you can expect.
"Newborns will sleep most of the day," says Aurielle Martin, a physician's assistant and certified sleep consultant. "Babies will typically be able to have a more consistent nap schedule and take about four naps a day by 3 months old, then three naps a day by 4-5 months old, then two naps a day by 6-9 months old, and finally one nap a day by 12-15 months old."
When do babies drop to one nap?
Somewhere around their first birthday, you can expect your sweet babe to make the nearly final nap transition when they drop to one nap — but don't be surprised if that jump happens earlier or even later.
"It can vary with each child," says Martin. "After all, our children are not robots, and even the best sleeper can't just be 'programmed' to fit what we think should be normal for them. There is no rush to drop a nap at any of these stages. My own daughter didn't transition to one nap until she was 16 months old!"
How do you make the transition to just one nap?
This is easier than you think. Martin lays it out nicely, though.
"I always advise parents to follow your child's lead!" she suggests. "You'll know your child is ready to drop to one nap when their morning nap is becoming later (sometimes longer, too), and they resist their afternoon nap. Some children who are sleep trained and happy in their cribs may not resist the afternoon nap, but they simply won't sleep during that time. If they're not ready to have a later morning nap yet, and they're happy in the crib but not sleeping, let them have 'quiet time!' Even though they aren't sleeping, quiet time gives the child a break from all the stimulation and gives them a chance to rest whether they're sleeping or not."
You heard that right. Quiet time. If you have yet to start introducing quiet time to your babes, there's no time like the present. Like Martin mentioned, quiet time isn't just great for your baby. Quiet time will also be nice for you. It's time when you can stretch out in bed and read, blitz through work emails, return a phone call, or even do the dreaded dishes. Babies and mamas both need breaks, and quiet time is the perfect time for just that.
What can you expect while dropping to one nap?
OK. So, your babe is definitely ready to drop to one nap. Now what? What does that look like? How will that change your day? How much sleep should your baby get now?
"When you do drop to one nap per day, I typically see the nap lasting two to three hours, but I recommend capping the nap at three hours maximum," Marin says. "A toddler at 12-18 months should get 11-12 hours of sleep overnight, but their total sleep time in a 24-hour period can vary from 13-14 hours total depending on the individual child's sleep needs and temperament, so that is why nap length could also vary as mentioned previously."
Got a spirited baby? Don't be shocked if you don't get those 14 hours of sleep from them each day. Always talk to your doctor if you're worried about your baby and how much sleep they are or aren't getting. However, rest easy knowing that the best way to tell if your baby is getting enough sleep is if they're growing and thriving both physically and mentally.