Ask the moms: Napping transitions

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Babies snoozing in the pack 'n play
Babies snoozing in the pack 'n play

This week’s Ask the Moms is in response to a mom who wrote in with napping questions aboout her 4.5 month old twin boys. Ah, napping. Both wonderful and an endless challenge.

In general, I think four months is a huge transition period, from “Wow, two newborns are crazy hard.” to “Ok, two babies is hard but I’m starting to get the hang of it—-or they’re getting easier”. However, this is a tricky age for napping, because babies are transitioning in their napping abilities from napping anywhere, anytime to being more predictable in their sleep. However, this predictability sometimes needs a little parental guidance to develop. However, it’s worth the work. If I’ve learned anything in the past 15 months that I’ve been a MOT, it’s that regular, predictable naps lead to us all being happier. Knowing when babies nap means we can make plans with other people and having babies that always (ok, mostly) get plenty of sleep means they are happier and more cheerful when they are awake. Plus, I have a predictable time each day when I can rest, relax—and, of course, work.

The sleep philosophy
Know your sleep philosophy. Who wrote your “sleep bible“? Your favorite sleep philosophy will guide you through napping and sleep issues. Myself, I’m a big fan of Weissbluth, so early on I did the 8:30am nap and 1pm nap, plus a brief third afternoon nap, in the idea that more sleep during the day leads to good nighttime sleep and that babies need consistency and schedules for napping. Know your sleep philosophy. Ferber recommends less sleep than Weissbluth does, and different napping times. Others, I’m sure, have entirely different recommendations.

The age

Abigail can sleep anywhere at 6 weeks--here she is in her carseat
Abigail can sleep anywhere at 6 weeks--here she is in her carseat

Regardless of what sleep philosophy guides you, this 4-5 month age marks a napping transition. Babies go from sleeping easily everywhere, whether in the carseat or stroller or in your arms, to developing more of a sleep routine. Earlier, any routine is solely shaped around how long they’ve been up—1.5 to 2.0 hours, then it’s time for more sleep!. You can often see this change in napping patterns begin in the consistency of the morning nap, which usually develops first. We started napping our babies “by the clock” (so at regular nap times) around 4.5 months, but it was no where near as consistent and regular as it became in later months. The morning nap was the most consistent, with a potential second morning nap if the first was super short, followed by a longer afternoon nap at 12:30ish. I picked a morning nap time when they were usually ready to go down and then put them down at that same times every morning. The timing of later naps follows the timing of this first nap. Obviously, if your babies were on the earlier side, add a few weeks before you try scheduling naps and if you went to 39 weeks with them, they may be readier a few weeks sooner. Weissbluth does mention that colicky babies may be more difficult to transition to a regular napping schedule.

The bedtime
Being a Weissbluthian, I’m into the early bedtime. By 7pm in my house, the kiddos are upstairs, tucked into their cribs. At four months, bedtime was more like 6:15pm. We started this early, around 2-3 weeks, when we would put the babies upstairs in the nursery after the 6-7ish feeding. For parentswho didn’t do an early bedtime as soon as we did, four months is a good time to move bedtimes up from 8, 9 or 10pm. Sadly, this often translates to babies not “sleeping through the night” since, if they’re starting sleep by 7pm, they will be up around 3-4am if they normally sleep 8 hours. Some people make this change gradually, in 15 minute increments, while others do it all at once. Moving bedtime up earlier will help decrease the number of naps during the day.

Routine, routine, routine
Four months is a good time to get a bedtime routine, if you don’t already have one. We used bath, then nursing as our bedtime routine at this age. Other people use quiet music, dim the lights, add a story in or rock the baby. A routine will help baby realize it’s time for bed. Most parents do a naptime routine too, although I have to admit that we do not.

The evening crazies
Ah, the evening crazies. Most parents dread this time, when even the most well-behaved, relaxed babies get antsy, crabby and frustrated. And at just the same time when parents are tired from the day and trying to get dinner ready. Some HDYDI moms got our kids out of the house during that period, some clusterfed, some did really early bedtimes and others gave up on doing anything but holding babies. Later on, doing solids at 5:30pm can keep fussy babies busy during this time.

A little experimentation is a good thing
You can set a nap schedule or let your babies set one for you. I looked at my trusty sleep book, and set a reasonable time for the first morning nap. We worked on establishing that nap for a while, then moved on to the afternoon nap. Other moms keep track of the times their babies are normally napping, and realize they have already made a schedule. Play with feeding schedules, sleep schedules, sleep locations (do they sleep an hour longer in a swing?) and the morning routine. Try a few things and see what works for your babies. For us, feeding them right before nap lead to longer napping. It might not have been a full two hours since their last feeding, but it was worth it to me to get longer naps in.

Carseats are always a favorite place to snooze
Carseats are always a favorite place to snooze

Twins are different
With one baby, there is more leeway for a less structured nap schedule. However, with two babies, if they don’t sleep on a schedule, you run the risk of always having one baby up. The shortest road to crazy, at least in my house, is never having a break. The one never-broken rule in my house, from about 2 months on, was “If one baby goes down, the other does too!”. Woe on the husband or babysitter who breaks this rule. This may mean you push one baby to stay awake a bit longer, or put a baby down who probably would be good to be up for another 30 minutes. Sadly, this also sometimes means waking a baby up. If one baby gets up at 5am, the other baby needs to be up by at least 6am, or they will be on different schedules all day. If one baby sleeps longer than 2 hours in the morning, I wake him or her so that they will both go down again at 1pm.

Naps are both a fantastic thing and a place where your day, as a mother of more than one baby, can go dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. You can predict the time in your day when you will get a break from the babies, grab breakfast or a shower—and learn to rely on this, so that when one of them decides not to sleep, it is a frustrating experience.  Even now, at 15 months, I was thrown for a loop yesterday when Abigail refused to nap. This doesn’t happen in my house! Bad napping days are perfect days to call a friend and vent, make a playdate or just get out of the house. Extra crabby babies + mom who didn’t get her downtime = not a fun day. Definitely the time to get out and about!

TIP:  One HDYDI mom recommends using blackout drapes from Pier One to make the bedroom dark for an early bedtime.

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9 thoughts on “Ask the moms: Napping transitions”

  1. I just found this blog through snick… can’t wait to read more. My twins just turned 3, we managed to get them on the same nap schedule at about 6 months. It took a while but it was worth it in the end.

  2. Ditto to everything you said. I, too, am a Weisbluthian. I find his book so useful through every sleeping stage and still consult it (my ID twin girls are 3.5 years old). They still go to bed aroun 7:30 and sleep until 7 every morning plus they take a nap from 2 – 4. Because we started nap and bedtime routines, going to bed has never been a struggle for us. They just know what they are supposed to do and do it. Don’t get me wrong, they are not easy going or particularly obedient but we have been doing the sleep thing so long, they just do it.

    My favorite thing Weissbluth says is “sleep begets sleep.” It doesn’t make sense but it is true. We found an earlier bedtime made them sleep longer through the night and take better naps during the day. He isn’t an MD for nothing!

  3. Great post!
    I use aluminum foil, taped to the windows, to keep the babies room dark for sleeping – it worked like a charm! I didn’t even think of blackout curtains – great idea.

  4. I love when I read one of the posts and I can relate to a tee. Our babies had been going to sleep at 7 and waking up at 3-4 am until they were around 4.5 months old. Their naps were also 3 x per day no problems.
    Now they sleep from 7 p to 7 a and their naps are chaotic. They still take their morning nap around 2 hours after they wake up but the afternoon nap and late afternoon nap are barely an hour sometimes only 30 minutes. By 5:30 I have 2 cranky babies that I do feed and bathe to pass the time.
    How in the world do you get your babies to sleep for more than an hour? Should mine be taking more than the one nap in the morning ( I am sure, but how) Ours are 1 week shy of 9 months.


  5. Always love your posts, Rebecca! And I love the 8:30AM nap, sweet, predictable nap. Later in the day is something I’m still working on.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with this post! I have a toddler and 7 month old twins. I HAVE to have one point in the day when all of the girls are napping! Makes for a more sane Mama!

  7. I don’t really have a problem getting them to sleep. My twin daughter sleeps all night even through her twin brother’s screaming between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. until one of goes to get him. We have tried it all and NOTHING works with my son. Any suggestions? 14 months old.

  8. so I’m still new at this, if you gradually move bedtme earlier and they wake up at 3 or4, do you feed them and go back to bed? What kind of result do u get?

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