Do your best to encourage your baby to nap consistently. But keep in mind that his temperament and natural rhythms will help determine how and when he naps. Some babies nap for long stretches every day right from the start and settle easily into a pattern. Others do just fine taking shorter naps or napping at less regular times.
At 3 to 4 months of age, many babies begin to follow a more predictable pattern of daytime sleep. This is a good time to start developing a nap schedule
How to start scheduling your baby's naps
When your baby's 3 to 4 months old, you can work on developing a nap schedule that's compatible with his natural sleep cycles.
READ THE SIGNS
Pay attention to your baby's sleep signals. Does he begin to rub his eyes and get fussy midmorning or right after lunch? Does he often fall asleep in the car in the early afternoon? Do you notice a difference in his alertness and overall mood when he sleeps for longer or shorter periods?
You might want to keep a record of your baby's sleep signals and naps for a week or two. This will help you see your baby's patterns so you can anticipate naps.
For example, if your baby gets cranky and ready to nap by 10 every morning, you can ease him into it before he gets overtired. Start 15 to 20 minutes before you expect his sleep signals to show up – feed, change, and rock him quietly, turn down the lights, and keep your voice low. That way he's already on the road to sleep when that tired feeling overtakes him.
STICK TO A SCHEDULE
Consistency is the goal: Try to schedule your baby's naps for roughly the same time every day. If you routinely put your baby down for his afternoon nap at 3 one day and right after lunch the next, your child will have more trouble developing a regular sleep pattern.
Try to avoid activities that conflict with your baby's nap schedule.
If your baby is in daycare during the week and has a regular nap schedule when he's there, follow a similar schedule on the weekends when he's at home with you.
Get more tips on establishing a successful baby schedule.
Don't stress over interruptions
You won't be able to arrange it so your entire household revolves around your baby's nap schedule – especially if you have other children. Life events will interrupt your schedule, and if naps are skipped or delayed from time to time, it isn't a disaster. If you have a regular structure that you can rely on, it'll be easier to get back on track after the inevitable disruptions.
Figuring out the best nap schedule for your baby will take some trial and error, and it will change as your child grows and reaches new developmental milestones. You'll need to assess your baby's sleep needs and habits regularly and alter the schedule accordingly.
DEVELOPING A NAP RITUAL
A naptime ritual is a good idea, for the same reason it's recommended at night: It helps your child wind down and signals that the sleep period is approaching, so your baby is prepared to rest.
Your naptime ritual can be shorter and less elaborate than the bedtime ritual: a story, a song, and a cuddle, for example. Once you've developed a routine that works for you and that you both enjoy, stick to it as closely as possible.
More practical tips for naps:
Put your baby to sleep safely by gently placing her on her back on a firm mattress and in a space without toys, blankets, or pillows.
Pajamas aren't necessary, but make sure your child is dressed in comfortable clothing that's neither too light nor too heavy.
Playtime right before your baby's nap should be quiet. Avoid loud noise and stimulating play that could make it hard for your child to settle down and go to sleep.
When you can, put your child down for her nap in the same place she sleeps at night, which she'll associate with going to sleep.
If you're going on a trip or you know you'll be away from home at naptime, be sure to pack books and anything else your child has come to associate with sleeping. This will help you maintain your baby's sleep routine wherever you are.
Don't wait until your child is overly tired before beginning your going-to-sleep routine. If you do, your child may be too wound up to sleep well – or even to go to sleep at all. If your child isn't much of a napper, don't blame yourself or your parenting skills – even if your best friend reports that her child is taking three-hour naps every day. All you can do is offer your child the opportunity to sleep by preparing her and putting her down on a consistent schedule.
Your baby may be a natural catnapper, consistently napping for less than an hour at a time. As long as she doesn't seem too tired, fussy, or difficult during waking hours, she's getting the sleep she needs.
Swaddling is one of the oldest baby-calming techniques, perhaps because it reminds infants of being in the womb. But there are two problems with the "sleep tight" method. First, many babies who initially enjoy being wrapped burrito-style, later prefer to stretch (and therein strengthen muscle movements) -- usually at about 3 months of age. Secondly, while swaddling is fine to settle a baby, I strongly discourage leaving babies swaddled throughout the night. Swaddling babies too often and for too long can interfere with the normal development of the ball-and-socket joint in the hip (infant hip dislocation is common in cultures that use long-term swaddling). Here are some ways to help your baby fall asleep without wrapping her up:
Create a variety of bedtime rituals. Try building sleep associations in your daughter's mind: Implement a bedtime ritual that includes rocking, a familiar song, or a warm bath, for example, and she'll learn to associate these experiences with sleep. Whenever you begin this routine, she'll know sleep is expected to follow. To avoid falling into the "she'll only go to sleep if I nurse her" trap, be sure to create a variety of sleep associations. It's also important that both mom and dad put baby to sleep, so she gets used to each parent's approach to the bedtime routine.
Wear baby down After your baby is fed and ready for bed, place her in a sling carrier and wear her around the house. Once she's fully asleep, ease her out of the sling into her crib. This strategy is particularly helpful for a reluctant napper or bedtime-fighter. It's just as important for fathers to use this technique as it is for moms.
Try motion for sleep. Babies often settle to a steady rocking motion -- whether it's in a rocking chair snuggled against your chest, or swaying in your arms, or being gently rocked back and forth in a cradle. If none of these works, place your daughter in her carseat and drive around until she drifts off. Once she's in a deep sleep, return home and ease her out of the carseat into her bed.
- Try sounds to sleep by. Make a CD or tape of your baby's favorite tunes or of you singing lullabies to her. Play these songs only at bedtime so she learns to associate them with sleep.
Beware of baby trainers. Babies need to be parented to sleep, not just put to sleep. Avoid any type of rigid "let her cry it out" sleep training. If practiced too young and too rigidly, this method can lead to sleep anxiety: A baby learns to fear going to sleep and staying asleep. Your goal is not just to get your baby off to sleep (although some nights you'll be so exhausted, you'll try anything!) -- it's to create a healthy sleep attitude. You want your daughter to experience sleep as a pleasant state to enter and a safe state to remain in.