Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Protecting the First Nap in Infancy and Early Toddlerhood

Today is my day to participate in Babywise Friendly Blog Network Week!

I am going to talk specifically about how important the first nap of the day is for infants/young toddlers. I include young toddlers in with infants here because many 12-18 month olds will often still take a morning and afternoon nap most days (so there would still be a "first nap of the day for them).

Why is the first nap important?

This nap is the most important nap for infants, in my opinion, because this nap sets the napping tone for your baby's day. Any subsequent naps are dependent on this nap, and how baby sleeps for the rest of the day will be determined by the success of this nap. Oddly enough, this nap also happens to be the nap that infants can handle the LEAST amount of waketime before. It is common for moms to think that since they have just had a full night (or at least in the early newborn days, the longest stretch of sleep) that they could handle a little time awake before needing a nap again. This is just not true. A baby who is not generally overtired will have the shortest amount of time awake just prior to the first nap of the day. Becoming overtired for a baby can begin first thing in the morning - and can have a domino effect throughout the rest of the day, which makes it a more difficult process to get good solid naps in for the rest of the day. Knowing this, I really do all I can to protect this nap - especially the younger they are. I make it a point to plan my errand running, playdates, and any other activities around this nap. If I have a infant/young toddler in my care, you won't generally find me out and about between 9 am - 10:45 am. I have had to give up some things to make this possible for my nap-needy baby, but I try to remind myself that this is a season and not forever. It has really helped me to have that perspective when making the choice to prioritize good napping habits for my young ones.

Begin the first nap way before it begins - thinking ahead

How do you do that? Well, I have found that success with the first nap will always begin with when baby wakes up for the day. So I have the first nap in mind when my baby wakes up for the start to their day. Begin with setting a super consistent start time for the day with your baby. I know this can be especially difficult in the newborn days when baby is still up for a few night feeds - and in those wee morning hours they wake for one last "night" feed and go back to sleep. This was when my baby's would almost always be in the deepest sleep - and it killed me to wake them to start their day. I promise doing this consistently will be pay off. So even if baby had a 5 am feed, if you want them to begin their day at 7 am - wake them and feed them to begin their day. Their body and metabolism will get used to when they sleep and when they eat as you become consistent in this area.

First Naps for Newborns (0-3 months)

The first nap in these early (and extra sleepy) days will typically be within 45 minutes of having woken up for the day. So if your little one is up for the start to his day at 7:30 am, then it is probable that he will be ready for his 1st nap right around 8:15. This nap is usually the longest nap at this age, but in order to stay on track for the day, it is best for this nap to no go longer than 2 hours. Usually a 1.5 hour - 2 hour nap is sufficient at this age, and will help the baby avoid getting overtired before his next nap. {Side note: wake time lengths can grow by a little bit of time as the day progresses. So they may be able to handle 1 hour waketime lengths after a successful first nap has happened.}

First Nap for Infants (3-6 months)

If sleep is something you really aim high for, at this age, your baby is probably doing well with extended nighttime sleep by now, so it makes setting that wake up time for the day a little easier on mom and dad! Since nighttime sleep is becoming more restful for baby, he might be able to handle a little more awake time now before his naps. Again, his shortest amount of wake time will still before prior to his first nap, but at this age he may be able to handle 1 hour to (closer to 6 months) 1.5 hours of being up before getting overtired. Some higher sleep needs babies will stay closer to 1 hour, and those who are low sleep needs may be able to handle more. Every baby is different, and so that determination has to be made by you - and go with what works best for your baby and your family!

Take into account that "sleep cues" like rubbing eyes, yawning, and fussing are LAT

E signs of tiredness and your baby may be flirting with the line between tired and overtired at this point. Instead, watch for disinterest with playing with toys or the baby not being able to focus on any one thing or person. Use those clues and consider the clock at this age. Use both to guide you into making the decision on if it is time for that first nap of the day.

First Nap for Infants (6-9 months)

I love this age for so many reasons. One of those reasons is that things are typically very predictable by this age. Baby knows what to expect for her day, and so do I. This is the age that most babies will go from 3 naps down to 2, but that first nap will still be a solid part of the little one's day at this age. At this age, you might begin to notice that there is a natural "lull" in the baby's day right around 9 am. 9 am is a very common time for babies this age to be put down for their nap because of their body's natural need for sleep in this hour. Mom and dad are able to depend a little heavier on the clock during these months, which is helpful - but it is still important to watch for how your baby shows you they might be ready for sleep.

First Nap for Infants (9-12 months)

It is likely that your baby has 2 solid naps and good sound nighttime sleep at this age. The sleepy lull in your baby's day is probably still present right around 9 am (This seems to be most true when baby wakes between 6:30/7 am, so if they have been awake earlier than this, its possible they could be tired earlier). They are able to handle closer to 2 hours of awake time before really needing that 1st nap. It is pretty easy to get out and about around nap time schedules at this age, and they begin to be able to battle overtiredness better as they get a little older. Baby's this age (especially as they approach their first birthday) can typically manage 2.5-3 hours of awake time before they need their second nap - and could possibly have a 4 hour wake time length before bedtime. Its wonderful to be able to have that flexibility back into your schedule now!

First Nap as you Enter Toddlerhood

We have made it through the first year of life! It is the quickest, yet longest, year every time you do it! Things can get hairy here, for many, when trying to determine how much sleep your toddler needs during the day, and how much wake time they can handle. Some toddlers are ready to drop that first/morning nap much earlier than the toddler next door. I have 4 kids, my oldest 3 had all dropped their morning nap right before they turned 15 months old. I have an almost 14 month old right now who still loves having 2 solid naps each day. I would be surprised if she dropped her first nap by 15 months like her sisters did - as she is just much higher sleep needs then they were. There is really a broad range here for the age of a toddler who transitions to just one nap in the middle of the day - even among babywise babies.

When the transition does begin to happen, it can happen slowly, to ensure that your toddler still gets the sleep they need while trying to achieve just having one afternoon nap. You can begin to push that morning nap up a little. Instead of putting him down at 9, you can try 9:45 am and just let him sleep for 1.5 hours. This will usually result in an afternoon nap that will carry them through until bedtime.

My favorite theme of babywise is "begin as you mean to go". I love this, as it is something healthy to practice in all areas of our lives. Start with simple steps that are sure to get you to your end goal. Beginning your baby's day with how you want your baby to end their day in mind makes perfect sense. My end goal for most days is have happy, well behaved, and well rested children who value their sleep as much as I do. I think beginning with placing importance on the first nap is my first step to my goal for each day!


Rachel Rowell said...

Great post Shea. You are so right about that first nap being so important!

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