Naptime from A to Z

3 months: Ready for a Schedule

You can't wait for your baby to nod off in the bouncy seat anymore. "If you haven't noticed a pattern developing with your baby's naps, you need to take the lead," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Having your child nap at the same times every day will set her internal clock to be sleepy at those moments." To catch your child's natural "sleep window," put her down when she's sleepy but not overtired. This way, she'll fall asleep readily and without crying. When you miss your baby's sleep window, her body emits hormones that give her a second wind, making it harder for her to fall asleep. Infants 3 to 6 months old usually need to take three to four naps in the day, and they're ready for their next nap two hours after they've awoken. So if your baby wakes up at 6 a.m., for example, put her in the crib at 8 a.m. Once she wakes up from nap 1, let her stay up for two hours until nap 2; do the same for naps 3 and 4.

If your baby hasn't been napping at predictable intervals, she may not fall asleep on schedule at first. So how do you make the routine work? When it's time for the first nap of the day, put her in her crib awake, just as experts advise you to do at bedtime. Every sleep expert, of course, recommends a favorite method (unfortunately, many involve some tears). If your baby is crying, suggests Jill Spivack, coauthor of The Sleepeasy Solution, check in at regular intervals (every 5, 10, or 15 minutes) until the end of the hour. "Checking in means going into the baby's room, standing next to the crib, not touching the baby, and saying in a soothing voice something like, 'I love you, honey. You can do it!'" Spivack says. Then leave the room so your baby has a chance to soothe herself back to sleep. If she's still not asleep after an hour, pick her up, but try again in two hours.

Another problem you might encounter: Your baby starts the zzz's without a fuss but wakes up after 20 minutes. Don't assume the nap is over. Even though some children are brief nappers by nature, you should shoot for a minimum of 45 minutes as a nap goal, according to most experts. "The short nap helps your baby fight off fatigue, but the restoration doesn't last as long," Spivack says. So when you put your baby down, don't take her out of the crib for a full hour even if she wakes up before that. Nip the "nap snack" habit in the bud, rather than allowing her to take frequent, short naps.

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