Naps can be an absolute dream (excuse the pun) when they are timed right and give you a moment to do things with both arms free...but if naps have become a stress point for you and you're not 100% on what to expect then here is a little guide on naps.
Naps serve the important purpose of managing an infants sleep pressure during the day so they don't get excessively overtired and their cortisol (the stress hormone) doesn't rise too high.
Over-tiredness can lead to tricky behaviour and fatigue in your little one, and can also be the cause of disrupted naps and nighttime sleep.
A child who is overtired may exhibit hyperactive behaviour; the tricky bit is that this could also be a sign of a child who actually isn't tired yet. You will have to be a bit of detective, getting to know your little one and their signs. Although it's not an exact science, once you've mastered your little one's cues you can catch them before they move from calm and sleepy to potentially 'wired'.
Studies have shown that naps can improve memory and learning. So don't be surprised if your child who had previously dropped their naps starts occasionally wanting a little one when they start something new like preschool.
'Wake windows' are frequently prescribed as a one size fits all for all children in particular age brackets. Although some infants will fall into these brackets, every infant is different and so watching your little one for sleepy cues is your best bet at determining your own child's pattern.
A newborn can typically only tolerate being awake for up to an hour (and a lot of that is spent feeding). Their naps and nighttime sleep will be variable and you are unlikely to see a set pattern from the off. Follow their lead with both sleep and feeding.
By 6 months your little one is likely to have fallen into a slightly more predictable 3 nap day; morning, lunch and afternoon. While I wouldn't prescribe a set wake window routine I would be wary of the last nap being too close to bedtime.
The afternoon nap is normally the first to go at around 7-9 months followed by the morning nap around 15-18 months.
The lunchtime nap sticks around for a while and there is fair variability as to when it's dropped; 2.5-3.5 years.
These are averages and not all children slot into these brackets so just use this as a guide.
Each time a nap is dropped you may need to make slight tweaks to the timings of the remaining naps so that you aren't left with a one wake window that is that little bit too long for your infant. Sometimes bringing bedtime a little earlier during a nap transition can make it easier; you can always push bedtime back to your preferred time once it has all settled.
Signs it's time to drop a nap
Bedtime has suddenly become a battle and little one doesn't seem tired enough.
One or more nap has become much shorter than it previously was.
Your little one is fighting having one or more nap at all.
A nap is a nap.
It doesn't matter where it is.
In the car? It's a nap.
In the sling? It's a nap.
In the pram? It's a nap.
On you? It's a nap.
There's a misconception by some that a nap has to be in a cot and for an exact amount of time for it to count. If napping in the cot is what works for you then that's great but also if your little one loves napping close to you in the sling that is also a valuable nap. I would work on getting well timed naps, suitable for your little ones sleep needs before worrying over where the nap happens. If it's not a problem for you then it's not a problem.
And finally...The How long fors
I'm sorry to say there's just no right answer.
The long lunchtime nap happens for some but not all. The perfectly placed hour in the morning and another two hours at lunch isn't what some babies need. Some little ones genuinely fare fine on cat naps. Through trial and error and forensic watching of sleep cues you will find the routine that works for you and your little one. Naps should be taken in the context of the full 24 hours worth of sleep; if your little one is getting the amount they need only on shorter naps then you can't make them go above that. And although that may not be convenient at first, knowing your child is getting just what they need means you are smashing it!