WHY HAVE SET NAPS?
When your body sleeps at the same times every day, it gets tired at those times. It is definitely preferable to be pretty consistent from day to day.
Some moms do find that set naps can fix chronic short nappers. I think a big reason for this is just training the body to be tired at certain times and awake at certain times. At the very least, it makes your life a little easier and a little less concerned about what time nap needs to start. The analyzing is put behind you.
A great thing about the time when baby comes to be more consistent is it is easier for you to plan your days around baby's naps.
I find babies are typically ready for "set naps" around 6-7 months old. You will want your child taking 2-3 naps and on a consistent feeding schedule (usually the four hour schedule is happening when baby is ready for this).
Now, I don't want you to have your baby reach 6 months old and you decide naps are at 10 and 2 and never stray from it until baby grows into a toddler and drops to one nap. I would prefer you think of "set naps" as naps start at the optimal time for baby until it needs to change. If you follow my baby summaries, you will see that waketime length slowly increases over time. So if you decided that baby will be up for 1.5 hours in the morning and just stick with that, you will miss as baby needs to be up for 1 hour 40 minutes, then 1 hour 45 minutes, etc. So nap time can be set UNTIL it needs to change.
Nap time can be set until it needs to change.
And it will need to change. And it will need to change often.
There will come a point when your child reaches a pretty consistent nap schedule...until you get into the pre-dropping phase.
Nap times with range from child to child. By the time your child is old enough and consistent enough for "set naps," she is likely up for 1.5-2 hours at a time before the nap starts. If your child does not have a third nap, it can be longer--usually 2.5-4 hours. You will have to go through the steps of figuring out optimal waketime length.
You need to be watchful of the set nap and not just slip into a state of complacency and miss signs that things need to change.
Watch for signs that your child needs her "set nap" time moved back. The biggest sign for this is that your baby will play in the crib for a long time before falling asleep.
Watch for signs that your child needs her nap time length to be longer. This often follows the dropping of the third nap. It can also come because of a sleep disruption earlier in the day or week, because of sickness, or because of a growth spurt. Allow extra sleep when your child needs it.
Don't freak out when your child veers from this "set nap." Again, sleep disruptions, sickness, or growth spurts can mean your child needs to go down for a nap earlier than usual. I find that when my baby needs to go down for a nap earlier than normal, she still sleeps until her normal wake up time. If I try to keep her up until the time she is "supposed" to nap, she often won't sleep as well because she is overly tired by that point.
There might be times your baby wakes early for various reasons. Again, make adjustments. Sometimes, you might still start the next naptime and the normal "set naptime." But you also might need to start the next nap earlier than usual.
As your baby gets older, your "set naps" will get more set. A 19 month old (who is down to one nap) is a lot more consistent day to day and week to week than the 9 month old. Let me know if you have questions about set naps. For me, it was never a day I woke up and said, "From this day forward, naps will be at the same time each day!" It was more of a realization that the baby was so consistent and the schedule was so in place that we pretty much were on a set nap routine.
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