As with every other aspect of a baby's individuality, your child has a napping style all her own.
Once your little darling is past the "endless slumber" stage (at about four to five months), her nap routine will start to take shape. Keep in mind that a typical baby might take three or four one-hour naps a day, while others enjoy a two-hour nap every morning and afternoon like clockwork. Whichever type of napper you've got, your goal is to help her get the restorative rest she needs to help her meet the challenges of navigating her world. Plus, quality naps during the day translate to better (longer!) sleep at night. Here are a few strategies to extend nap time.
Choose a good napping location.
Comfort is critical to a longer nap, so make sure your baby drifts off in a place where she can happily snooze for a while (her crib, that is, as opposed to your bony shoulder). Of course, occasional naps in the stroller or car seat are inevitable and fine, but don't substitute those spots for the crib on a regular basis.
A little advance planning can translate into many more minutes asleep, so avoid these surefire nap killers: an empty tummy (she'll probably wake up prematurely...and crabby!); a (very) full diaper – try to put her down with a clean one if possible; a racket – avoid inviting (noisy) visitors at nap time or move the party well out of earshot. And check her outfit and the temperature around her ahead of time...not too hot or too cold, please.
Ease into the nap mode. Scooping your baby up from her toys and sweeping her off to her crib isn't the best way to get her in a mellow mood. Instead, allow a little buffer time where she can wind down from her activities and get in a sleepier state of mind.
If your baby wakes (or cries) 20 minutes into her nap, try to encourage a longer snooze by offering some gentle strokes and soothing words – without picking her up. Once she realizes that play is not in the plan right now, chances are she'll close her eyes again.
Increase baby's awake time.
By four or five months, you can expect your baby to be able to stay up for two to three hours at a stretch. And the longer your baby is awake between naps, the longer she's likely to sleep once she goes down. To increase awake time:
1. Change her position frequently. If she's on her tummy, flip her over to her back – this will provide a change of scenery and physical stimulation as well. Put her in an infant seat for a while, then switch to your arms to keep varying the view.
2. Keep up the chatter. Talk and coo and sing and your baby will stay engaged longer.
3. Respect her limits. Babies have (very) short attention spans, so if she fusses or turns away when you try to play with her, she's either had enough of that activity or she's truly ready for a nap.