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Naps are certainly important for your baby’s physical and mental development, their overall mood, and your well-being, too (a little down time does a parent good!). But you don’t have to fret about missing a nap every once in a while.

Here are Dr. Brown’s top tips for navigating missed naps.

Don’t stress

If your baby is younger than 4 months old, remember that their sleep patterns will probably still be unpredictable  – and that’s normal. They’re likely to be sleeping 12 to 17 hours a day, and they may have no problem napping on the go.

Don’t stress about a nap routine that looks different each day at this point, since your baby is still settling into their wake and sleep routines.

Plan ahead when you can

If you know that your older baby will need to miss their nap later in the day, it’s a good idea to put them down slightly earlier for their first nap, says Dr. Brown. This is usually the longest nap of the day, so it will give them the opportunity to get a few more minutes of sleep in. 

Just be sure to put them down no more than 15 minutes early, as trying to get them to nap when they’re not tired yet could lead to frustrations for both you and your baby.

Take advantage of naps on the go

If you’re out and about and your baby falls asleep, that’s great. While it might not be the best quality sleep, Dr. Brown says that some sleep is better than no sleep.

If you’re at an event or in the airport and have some down time, you might be able to find a quiet space or resting area for your little one to take a nap in your arms – even if it’s just for a little while. If you’re in the car, it’s okay if your baby falls asleep for a short time; just be sure to transfer them to a crib or bassinet when you get home. And when they’re snoozing in the car, check on them often to make sure they’re not slouching into a chin-to-chest position (this position can cause breathing problems).

Keep the rest of the day the same

If your child misses their morning nap but you’re home in time for the next one, feel free to stick to their regular routine for the afternoon. You can even offer their next nap a few minutes early – about 15 minutes is perfect. And keep other parts of their day, like feedings and meals, on track, as this can help your child fall back into their routine.

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Try offering an earlier bedtime

If your child misses their nap, an earlier bedtime at night can be great – especially if that missed nap was in the afternoon. And Dr. Brown says you can watch their sleep cues to determine just how much earlier is appropriate. Usually 15 to 30 minutes will suffice, but if they’re fussy, yawning, or rubbing their eyes, you can probably put them down a bit earlier than that.

For older children, avoid naps after 4 p.m.

If you have older babies or toddlers who are down to just one nap, make sure they don’t sleep past 4 p.m. Why? If they don’t have enough wake time before bed, they’ll be less likely to fall asleep at their typical bedtime and could get restless and fussy. 

If you have a newborn, sleeping past 4 p.m. is okay since your infant’s circadian rhythm is still developing – and it’s likely they’ll still take naps past 4 p.m. anyway.

Remember, while babies and children can benefit from sleep routines and regular nap times, there are going to be times where you’ll fall out of sync. It’s okay – and even if the day doesn’t go as planned, you can always get back on track the next day.

If you find yourself in need of more help, check out Baby Sleep 101Opens a new window, BabyCenter’s virtual, on-demand course led by Dr. Brown.  

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