The Sleep and Babies Series – Part 5

What If Baby’s Sensory Personality Conflicts With Yours?

Whether or not you have thought about it in this way, conflicting sensory personalities between babies and their parents happens. Even the most confident parent can be thrown into a whirlwind of confusion when trying to negotiate personalities that clash!

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Here’s a common scenario:

Mom could be described as having sensory personality traits that lean towards those we have described with the Sensitive baby. Rewinding back to her childhood, she needed a lot of support to stay calm and organized.

Now, mom recognizes that she continues to have sensitivities to touch and sound. She picks clothing that is soft, cuts out the tags of her shirts and avoids being in public places that are too loud. Mom feels most relaxed and focused when she gets enough sleep. She loves to exercise daily because the heavy work helps her to feel happy and not as sensitive to her surroundings.

As luck would have it (and we see this all the time), when she had her first son, he was clearly a Sensitive baby as well. Children often have similar sensory needs to their parents. Her son cried more than the typical baby, slept less and was generally more difficult to soothe. Mom began feeling overwhelmed by her son’s needs because of her own sensitivities. What could she do?? How do we meet baby’s needs for extra help and help mom avoid being overwhelmed by her own sensory sensitivities?

Our first priority is to look for a middle path, where everyone’s needs are met and mom is not feeling stretched beyond her capacity to cope.  In this situation, we use the sensory strategies of slow movement in a baby swing or a mamaRoo, swaddling, pacifier and daily baby massage. Refer to our post about the Sensitive Baby for more detailed information about strategies for this type of sensory personality! We are total fans of sensory strategies, but finding the proper strategy for each sensory personality takes a little detective work! In fact, this is why we wrote our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality! The information is there, in an easy to digest way, so that you are prepared to become your baby’s personal detective!

The swaddle and swing approach to sleep is a great fit for the family in this scenario. Baby gets the calming sensory strategies that he needs and mom feels less burdened by her baby’s increased needs. Everyone gets more sleep and this is essential for this family. For more information on various sleep approaches, visit part 3 of our series here!

We also recommend that mom get out for daily walks with baby in a baby sling that provides compression which often helps a sensitive baby relax. Childcare provided by family, friends or baby sitters is essential during the first few months so mom can exercise,  take a walk by herself or just catch up on some much needed sleep. Some form of relaxation or meditation can make all the difference for a mom with a sensitive sensory personality. Connecting with an experience that is ‘recharging’ is so important for mom to be open and available to the needs of her little one. Without this recharge time, mom may become easily frustrated and lose the ability to ‘read’ her baby’s signals.

Attention to sensory personalities and the type of sensory strategies each mom and baby need can make all the difference in creating a happy, healthy, nicely bonded family system.

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 4

What is Your Baby’s Sensory Personality and

How Does it Impact Your Sleep Approach?

Welcome to week 4 of our Sleep and Babies series! So far we have touched on some key information to truly get down to the crux of helping your baby sleep. If you are joining us at this point, make sure you catch up on the topics of our past few weeks.

Together, what we have learned is that sleep strategies are not a ‘one-plan-fits-all’ approach! Some organized detective work can make all the difference in understanding your baby and landing on specific strategies that are successful!

In an effort to make it easier for parents to fine tune their understanding of baby’s behaviors, we developed The Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality Checklist. TM  Consisting of over 30 relevant behavior patterns, this checklist helps to organize your observations and group them according to Sensory Personality. Learning whether your baby’s behavior indicates that he is a Sleepy Baby, an Organized Baby or a Sensitive Baby will then help you pick a sleep approach that is likely to work for your little one. Our detailed Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality Checklist TM  can be found in our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality, but we wanted to share some bits with you here too!

A few characteristics that help identify sensory personalities

Sleepy babies tend to under register the people and the world around them. They need help ‘waking up’ to interact with their families and environment. This helps them learn how to sustain a calm, alert level of arousal to build developmental skills. Sleepy babies do well with the “Shush and Pat” and the “Co-sleeping” approaches.

Organized babies tend to be predictable and can calm themselves down with a little help. They do well with the “Shush and Pat” or the “Co-Sleeping” methods.

Sensitive babies need parent help and sensory strategies to settle into sleep. Attempting to use the “Shush and Pat” sleep approach with a Sensitive baby will probably result in extended crying. “Co-sleeping” or the “Swaddle and Swing” approaches will result in a good night’s sleep.

Last week, we shared some intimate video conversations with 4 moms who dove into their personal experiences with the different sleep patterns. If you missed them, click here for a short cut to tune in.

Identifying your baby’s sensory personality has another bonus! Once parents have identified which type of sensory personality their baby has, play activities can be focused to support developmental skills acquisition!  For example, a Sleepy baby needs help waking up to experience the world. Using sensory experiences that are known to be alerting can quickly support this baby’s personality. Fast movement, light touch, up tempo music, bright colors all help this baby wake up. Our Sensitive baby needs help staying organized and calm.  Calming sensory inputs like slow movement and rocking, firm touch and swaddling, quiet sounds and calm colors all support this baby.

We encourage you to use The Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality ChecklistTM (you can find it here!) to refine your awareness of your baby’s sensory personality. Parents who understand what their baby’s behavior is telling them can provide the just right support that helps him feel comfortable in the world.

Please join us for our final post related to our Sleep and Babies Series next time – What to do when baby’s sensory personality doesn’t match YOURS!

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 3

What Parents Say About Helping Babies Sleep

Parents of new babies find out pretty quickly that there are a plethora of different approaches to getting babies to sleep. People who write about, video about and otherwise promote their “foolproof, guaranteed” approach to sleep are quite certain that their ideas will work for you.  As a new parent, you end up with a buffet-style of sleep-inspired options, but with so many to choose from, it’s easy to get a little confused figuring out which one is best!

For years we have been asking parents how they approach sleep. With permission, we videotaped our conversations with some amazing moms who have tried and adopted different strategies. Here’s what they said. These experiences are raw and real.

Three Basic Approaches for Putting Babies to Sleep

In our book, Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality, we discuss 3 basic approaches for putting babies to sleep.

1. Co-sleeping
2. The Swaddle and Swing Method
3. The Shush and Pat Method

Each method has its own rationale and works beautifully when paired with certain baby/parent personality matches. If you are already aware of your baby’s sensory personality (sleepy, typical or sensitive), this will help guide your decision on choosing the best approach for your family. If not, scan through Parenting the Sensitive Baby and Helping Your Sleepy Baby Wake Up to see if either personality feels familiar. We also encourage you to hang tight for Part 4 of our Sleep and Babies Series, where we go over this in a little more detail.

Each video below highlights a different sleep approach and these amazing moms share their experiences and insight about each.


As the co-sleeping method goes, babies are fed and held until in a deep sleep and gently placed where they are going to sleep. (As a refresher from Part 2 of our series, deep sleep is when baby is limp and relaxed, has regular breathing and no eye movements are observed.) As this approach often includes co-sleeping, baby is tucked next to mom in bed and mom simply nurses baby back to sleep each time he wakes. This is a great approach for the sensitive baby who may be difficult to get back to sleep if moved into a crib. We found a particularly touching study that interviewed adults who had been co-sleepers as babies. The study found that these adults consistently reported a “feeling of satisfaction with life”.

The mom in this clip works during the day and finds co-sleeping a nice way to connect with her baby. Take a look.

 Swaddle and swing

In the Swaddle and Swing method, baby is fed, wrapped in a swaddling blanket, held until sleepy and then placed in a motorized swing. This works well for the sensitive baby whose parents have difficulty co-sleeping with baby in the bed. This approach however, does needs to be adapted when baby outgrows the swing.

This mom of twins has tried a few different sleep approaches in the first year. Here’s what she has to say.

  Shush and pat

The Shush and Pat method includes baby being fed, swaddled, held until sleepy and placed in the crib while still awake. Baby is patted and shushed for a few minutes and then parent leaves the room. The parent in charge of bedtime returns and repeats the shush and pat as many times as needed until baby settles into sleep. This approach works for the baby who is well organized and calm. This often will not work for the sensitive baby because this type of baby needs more help settling down into sleep.

This mom of three little boys has a thoughtful sleep approach that she is willing to share.


Triplet alert! This mom of triplets has worked hard to develop a sleep approach that works for her family.

Bedtime Routines

Parents consistently shared that bedtime routines were essential in helping babies and children get ready to sleep. Common  bedtime routine steps included:

Bath & PJs
Dimming the lights
Reading a story

Infant bedtimes included:

Giving baby a larger feeding before bedtime
White noise of a fan or soft music

What we know as therapists is that babies are all different. Parents have sensory needs and grew up with their own cultural approaches to sleep. Families need to balance what works best for both babies and parents. “…the traditional habit of labeling one sleeping arrangement as being superior to another without an awareness of family, social and ethnic context is not only wrong but possibly harmful” (McKenna & Dade, 2005). Learning and identifying the tools that your baby responds to best will provide a strong foundation for improved family sleep.


Forbes F, Weiss DS, Folen RA. The co-sleeping habits of military children. Military Medicine 1992; 157: 196–200.

McKenna, J.J., McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bed sharing and breast feeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134–152.

Staples, A., Bates, J., Petersen, I. ( 2015). Bedtime routines in early childhood: Prevalence, consistency, and associations with nighttime sleep. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 80, issue 1, pp.141-159. March 2015.




The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 2

What is a ‘normal’ amount of sleep for babies?

Are you worried that your baby is not sleeping enough? Or does it seem like your baby might be sleeping too much? In our Sleep and Babies Series, we are dabbling in many of the questions and concerns that parents have related to sleep throughout baby’s first year. If you missed Part 1, here are the topics we are covering:

  • What is normal sleep for a baby and how do sleep states influence sleep?
  • Parent interviews about their experiences with common approaches to sleep.
  • Do you know your baby’s sensory personality? If not, we will give you some tips on how to find out.
  • What if baby’s sensory personality doesn’t match yours?

Parents of the baby who does not sleep all that well often feel that they are doing something wrong when they hear about a friend’s baby who sleeps through the night and takes long naps. While comparisons naturally point out differences, it is important to know that there are a number of commonly accepted ideas of how much time young babies actually sleep.

 What is ‘normal’ sleep for a baby?

There are some guidelines about how much your baby should be sleeping, but keep in mind that there is a wide range of normal. Some babies take long naps and sleep many consecutive hours at night, while others take many brief naps and wake frequently throughout the night. Here’s an example of the sleep patterns for a 0-3 month old baby: 


The 0-3 month old baby will sleep from fourteen to sixteen hours each twenty-four hour period. With her longest sleep at night, baby will have 3-8 naps per day, with nap duration being 15 minutes-2 hours each. The sleep/awake patterns change as baby grows up. If you are interested in learning about the entire 0-12 month sleep pattern progression, shoot us your email in the link below and you will have it immediately! We also discuss it in more detail in our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality.

Sleep States

We all have phases of sleep that we go through each time we close our eyes to get some z’s. These sleep states directly influence the quality of our sleep and how easily we manage to wake up. Becoming familiar with the sleep cycles of your baby will provide key information on how to best support a little one who might be struggling with sleep.

Researchers have identified six different sleep and arousal states in the newborn baby. For the sake of keeping things ‘sleep’ focused today, here are some of the hints that let you know which phase of sleep your baby is in. Make sure to pay attention to the part that let’s you know when your baby is most likely to wake back up! 

Light sleep: This is the phase when baby is dreaming. You may see her eyelids moving as she dreams and she may make sucking movements on and off. Baby is likely to respond to sound, touch or movement by waking up. Moving baby while she is in this state will often cause her to wake up.

Deep sleep: Breathing appears regular and you will not see eye movements during this phase of sleep. Baby is limp, relaxed and has a delayed response to sounds, movement and touch, making it less likely for her to wake up.

The awake states are important to identify as well, letting you know when baby is leaning towards sleep, ready for play, or tipping towards upset. We talk about those more in our book too. 

Babies have their longest sleep periods at night, with cycles of light sleep for the first twenty minutes, followed by deep sleep. This cycle repeats itself every hour. This is super important to know because if you recall, babies are more easily awakened during light sleep. Keep this cycle in mind as you think about making that move from the car to the house within the first 20 minutes!


So as you become more mindful of your baby’s sleep patterns, take special note of her sleep states and how your family’s schedules match up with baby’s light sleep and deep sleep phases. Are there interruptions that might impact baby’s sleep cycle? How can you adjust your routines and the environment to support baby’s sleep?

While babies have their own sleep patterns, families have their own preferences and routines as well. In part 3 of our Sleep and Babies series, we share some special video clips of some of our clients, each with a different perspective on sleep. These parents share their individual preferences for how they approach the sleep issue as a family. You don’t want to miss this!


The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 1

Sleep and Babies

Contrary to how new parents feel, YES, you can have both! The sleep / baby conundrum is one of the hottest topics for parents of young babies. Getting babies to sleep, helping them stay asleep, establishing bedtime routines and learning how to cope with disrupted sleep are all HUGE issues for parents of young children. Sleep deprivation and attempting all of the strategies in that pile of books on your nightstand can really put your mind in a tangle, can’t it?

As pediatric occupational therapists, we are big fans of sensory strategies as tools for parents.  Gaining an understanding of the type of baby that you have will be a productive step in learning specific strategies to promote better sleep patterns, for all of you! 

In our Sleep and Babies Series, we will dabble in some of these key things that your baby would love for you to know about sleep:

Common Strategies for Helping Baby Sleep

To kick things off and give you some ideas immediately, we want to share some of the strategies that can be incredibly useful in helping babies go to sleep, stay asleep and return to sleep when they are awakened. (You know what this means? You might get sleep too!)

Some of the most common solutions:

  • Swaddling and firm pressure
  • Slow swinging and rocking
  • Pacifier
  • White noise (fans or background nature sounds)
  • A consistent bedtime routine

Swaddling is a great sensory tool for parents because it is calming and organizing for a baby. This research study supports the benefits of swaddling infants, and you can click below to see the article.


Parents are ultimately the best judges of how sleep approaches will work for the entire family. In our Sleep and Babies Series, we hope to provide you with sensory-based information so that you are able to make choices that fit your family best.


In case you needed anther reason to breastfeed your baby, we found a research study concluding that nighttime breast milk contains compounds that help babies sleep longer.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with reduced irritability/colic and a tendency toward longer nocturnal sleep. Breast milk (nocturnal) consists of substantial melatonin levels, whereas artificial formulas do not” (Engler, 2012).



Engler, A. C., Hadash, A., Shehadeh, N., Pillar, G. (2012). Breastfeeding may improve nocturnal sleep and reduce infant colic: Potential role of breast milk melatonin. European Journal of Pediatrics, 171 (4), pp. 729-732. 

Sanchez, C., Cubero, J., Sanchez, J., Chanclon, B., Rivero, M., Rodriguez, A., Barriga, A. (2009). The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutritional Neuroscience, 12(1), pp. 2-8. 

Staples, A., Bates, J., Petersen, I. ( 2015). Bedtime routines in early childhood: Prevalence, consistency, and associations with nighttime sleep. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 80, issue 1, pp.141-159. March 2015


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