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What are the mental leaps? Wonder Weeks and preparing for sleep

Any new parent can tell you that babies aren't the most consistent when it comes to sleep - while some weeks can bring long sleep periods and falling sleep without issues, you might find that during others any hope of 'normal sleep' is pretty much out of the question!

There are a number of reasons for this, but some experts associate periods of rough sleep with the mental leaps that occur during 'Wonder Weeks' - periods of time where your baby develops new mental skills, and subsequently weeks when your baby's sleep might suffer.

In this blog, we'll explain the idea of Wonder Weeks and guide you through each of them and what they entail, from early milestones like pattern recognition and developing relationships with other people to understanding more complex sequences and systems.

To help your baby fall asleep during these leaps, we'll then cover some activities you can do with your baby during each week, as well as some general tips on how to help babies sleep no matter their developmental stage.

What are Wonder Weeks?

In 1992, the book The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby's Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great Fussy Phases into Magical Leaps Forward was first published. In this book, Dutch authors Frans Plooij and Hetty van de Rijt introduced the titular concept to moms worldwide: Wonder Weeks.

The theory behind this concept is that during the first 20 months of every baby's life, they go through numerous specific leaps or phases in their development. Plooij and van de Rijt argue that during these leaps, little ones experience swift cognitive development as they gain new skills and a greater understanding of the world and their surroundings.

Overall, a total of 10 major baby mental leaps were identified by the authors, each of which corresponds to a general age range that they list in weeks - hence the name, Wonder Weeks. While the weeks are numbered, they're intended to be seen more as guidelines than gospel - after all, babies all develop at different rates!

As babies are going through these leaps, everything they experience can result in them becoming more fussy, clingy, and irritable than you'd usually expect. You can also expect to see a bit of disruption to their sleep as their new mental development causes them to respond more sensitively to stimulation, which can make it harder for them to settle down. You may see their sleep-wake cycles being disrupted as well.

As such, it's important to maintain a high level of support and provide a lot of comfort during these significant developmental milestones - being patient and understanding is key. In the next section, we'll go into more detail surrounding each of the 10 leaps so you'll know exactly what to look for, what your little one is going through, and what you can do to help them through it happily!


Leap 1: Changing Sensations (Week 4)

Leap 1: Changing Sensations (Week 4)

The first leap is thought to occur at around week 4 of a baby's life and is all to do with the increased development of their senses. During this leap, their senses are maturing and due to this, they're becoming more and more perceptive and aware of the world around them.

Signs of the first leap

  • Your baby will become more responsive and sensitive to sensory stimulation (sight, sound, touch) as they gain increased awareness of their surroundings

  • They will begin to respond more strongly to sensory stimulation, possibly showing a lot more interest in faces, objects, and movements, while having increased reactions to sounds and textures

  • As all of your baby's senses mature, they will become more perceptive as they get better at processing and interpreting the information they receive through each sense

  • They will start to get a feeling for the rhythms of yours and their day-to-day lives, gaining more recognition of feeding and sleeping patterns

  • Due to their increased sensitivity to changes in sensation, they may become a bit more alert and responsive, which can cause disruptions to their sleeping patterns, affecting their sleep duration and behavior

  • As they start having stronger responses to stimulation, they will begin to feel a stronger sense of security and connection to your touch and your voice

Activities with baby

Because your baby is now more aware of the world around them visually, you can engage their newly developed senses with some exciting visual stimuli. For instance, showing your baby colorful or high contrast objects, or introducing them to new faces, can bring a surprising amount of entertainment and intrigue for your little one!


Leap 2: Patterns (Week 7)

Leap 2: Patterns (Week 7)

Patterns are the focus of the second leap, which is thought to occur at around week 7 of the Wonder Weeks. As its name suggests, during this leap your baby will experience progression in pattern recognition and understanding - this is all due to the development of more and more intricate neural connections in their brains.

Signs of the second leap

  • Your baby will begin to get much more aware and receptive to patterns and regularities - including visual patterns, patterns in sound, and even routine patterns - in their lives and surroundings

  • They may start to gain a deeper ability to integrate the information they receive through their senses; they may begin to recognize how certain visual or auditory stimuli affect what they experience

  • Since their pattern recognition is improving, babies may start to predict and anticipate regularities in their lives such as feeding and bedtime routines

  • Their awareness of the world around them will increase even further, leading to them becoming even more responsive to stimulation such as faces and movements

  • As their understanding and awareness of patterns progresses, as does their sensitivity to these patterns, which can cause sleep disruptions since they're more alert, making them harder to settle down to sleep

Activities with baby

During Leap 2, you're likely to find that your baby is much more engaged with the world surrounding them, whether that means discovering how their hands work or starting to become curious about corners of their home they've never investigated before. Therefore, spending time playing with your baby and introducing them to new areas and stimuli is a great way to engage their new skills.


Leap 3: Smooth Transitions (Week 11)

Leap 3: Smooth Transitions (Week 11)

Leap 3, which occurs at around week 11, is all about your baby developing smooth transitions - that is, transitions between different states and activities, such as (importantly!) awake and asleep. The smoothing out of these transitions is all down to improvements in your baby's motor skills and control, as well as their ability to integrate sensory information, helping with their social and emotional development.

Signs of the third leap

  • Your baby may become much less fussy during changes in states, activities, or routines, as they improve at integrating and processing information received through their senses - this can result in them feeling and acting more content

  • They will start to gain greater control over their movements as their motor skills improve, which helps smooth transitions between different activities, or even just different positions

  • You might notice your baby's behavior and responses to environmental stimulation becoming more and more predictable, which helps out a lot when it comes to managing your daily routines

  • As your baby's transitions begin to smooth, they may start to find settling down to sleep easier and have a simpler time transitioning between sleep cycles, all of which can contribute to more restful sleep, which is a nice change of pace!

  • Your baby's daily rhythms and routines, including feeding and sleeping patterns, will become much more defined - this helps make their (and by extension, your) life more predictable by solidifying that sense of routine

  • During this leap, your baby might also become a little more responsive to social cues, interacting socially with you and other caregivers, and showing more recognition of familiar faces

Activities with baby

Because your baby has more control over their body from this point onward, Leap 3 is a great opportunity to introduce new games to your baby. From placing new toys to grab and suck on in their vicinity to bouncing and moving your baby in fun new ways, this is a very physical leap, and you can have a great time making the most of this change with your little one!


Leap 4: Events (Week 14)

Leap 4: Events (Week 14)

At around week 14 of your baby's life, they'll start to go through leap 4, in which they'll see significant developments in their ability to understand events that occur around them. In particular, their understanding of the concept of cause-and-effect relationships (how certain things happening cause other things to happen) will see quite an improvement.

Signs of the fourth leap

  • Your baby's understanding of cause-and-effect will greatly increase, especially regarding how their actions (or the actions of others) cause certain events to occur

  • Their ability to predict and anticipate events, particularly events that are part of routines such as feeding and bedtime, will improve even further

  • Their understanding and awareness of the world around them will also improve as they become more and more attuned to events and routines

  • Your baby's newfound understanding of cause-end-effect may result in their movements becoming more coordinated, purposeful, and intentional, whether they're reaching for and playing with toys, or just navigating their environment

  • As their understanding of cause-and-effect relationships improves, their memory will improve as well, resulting in them increasingly recognizing familiar events and routines

  • Their increased understanding of events will contribute to your baby's social development, so you may see them becoming more responsive to social interactions, and showing increased interest in engaging socially with others

  • Their understanding of events does have a downside though - as they are becoming more alert and spending more time processing and anticipating events, they may have a harder time settling down to sleep

Activities with baby

As babbling often begins or intensifies with Leap 4, it can be a great time to learn some new songs to sing to your baby - their new understanding of events means that they'll be able to recognise the pattern and sections of the song as a whole activity, and will have a lot of fun following along!


Leap 5: Relationships (Week 22)

Leap 5: Relationships (Week 22)

Leap 5 is focussed on relationships, and occurs at around the 22nd week of your baby's life. What this leap refers to specifically is how your baby will gain increased social awareness which will allow them a greater understanding of relationships.

Signs of the fifth leap

  • Increased social awareness is one of the hallmarks of this leap, which may result in your baby showing more interest in people around them, especially those they interact with frequently; they'll recognize and respond to familiar faces much more consistently

  • With your baby's increase in social awareness comes increased attachment to you and other caregivers - you might see them show more signs of attachment as well as seeking more comfort from you and other familiar faces

  • They might start to show a much wider range of emotions, becoming more and more expressive in their reactions to social stimuli - it's common to see more positive expressions such as laughing and smiling, but also some more negative expressions such as discomfort and distress

  • They may also start to explore social boundaries; one way they do this is by performing certain behaviors, such as playing peek-a-boo and reaching out for attention, to test out what kind of reactions they get

  • Changes to sleep are also common, with many babies experiencing more frequent nighttime awakenings, and changes in how long they sleep during naps

Activities with baby

The 'relationships' part of this leap doesn't just apply socially, but also to your baby's understanding of the relationships between objects - for instance, they might discover that they can place a ball into a bucket, or in front of it, or behind it! Therefore, this is a good time to bring out the toys and containers to allow your baby to explore these spatial relationships and develop their understanding further.


Leap 6: Categories (Week 33)

Leap 6: Categories (Week 33)

Leap 6, which occurs at around week 33, is all about categories and categorization. During this leap, your baby will experience developments in their categorization abilities, which can have knock-on effects in many different areas of their lives.

Signs of the sixth leap

  • Your baby may show an increased ability to understand and categorize objects based on information they receive through their senses, such as their visual characteristics - they will literally be categorizing them based on attributes such as the objects' similarities and differences

  • As their cognitive abilities continue to improve, they will start to develop more conceptual thinking; demonstrating an understanding of categories and their relationships shows they are beginning to grasp abstract concepts, which is a big step forward

  • Improvements in categorization often coincide with language development, so your baby might start to show their ability to describe and identify categorized objects with the aid of words

  • They might also begin to take part in more goal-directed, intentional activities and movements as they develop the ability to recognize relationships between objects, showing improvements to their problem-solving skills

  • Your baby might start to show an increased interest in order and sequences, which is often demonstrated by an increased enjoyment in activities that involve arranging objects or toys into a certain order, or by following a specific sequence of events

  • As their ability to categorize objects improves, your baby may begin to show preferences for specific toys or play activities that are aligned with certain categories that they have begun to understand

  • They may also begin to gain a greater appreciation for patterns in their environments, resulting in their exploration of the world around them becoming more purposeful and organized

  • Sleep changes are another common feature of this leap, as their increase in mental activity influences the length of time they sleep, as well as potentially influencing how much they dream during sleep

Activities with baby

Going along with the theme of categories, this is a good time to introduce your baby to a broader range of toys that vary in size, texture, color, weight and more. Let have have free reign here to categorize what's in front of them in whatever way they want to experiment!


Leap 7: Sequences (Week 41)

Leap 7: Sequences (Week 41)

The seventh leap occurs at around week 41 of your little one's life and is focused on sequences. At this stage in their development, they will be gaining a greater capacity to recognize and understand sequences of events, which they will demonstrate in numerous ways.

Signs of the seventh leap

  • In this leap, your baby will begin to have a much easier time recognizing and understanding sequences, patterns, and orders, further developing their grasp on cause-and-effect relationships and events happening in a certain order

  • Their increased understanding of sequences will make them even better at predicting and anticipating which event will come next in a series - especially with routines

  • Understanding sequences will also improve their problem-solving skills, so you may begin to see your little one applying their newfound understanding of order to solve slightly more advanced problems and challenges related to their play and navigation

  • Your baby may start to plan out and organize their activities and movements with a little more purpose thanks to their improved cognitive abilities in this leap

  • This leap is also associated with further advancements in babies' development of language and as such they may begin to use words to describe the order of events or sequences of events they witness or experience

  • They may also begin to find more interest and enjoyment in repetitive activities that involve sequences such as games and routines

  • Your baby's sleep patterns may also change similarly to the sixth leap, with variations in sleep duration, or more active dreaming

Activities with baby

At this point, your baby will be gaining a lot more independence as they can now recognize the sequences required to undertake certain tasks. So give them the (supervised) freedom to take sequences on by themselves - for instance, you could let them feed themselves soft foods at this stage to help them get the hang of lifting and guiding a spoon from a bowl to their mouth (just remember to put down some sheets for an easier cleanup!)


Leap 8: Programs (Week 51)

Leap 8: Programs (Week 51)

At around week 51 of your baby's life, they'll start to go through leap 8, which also coincides with their first birthday! Now that they're a toddler their brain turns to programs - as they gain a greater understanding of sequences, eventually, they will learn to see a sequence as a whole, single program that is used to accomplish end goals.

Signs of the eighth leap

  • They will begin to perceive sequences and sets of ordered actions as one single thing, a program, as opposed to a series of random events - a good example of this is that they may start to see washing clothes, drying them, folding them, and putting them away as one whole program: doing laundry

  • Your baby will start to understand that programs are used to accomplish certain tasks and end goals, and will use this understanding to partake in more tasks

  • They will be even more inclined to join you and other caregivers as you take part in your own programs around the house - doing chores can now be seen as part of playtime, so use that to your advantage

  • They'll also start to understand that different end goals can be achieved in different ways using slightly different programs

  • Sleep disruptions will continue as many babies in this leap start to have nightmares and as such require more comfort and support, particularly to fend off separation anxiety

Activities with baby

Now that your little one is officially a toddler, you'll find that they're less vulnerable and much more willing to throw themselves into new tasks and situations - so try integrating that into your own daily routine! For instance, toddlers often enjoy getting involved with the 'program' of a chore, so let them help you with tasks like doing the dishes and tidying up toys.


Leap 9: Principles (Week 59)

Leap 9: Principles (Week 59)

Principles are the focus of the ninth leap, which occurs at around week 59 of the Wonder Weeks. This is another fairly abstract concept, but essentially it's just a logical progression from the eighth leap; as your baby gets more experienced partaking in the programs they understand and even start to create, you'll have an easier time understanding their intentions as their thoughts and actions start being influenced by principles of the world.

Signs of the ninth leap

  • Your baby's understanding of programs will develop into an understanding of the principles of the world

  • They will continue to copy your programs and will also start to create their own programs, altering them to achieve different end goals

  • You might find them copying your own actions a lot more than before, so be sure to take extra care in what you do around them!

  • You'll start to see more logic and reason behind their thoughts processes as they partake in these programs

  • They will start to demonstrate the ability to plan ahead, as well as beginning to consider what might happen if they make certain actions - this is what is meant by acting based on principles and understanding, they start to understand think about consequences

  • Your little one will also start to strategize based on what they think might happen, especially if they want something in particular such as a sweet treat or a cuddle

  • Their language abilities will improve even further at this stage, coinciding with their understanding of principles

Activities with baby

A better understanding of the principles that make up the world around them means that now is a good time to start imparting life lessons onto your toddler - they're old enough to start to understand what's right and wrong (or at least nice and not so nice), so try to engage with them on a more intellectual and social level during this week.


Leap 10: Systems (Week 70)

Leap 10: Systems (Week 70)

Leap 10, the final currently identified leap, is focussed on systems, and occurs at around the 70th Wonder Week. Once again, this is quite an abstract concept but is also a logical progression from the previous leap. After beginning to act based on principles to strategize and test out different programs, your little one is ready to leap into the more complex world of systems behind the principles.

Signs of the tenth leap

  • Your little one's awareness, both of themself and of the wider world around them, will reach a point where they can apply their understanding of principles a lot more smoothly than before, as their understanding of the systems of the world increases

  • One system in particular that they will begin to understand a lot more at this stage is time, and how time affects what they experience

  • Their increased self-awareness will also allow them a greater understanding of people as distinct individuals - they'll start to appreciate the differences and similarities between people

  • This also extends to objects - they may start to treat toys and other things as being much more distinct than before

  • They'll start to behave a lot more maturely than before and will be desperate to try to accomplish tasks all by themselves

  • This leap will also bring a lot more copycat behavior as your baby imitates you and other caregivers as much as they can to further increase their understanding of systems

Activities with baby

The final leap is where your little one really starts to shine as an individual, so let them engage with lots of toys, books and music to help them discover the kind of person they are! You might find that they respond differently to old items and media, so don't forget to bring out old forgotten toys, as they might just find a surprising new favorite.

Helping your baby self soothe

Helping your babies self-soothe with Zen One swaddle

As we've established, while every leap is an exciting time for parents and babies alike, they can have a real impact on baby sleep schedules and patterns, leading them to wake up through the night and have trouble falling asleep. It's best to start with simple solutions like a consistent bedtime routine, a calming sleep environment, and our own soothing Zen Sleepwear.

All equipped with gently weighted Cuddle Pads to mimic your calming touch, we have Zen Sleepwear to suit babies at every leap. From the Zen Neo swaddle pod for newborns entering Leap 1 to the transitional Zen One that can go from swaddle to sleep sack with a few adjustments, and our Zen Sack that's perfect for babies in later leaps, we have sleepwear for every sleep need! Learn more on how to prepare for sleep through mental leaps.

Conclusion: Learn your leaps!

From an early age, your baby experiences all kinds of changes, and the leaps of Wonder Weeks can be a useful way of making sense of these developmental advancements. Though it can be stressful when your baby wakes in the night or is resisting bedtime during a leap, remember that it's just temporary, and the rewards of this fussy period endlessly outweigh the downsides in the long run!

Getting to know your leaps means that you can be prepared for these trickier periods when your baby sleeps less than you might hope - by staying aware of their development, you can better address their sleep needs, and achieve uninterrupted comfort and rest for your whole family.

Athena S.

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