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Ever watched a sleeping baby and thought that behind those peaceful brows their brain was processing information? No, me either.

I loved to watch my sleeping babies and enjoy their cuteness without any demands on me. It never occurred to me in these moments that their brains were processing their daily learning as they slept. Everything is new for a baby. With each new experience, their brains have the job of organizing and categorizing all that information. It is thought that sleep is integral to this process.

This study found that 6 to 8-month-old babies were able to create a meaning for a word, but only after they'd had a nap. Creating meaning for a word was previously only thought possible in older children and adults.

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The researchers exposed 6 to 8-month-old infants to fictitious objects, which they gave made-up names such as “Bofel" or “Zuser." Objects that were similar but not the same were all called a “Bofel" or “Zuser" accordingly. The researchers used fictitious objects to make sure the babies could not use their preexisting knowledge in the tests.

After the first learning phase in the morning, the babies' brain responses showed that they did not recognize a new Bofel as a “Bofel," although it was quite similar to the previously seen Bofel versions.

When tested again, after their nap, babies' brains were able to differentiate between the right and wrong name for a new object. The babies could see the commonalities between the similar pairs, known as generalization.

It seems that babies had generalized their knowledge during their sleep, because babies that stayed awake during their nap were still unable to generalize their learning.

The amount and quality of the learning was dependent on the amount of sleep they got in their nap. Babies who slept for about 50 minutes showed a brain response called the N400 component that indicated to the researchers they had created meanings for the words. The N400 component is also found when older children and adults learn a meaning for a word.

Babies that slept 30 minutes or less, however, were only able to filter out the similar features of the contexts and link them to the sound of the word. They had not created a meaning for the word.

“Our results show that infants can form long-term memory for word meanings much earlier than previously thought. Even though the brain structures that are relevant for this type of memory are not fully matured, they can already be used to a certain extent," explains Angela D. Friederici, senior author of the study.

The researchers say that one particular stage of sleep is responsible for the memory of word meaning. This is the second of the four sleep stages. This stage of light sleep allows the transition from simple early learning, like that seen in the babies who napped for 30 minutes, to an advanced form of memory as seen in the babies who napped for 50 minutes.

Compared to other types of development which can take months, this learning is happening in a matter of minutes, leading the researchers to deduce that language development appears to occur in “fast motion" during sleep.

“In our study, however, infants were exposed to a large amount of information within a narrow time frame, which they normally experience over a much longer period of time," study leader Manuela Friedrich adds.

“But only during sleep, when the infant brain is isolated from the surrounding world, can it extract and save relations incorporated in this information. And only the interaction of an alert state of experiencing the environment with the offline state of sleep, in which experiences are organized and stored, enables early cognitive and language development."

Next time you see a sweet sleeping bundle, think about all the development that's going on inside that brain. All the words and activities you shared with them that morning are being categorized and developing meaning. It just goes to show that babies are amazing, even when they sleep.

Back when my husband and I were creating our wedding registry, it was a fun, low-pressure opportunity to select some new dishes and linens. After all, I knew a thing or two about stocking my home and making the "wrong decision" with thread count was the only thing that posed any risk to my sleep at night.

Fast-forward a few years to when I created a baby registry before the birth of my first child—and I found the experience to have a much steeper learning curve. Unlike those sheets, it felt like a bad swaddle or bassinet selection would be catastrophic. Unsure of what to expect from motherhood or my baby, I leaned heavily on advice from friends who already ventured into parenthood. (Starting with their reminders to take deep breaths!)

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Now a mom of three little ones under the age of four, I'm happy to be in a position to pass along some baby registry wisdom.

Go shopping with a veteran parent

As first-time parents, my husband and I barely knew the difference between a bouncer and a swing, let alone what specific features we would want. So when a mom friend recommended we head to Walmart to build my registry together—because she found them to carry the trendy brands she loved AND make registering a breeze during her pregnancy—I leapt at the chance.

By walking through the aisles together and actually getting to see the products, I was much more confident in my registry selections. Thanks to that quick, in-store tutorial from my friend, I understood exactly how to match a perfect infant car seat with an extra base and stroller—which is something I would have been clueless about on my own.

Include items at a variety of price points

When it comes down to it, a registry is really a wish list. So, while I had a personal budget for a stroller if it had to come out of my own pocket, this was an opportunity for me to ask for the stroller of my dreams. And, wouldn't you know it? A few family members went in on it together, which made a bigger price tag much more manageable.

At the same time, it's nice to include some of the smaller ticket items that are absolutely essential. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I was to skip buying my own diapers for those first few weeks. (With super cute patterns, these are also surprisingly fun to give, too!)

Think about the gifts you would like to give

The first time I bought a mom-to-be a gift after my own child was born, I knew immediately what to look for on her registry: a diaper bag backpack, which I had come to have very strong opinions about after battling falling straps with my first diaper bag. This allowed me to feel like I had a personal touch in my gift, even if I brought one pre-selected by her.

I also appreciate it when my friends clearly incorporate their style into their registry choices, like with adorable baby outfits or nursery decor—and there's no sweeter "thank you" than a picture from a friend showing your gift in use.

Ask for things to grow with your child

Even though it's called a baby registry, there's no need to limit yourself to gifts to use before their first birthday. (To this day, I still have people who attended my baby shower to thank for the convertible bed that my oldest child sleeps in!) Knowing that, I would have included more options with long lifespans into my registry—namely, a baby carrier that can be used during the newborn months, baby months and well into the toddler years. A well-designed baby carrier would have saved my back from serious pain because it would have allowed me to comfortably and ergonomically carry my toddler as she made her way into the 25lb+ club. One brand that's designed to grow with your baby and accommodates 7-45 pounds (up to about four years old) and offers both inward and forward-facing positions is Ergobaby. With several different design and style options, you can easily find one that caters to your parenting needs. From an all-in-one carrier, like the Omni 360, that grows with baby from the newborn stages into the toddler years or a newborn-specific carrier, like the Embrace (and don't worry you can later upgrade to a carrier for an older baby, I recommend the 360 Carrier). The best part? All ergonomic designs are supportive and comfortable for both baby and parent, offering extra lumbar support with breathable, lightweight mesh styles. Everyone (even grandparents!) can get a kick out of babywearing, which is a nice and welcomed break for parents. Having one of these on my registry would have certainly made those first few years so much easier.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

This article was sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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