Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators: Could Emojis Help Teach Infant Sleep Cues?

babe sleep cues.jpgThis month’s Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators post pertains to infant sleep and recognizing sleep cues. Serena O’Dwyer, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and the Director of Education at Pregnancy Resource Center, in Everett, WA shares an activity that she uses to teach about this topic. Many new families often feel unprepared to recognize and help their baby build healthy sleep habits.  Additionally, how their baby sleeps has significant impact on their own ability to get adequate sleep, especially during the period that we call the “fourth trimester” - that first 12 weeks or so.  Childbirth educators can help families recognize the sleep cues that their infant may be sending them in this fun classroom activity sure to connect with birthing Millennial families.  You can find all the Brilliant Activities for Birth Activities by clicking here. - Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager


I was looking at images of babies in various stages of tiredness for the sleep cues section of my teaching slides, when I received a text: “I’m so tired! ;0”  Instead of responding by unhelpfully pointing out that this new parent had missed her window for adequate sleep since it was now 1:00 am, I decided to use her emoticon to express what “tired” looks like in a baby. Most people speak fluent “Emoticon,” but reading baby cues is a new skill that is helpful for parents to learn.

When to do the activity

I like to conduct this activity when I plan to talk about newborn behaviors and newborn care.  You can also work it into the section on the postpartum period and adapting to life with a newborn.

Materials needed

First, print and cut out in the shape of a circle, the emoticon faces and the corresponding cues. Then, after placing appropriate face and cue back to back, laminate. (Or discard cues if you prefer not to use them.) Use sticky putty to attach to white board or wall.

Adhere the sleeping face to the top of the white board, ask the class how they will know when their baby is ready to sleep.


Pass out an emoji to each family and inform them that they will create a timeline of wakefulness to over-tiredness.

Discuss the wakeful/alert phase. Ask who has a face that might represent this wake/alert phasel; the heart eyed emoji is placed at the start.

Once the wakeful/alert emoji is on the board, encourage the other families  to finish the timeline, placing their own emoji someplace in line in relation to the others. While there is no hard and fast rule as to what order they go in, I use color progression in the cues on the back of the images to express an escalation of tiredness in the baby. (Green to red.)

When all the images are placed on the board, facilitate a group discussion on how a baby might act based on the emoticon. “While baby may have been soul-gazing into your eyes while cooing two minutes ago, maybe now she is more interested in the space to your right, despite the funny face and sound you are making for her entertainment.” Discuss the different cues that parents and caregivers might observe that provide valuable information about what the baby needs and how urgent it is.

Taking the sleeping emoji from the top, ask the class when the most ideal time to put a baby down to sleep would be. Move the sleeping emoji through the line and address how much harder it is to fall asleep in the escalated states represented by the other emoji.

It’s safe to say that real babies, doing real baby things, would be the most accurate way sleepiness plays out. As this is not possible in classrooms, this activity  is a fun and quick way to get a laugh and to show new parents that their babies will have multiple signals to show tiredness. They also already know what kind of stimuli, or lack thereof, that they themselves would prefer in such a state. Because infant communication is so important, sharing videos of ALL the infant cues can help parents feel more equipped to understand their new baby.  An extensive compilation of infant cues can be found on YouTube in the video “Newborn Cues: What is your baby trying to say to you?” created by childbirth educator Janelle Durham. Here, families can see babies communicating with their parents. Consider linking to this video and the great Infant Sleep Information Source when offering follow-up resources to to help your families recognize and understand what their baby is telling them.

Family Reactions

Millennials feel that a well-placed emoji is better than a bunch of unnecessary words.  Using emojis in class appeals to these families and creates a fun and lighthearted learning activity to demonstrate how to best understand the cues their baby is sending out in regards to their need to sleep.  Parents have enjoyed this activity and also leave feeling more confident about supporting their new babies, and possibly getting more sleep themselves.


This activity is a low cost, fun and effective way to discuss infant cues in regards to sleep versus wake/alert states All you need is provided here and you are ready to give it a try in your own classroom. Do you see yourself doing this activity in your classes?  Do you think you might modify this for your own classes? How?  Do you use a different activity to teach this information? Do Let us know your ideas, suggestions and feedback in the comments below.

About Serena O’Dwyer

serena odwyer head shot.jpgSerena O’Dwyer is the Director of Education for Pregnancy Resource Center in Everett, Washington.  As a  volunteer instructor, she has taught free childbirth classes to hundreds of families in her community. She is currently teaching the class series, Expecting Your Miracle for Teens and is passionate about empowering young families. Serena received her first childbirth educator training through ICEA in 2007 and then from Lamaze International/Passion for Birth, in 2011.  She is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.  Serena is also a birth doula at Serene Doulas.  She can be reached at


So brilliant!

July 26, 2016 05:31 AM by Chevy Geach

Love this idea! As a millennial myself I know this would hold my attention for the duration of the activity because of the light hearted and fun approach to this important information. Will be using this in teaching my first solo birthing class, thank you!

Such a fabulous idea!

August 1, 2016 01:21 PM by Victoria

I think this is SUCH a creative idea. I totally love it. I can really see this being interactive and fun; but also memorable. I imagine whenever mom or dad sees a particular Emoji, it will remind them of what they learned and help them bond with their baby. 

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