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Your baby's behavior

  • States

    Your baby is more than just asleep or awake. Your baby has six states or levels of being awake or asleep. You can recognize these states by your baby's behavior.

    a baby in quiet sleep state

    Quiet sleep

    During this kind of sleep your baby is still and breathes slowly and deeply.

    It is hard to wake your baby from this level of sleep. If you need to wake your baby for a feeding, wait until he moves to lighter sleep.

    Your baby is in this level of deep sleep for only about 30 minutes at a time.

    Active sleep

    When your baby is at this level of sleep, he may have bursts of sucking, make faces or little sounds, and breathe less evenly than in quiet sleep.

    You may also see your baby's eyes moving under his eyelids. This activity can make you think your baby is awake. If you don't need to wake your baby, let him stay in active sleep. He may drift back into quiet sleep after about 30 to 60 minutes.

    a baby in a drowsy state


    This is the state between being asleep and awake.

    Your baby will open and close his eyes, yawn, and stretch.

    His eyes will look dull and not well focused.

    Quiet alert

    a baby in quiet alert state looks content

    This is the state in which your baby is ready to interact with you and the world. This is the time to play with your baby.

    You can tell the quiet alert state by your baby's quiet body and bright, focused eyes. Your baby will focus all his attention on you, especially your face. He may imitate your expressions and even reach out to touch your face.

    Newborns can stay focused like this for only a few minutes at a time.

    Active alert

    In this state your baby becomes more physically active and less focused than in the quiet alert state. He may also start to fuss. This is a sign that your baby needs a change. It can mean that he is getting tired or that he is getting hungry.

    In only a few weeks you will figure out when your baby starts to fuss what will help calm him. You will learn this by trying different things and finding what works best.

    a fussy baby cries


    This is the state your baby uses to let you know he needs something. This state can follow the active alert or active sleep states.

    Picking up your baby may be enough to stop his crying.

    Many times babies cry because they are hungry. However, crying is a late sign of hunger.


    You may be surprised by how noisy your baby can be. Your baby will:

    • sneeze, which helps clear his nose
    • hiccup, which often happens after eating or too much stimulation
    • breathe noisily, which is not a concern unless his skin turns blue
    • gag, burp and pass gas.


    Temperament describes how a person responds to the world. You will see some aspects of your baby's temperament right from birth. Others will unfold as your baby grows.

    Some babies have a sunny temperament and move smoothly between states. Other babies are more easily overwhelmed and find it hard to settle.

    mom massages baby's back

    Massage can stimulate physical, brain and sensory development. It also improves circulation and boosts the immune system.

    As you learn how your baby responds to situations, you will adjust how you provide care. You will soon discover how your baby likes to be carried and what kind of rocking is soothing.

    If you already have a child, you may be amazed by how different your new baby's temperament is. This baby may feed more eagerly or need more holding before falling asleep. You will spend time in the first weeks after birth learning how to best take care of this baby.

    It is common for babies to sleep a lot the first two or three days after they are born. They take this time to recover from the stresses of birth. This sleepiness can hide some aspects of temperament.

    Attachment is the process where the baby has learned to trust the parent(s) through consistent, predictable, nurturing care. Most parents say that taking care of their baby helps them feel closer to their baby. You can't spoil your baby with love and attention.

    Talk with your baby's health care provider about any questions or concerns you have about responding to your baby.

    Caring for your crying baby

    Baby lies on back while leg is massaged.

    Massage is a way to connect with your baby after work or daycare.

    Crying is your baby's way of telling you she needs some help. She is trying to tell you she is hungry, tired, cold, hot, uncomfortable, bored, or lonesome.

    You may feel you are not being a good parent because you can't figure out what your baby wants right away. However, you are being a good parent by trying different things.

    As your baby gets older you will be better able to figure out what she needs. She will also begin to cry less as she learns you will respond to her cries.

    At times you may feel overwhelmed by your baby's crying. That can make you want to cry.

    It can also be frustrating that what works one time to settle your baby may not work the next. Try the things that have worked before, one at a time. Then try some of the ideas from the list below.


    You can't spoil your baby by meeting her needs. You are helping her feel secure and loved.

    In fact, babies who are carried and attended to quickly cry less than babies who only get attention when they cry.

    Massage can help calm and relax babies. Consider taking an infant massage class.

    When your baby cries, try to figure out her cues.

    • Is your baby tired, hungry, in pain, bored or overwhelmed?
    • Try feeding, burping, changing her diaper, adding clothes for warmth or taking them off if your baby is too warm.

    If your baby still cries, try:

    • calming techniques:
      • changing positions
      • swaddling (securely wrapping your baby in a receiving blanket)
      • offering the breast for "comfort" sucking
      • offering a pacifier
      • cuddling
    • adding sound:
      • talking
      • singing
      • playing a music box, radio, or CD
      • turning on a constant, droning sound like a fan, vacuum cleaner or hair dryer
    • adding movement:
      • rocking in your arms or across your lap
      • rocking with you in a chair or in an infant swing (Newborns often prefer moving side-to-side in a rocking cradle rather than forward and back in a chair swing.)
      • carrying your baby in a front carrier
      • dancing to music
    • adding a change of scenery:
      • walking around the room
      • taking a walk in a stroller
      • taking a drive in the car
      • taking your baby out of a room filled with people and into a quiet, private place to offer comfort

    Sometimes babies have pent-up energy and cry to get rid of it.

    If nothing seems to be working, try placing your baby on her back in the crib. See if she can settle herself.

    Check on your baby every five to 10 minutes. If she hasn't settled in 25 minutes, offer a feeding and start the settling process over again. Consider asking a family member or friend to hold your baby and try to settle her.


    The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advises that parents be cautious when using infant slings for babies younger than 4 months old.

    A baby can stop breathing and die if his face is covered, if the baby is hunched with his chin touching his chest, if the baby is too low, or the baby's face is pressed tight against the fabric of the sling.

    While your baby tries to settle, you can:

    • Try to relax yourself. Breathe deeply or do your relaxation breathing.
    • Listen to music that is relaxing to you. It might help your baby, too.
    • Remember that you are learning about each other. What you are learning now may help you next time.

    If you find yourself getting angry or feeling overwhelmed:

    • Put your baby safely in her crib. Go to another room for five to 10 minutes.
    • Ask for help from your partner, a relative, or friend.
    • Or, call a crisis nursery located near you, or contact the Crisis Connection (

    Shaken baby syndrome

    When a caregiver becomes frustrated, upset or angry at a crying baby, he or she may lose control and try shaking a baby to get him to calm down.

    Shaken baby syndrome is a type of brain injury caused by violently shaking a baby. Shaking causes a baby's brain to bounce back and forth in the skull.


    Don't ever shake your baby to try to quiet crying. Call 911 if you think a caregiver is abusing your baby.

    Shaking a baby - even for as little as five seconds - can cause:

    • brain damage/swelling
    • bleeding in the brain
    • bleeding in the eyes/blindness
    • spinal cord and neck damage
    • broken ribs and bones
    • disabilities such as cerebral palsy
    • death

    Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome depend on how hard the baby was shaken and for how long. Symptoms include:

    • extreme irritability
    • lethargy
    • poor feeding
    • breathing problems
    • convulsions
    • vomiting
    • pale or bluish skin

    Safe play

    You cannot cause shaken baby syndrome by gently bouncing your baby, playfully tossing him in the air, jogging with him, or putting him in a bouncer, swing or other motion-type of baby equipment.

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This site is presented for information only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Allina Health®, Allina®, the Allina Health logo, and Medformation® are registered trademarks of Allina Health System. Presentation and Design ©2015 Allina Health. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED