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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.

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Awake

Drowsy

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Sleeping

Fussy


They are:

  • Quiet sleep. During this kind of sleep your baby is still and breathes slowly and deeply. It is hard to wake him from this level of sleep.
    If you need to wake him for a feeding, wait until he moves to lighter sleep. He 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 his 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.
  • Drowsiness. 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.
  • Tip

    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.
  • Quiet alert. This is the state in which your baby is ready to interact with you and the world. This is the time to play with him. You can tell the quiet alert state by his quiet body and bright, focused eyes.
    He 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.
  • Crying. 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 him crying. Many times babies cry because they are hungry. However, crying is a late sign of hunger. See here for earlier signs of hunger.

Temperament

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.

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.

How to get off to a good start

banding on mom

The banding can be done during skin-to-skin contact.

skin-to-skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact helps encourage breastfeeding and helps forge a bond.

Cuddling skin-to-skin with your baby

The first hour with your baby is a special time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the first hour of a baby’s life is spent with uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with mom.

Cuddling skin-to-skin has many benefits:

  • encourages breastfeeding
  • helps regulate your baby’s temperature and blood glucose
  • helps create an emotional bond
  • keeps baby warm
  • reduces crying

Routine medical care can be done while your baby cuddles with you. Some care can wait and be done at a later time.

Your support person can hold and bond with your baby skin-to-skin too. It is a wonderful way to be a special part of your new baby’s life.

Create a birth plan that includes skin-to-skin contact during the first hour after birth. Be sure to include a back-up person to provide skin-to-skin contact if you are unavailable.

Watch your baby’s feeding cues

Your baby will give you cues when she is hungry:

  • squirms or has rapid eye movement while the eyes are closed
  • Tip

    You are encouraged to hold your baby skin-to-skin as often as you can in the hours and weeks to come.

  • roots or turns her head when her cheek is stroked
  • opens her mouth and searches
  • smacks her lips
  • makes sucking movements
  • puts her hand in her mouth
  • cries (the last cue)

Having your baby stay in your room will make it easier to watch for the following feeding cues.


 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition

To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."

First published: 02/01/2010
Last updated: 01/01/2014

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic