Understanding your baby
As a parent, getting to know your new baby takes time. By watching their signals and cues you can begin to work out what they need, like and don’t like. Through this “baby watching” you can get to know what their sleep and wake states are.
A newborn baby has what specialists call “six states of consciousness”. These ‘baby states’ include
- two sleep states
- three wake states
- one transitional state
Knowing which state your baby is in will help you to support them in making an easy transition from one state to the other. For example, rocking your baby when they cry is helping them move to a sleep state.
This is also called “deep sleep” and happens when babies are completely relaxed. They might
- lie on their back with their hands by the side of their head
- keep their eyelids closed and still
- not react to any noise
- stir a little but return to deep sleep
Your newborn baby may alternate between quiet and active sleep every 30 minutes and this is part of the natural sleep cycle.
During “active sleep,” sudden noises can startle your baby awake.
You might notice their:
- eyes move under closed lids, flutter open and close again
- mouth sucking or chewing
- face moving and they look like they are in pain
- arms and legs twitch
All of this can quickly change back to normal sleep again.
Babies in the “quiet alert” state are ready to communicate.
- make few small movements, if any
- have their eyes open wide
- look at your face
- copy your facial expressions
Babies may seem serious in this state, but they are actually busy learning about the world around them.
Babies move more vigorously during this state.
- throw their arms and kick their legs
- look around
- make small noises
- breathe less regularly
This reinforces the connection between your baby’s brain and body muscles.
Babies cry when they need help with something.
They may be:
- thirsty or hungry
- not feeling well
- uncomfortable or frustrated
- tired or lonely
- overstimulated, e.g. being in a noisy, busy environment
Baby specialists suggest that picking up your new-born within 90 seconds after they start crying may switch them to the “quiet alert” state. Ignoring your baby will often result in greater distress. Babies may begin to learn that when they cry no one comes to help and not to stop crying at all.
Drowsiness occurs as a transition between the alert and sleep states when your baby wakes up or falls asleep.
- make a few movements
- change their faces from scowling to smiling
- drop their eyelids or have a glazed, unfocused look
Gently soothing your baby asleep or saying a quiet hello will support them into their next state.
When it’s all too much
Your baby can move quickly from enjoying chatting to feeling overwhelmed and tired. Concentrating is hard work for babies!
Some initial signs of overstimulation are:
- looking away
- sneezing, hiccupping or yawning
- bringing up a little milk
- becoming pale or motley
Other children and adults are not always sensitive to this. They might try to tickle their tummy or grab their hand and your baby may start squirming, turning away and looking for you.
Most people are just inexperienced with reading your baby and you can try and help them along so they get to know them better.
When it’s too little
Your baby may have a quiet temperament and not make many demands on your time; perhaps they have older siblings and are used to waiting.
They may need a little extra support in learning to play:
- watch them to learn what they like and respond to
- give lots of cuddles and body contact
- spend time making eye contact
- let them just to look at your face, smile and talk gently
- sing to them and respond to their reactions
Feedback from our patients
Great reassurance for a first time mum.
The team members were very professional in their approach, and helped the baby and me to feel comfortable.