Babies : Behaviour
Updated: Feb 5
Once your newborn has reached 3 months old, they are considered to be a baby, and understanding their behaviours and temperament will become clearer as they develop their communication.
At first there’s one thing that baby will understand from the get-go – if they cry, you will be there. The amount your baby cries is individual, some are criers, and other (lucky!) parents have quiet babies, it is really a unique behaviour. Opinions differ on responding to all cries and whether it is possible to tend to or spoil your newborn too much. Studies suggest that if you respond to your child’s cries quickly they may cry less often, as they feel that they are cared for.
So why do they cry? Remember that we cry for many different reasons. We cry when we are sad or stressed of course, but we also cry from relief, elation, joy etc. We do this as a way to release our emotions, even though we also may have dialogue to express our thoughts and feelings. Babies use their tears for many more reasons. It is their primary way to communicate, and also their way to prompt you to respond. Their cries will vary, and many parents will be able to recognise certain cries – those which mean I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m in pain, I’m being fussy all may sound different and unique to you. It’s common for baby’s cries to even trigger milk flow in a woman’s breasts – which goes to show just how amazing and powerful those little lungs really are!
There are some basic things you may look for when your baby cries. It helps to go through these possibilities to try and understand why your baby is bawling.
Does your baby need comfort? Try holding your baby, gentle rocking, patting their bottoms, making soothing sounds and snuggling them close.
Is your baby hungry? Consider when you last fed, if it was within the past hour or two then it could be other factors aside from hunger. Mothers tend to be moved to “comfort feed” which is fine from time to time but remember all babies need routine and if they know they can be fed any time they like it may become tiring and disruptive for you.
Does your baby have a dirty nappy or rash? Babies commonly cry when their nappy is dirty or when they have a stinging or burning nappy rash. The best way to overcome rashes is by rinsing the rash site gently in warm clean water and applying a soothing nappy rash cream.
Does your baby have wind or need to burp? Prop her upright either on your lap with your hand cradling her chest/chin, or up on your shoulder with a burping cloth draped over your back, and give her a nice back rub or a firmer pat depending on how she likes to be burped.
Is your baby comfortable? Check your baby’s temperature, if she seems too hot or cold you may need to adjust her clothing or bedding to suit the temperature. Also check that your baby’s clothes are positioned correctly, and the garments are not pinching or too tight.
Is your baby overtired? If she is due for a nap or hasn’t been sleeping well, she can become upset or ‘grizzly’ due to extreme tiredness, yet she is fighting it and won’t seem to settle. Try wrapping her securely in a swaddle and putting her down in a quiet dimly lit room for some peaceful rest.
Is your baby in the right environment? You may find conditions may not be what your baby is used to or prefers, and so they may become agitated and upset. This is unavoidable at times, so wherever you are, try and find a space that has minimal stimulation.
Is your baby sick? Its hard not to think of this first but try to remember that crying is the only way for a baby to communicate, so it doesn’t always mean they are uncomfortable or ill. Take your baby’s temperature if you are worried and talk to your healthcare provider with any concerns.
Do YOU need time out? Babies are like little sponges. They absorb their world from the first day, and as parents are the ones who baby relies on for everything, they will naturally pick up on your emotions and behaviours. If you are overtired, hungry, stressed or upset yourself, then your little baby may very well become agitated too. Just remember a baby does not get injured or hurt if you just need to put her down securely in her crib and spend just a few minutes centring yourself in another room of the house. You will return to your baby after a few minutes of time out, refreshed, and ready to take on the tears again!
What to do if your Baby’s still crying
Full tummy? Check. Clean nappy? Check. Fever-free? Check.
So why is your baby crying? Babies have their own good reasons, but even the wisest parents can't read their babies' mind. If your baby is crying and there appears to be no way to console them read more about inconsolable crying
Sleeping & Feeding
Your days as a new parent are spent adapting to your new babies sleeping and feeding routines.
Your new baby will sleep – a lot. He will generally wake himself up for feeds every few hours, but some parents need to wake their babies for feeds, if they are good sleepers. It is unlikely that he will sleep through the night, especially during the first week or so. Your newborn will require feeding every 2 – 4 hours and have around 8-12 feeds within a 24hour period.
Breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation as the most beneficial source of nutrition for your baby, however some women find they aren’t able to breastfeed, or some choose to bottle (formula) feed, and there are excellent alternative formulas which provide the recommended nutritional needs for new babies.
There are different positions in which you can feed your baby, whether by breast or bottle, and you will start to discover which positions both you and your baby prefers.
* These are general guidelines and always consult your Healthcare Professional with any queries or concerns you may have.
Aside from crying to express their needs, babies will develop their own distinguishable body language. Your baby may be starting to grasp things in a reflex movement, and may startle at sudden noises. During sleep your Newborn may jerk or move in short little bursts, hence the reason many parents swaddle their Newborns and Babies to limit their night-time movement, which often leads to them waking themselves up (and in turn, waking mum and dad too!). See our tips for Swaddling here.
Some common behaviours and movements of newborns:
Yawns/Balled fist to eyes – tired or sleepy blinking “I’m tired”
Open and Closing Mouth or making sucking sounds “I’m hungry”
Wide open eyes and alert face “I’m ready to play”
Head turned away or body arched “I don’t want this”
These physical signs can indicate your baby’s feelings or needs. You may start to recognise this body language and form a routine based around it – such as sleep, feed, play etc in accordance with how your baby reacts using their movements and facial features.
You will start to notice your baby trying to look and focus on different objects or people. In these early stages your newborn may not be able to discern between particular images or shapes, but they will recognise certain facial features and of course, voices. Studies show babies are able to tell certain people apart by the time they are 8weeks old. Naturally babies will respond differently to different people, according to their relationship with that person. There is evidence of babies smiling within the first few months - there are mixed views on this, some parents swear their baby is smiling at them, studies suggest they may be pulling facial expressions due to wind or discomfort. However you want to interpret it, when your baby eventually smiles at you, it will be a sight to behold.
Your baby has been listening to you talk from inside your womb, and it is thought that they recognise their mother and fathers voices immediately upon birth. During the early weeks it is likely your baby will begin to turn their little head to the sound of your voice.
Your baby’s behaviour may alter when in the company of others aside from his/her parents, or in unfamiliar surroundings. This is natural as newborns in particular are easily overstimulated and find comfort in the familiar and in routine. It is normal for friends and family to want to meet, hold and cuddle your new baby, so just watch your babies reactions – if she becomes overstimulated and becomes fussy or upset then perhaps taking her to a quiet space to calm and reassure her will help. It is fine for a new baby to become accustomed to other people, as the older they grow the more people they will meet, so there’s no harm in starting early! Just be mindful and watch for any changes in their behaviours and respond in however way you feel is right.
Your baby is developing expectations, and is learning how to react when those expectations are or are not met. They may develop an attachment to certain things or people, and it is common to notice your baby has favourite people, usually mum and/or dad. Your baby’s behaviour may alter when you leave the room, or when left in the company of someone unfamiliar. Don’t worry, ‘Separation Anxiety’ is a very normal behaviour for babies to develop, and every baby has the chance of developing this fear. With constant reassurance upon your return that you are back and that your baby is loved and has not been abandoned, this should be able to be overcome, or at least managed to the best of your abilities.
Your baby’s communication is really starting to develop between the ages of 3 and 12 months.
3-6 Months: your baby will begin to develop two-way communication. They are able to focus more closely on your voice and facial expressions. If you smile at a baby, they will often smile back. If you frown at a baby, more often than not they will become upset.
6-9Months: Your baby is developing both positive and negative emotions. They are beginning to become interested in three-way communication – communication which involves a third person or is about someone or something else. Your baby may also be becoming quite vocal aside from crying. Noise behaviours such Babbling, cooing and making sounds and gestures, as well as smiles and frowns are all part of their natural behavioural development.
9-12 Months: Your baby’s memory is improving. They are developing an even stronger attachment to specific people or things, and they will react accordingly. This is also the time where their babbling and basic sounds may begin to form into words.
During this period, your baby will be gauging reactions to his/her actions. Behaviours such as dropping her bottle on the floor, pinching or pulling your hair etc is just her way of testing you and your reactions, to see whether she is doing the right or wrong thing. Your baby will be absorbing your behaviours as well, and mimicking your gestures or expressions. Your baby is not trying to test your patience, she is experimenting as part of an innocent learning process. If you provide a safe learning environment for your baby to develop his/her behaviours in, there shouldn’t be too many casualties (i.e. your phone being thrown across the room!)
There will come a time when you will need to begin to discipline your baby. Your baby’s behaviours will at times test you and you will get a sense as to when you should start saying “no”. But a baby 12months old or younger has almost no awareness as to the cause and effect of their behaviours.
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 7). Crying: Babies. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/behaviour/crying/crying-babies
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 20). Baby cue and baby body language: a guide. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/behaviour/crying/baby-cues