Newborns : Behaviour
Updated: Feb 5
Behaviour Newborns (0-3 months)
During your new baby’s early months, there is so much happening as your little one works out this big wide world. They develop their own unique behaviours and you will develop your own ways to recognise and respond to these.
At first there is one thing that baby will understand from the get-go – that if they cry, you will be there. Some mothers have criers, some have quiet babies, but when they figure out that crying means they will be soothed, fed or snuggled, then their perceptions of the world will be that it is a safe and welcoming. We are firm believers that there is no such thing as lavishing too much attention on your baby.
It really is almost impossible to 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 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 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 am hungry, I’m tired, I’m in pain, I’m being fussy etc all may sound different and unique to you. It is common for babies 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 were 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 has not been sleeping well, she can become upset or ‘grizzly’ due to extreme tiredness, yet she is fighting it and will not 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? It is hard not to think of this first but try to remember that crying is the only way for a baby to communicate, so it does not 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 centering 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!
There are some babies who have long bouts of inconsolable crying. This is referred to as Colic, which has long been said to be due to the baby suffering from wind or stomach pain. Studies now suggest this is simply a part of some babies live and to them, is just natural behaviour. There is some evidence to support the suggestion that Colic may be caused by overstimulation. We say nobody really knows since we cannot ask the babies themselves! The key to dealing with it, is trying different things and seeing which best soothes your child.
Inconsolable crying can be extremely distressing for parents. You must always try and remember that you are not doing anything wrong and you are doing the absolute best to help your baby. Try reducing stimulation, sitting in a quiet dimly lit room, try some soothing rhythmic movement/massage, or playing some peaceful music.
Again, remember to take time for you, do not feel ashamed to ask for help, give your baby to your partner, friends or family and take some time out. The stress levels can go through the roof if you cannot settle your baby. Again, if you are alone and you really cannot cope, put her down in a safe place such as her crib and go and sit quietly for a few minutes. Yes it is ideal to remain with your baby until they settle, but you are much better for them when you are refreshed and calm.
All babies will have their own behaviours unique to them. You may have a quiet and placid baby, your baby may fuss or be very serious, or you might have a bouncing little ball of smiles. You may feel disappointed that your baby’s behaviours are not what you were expecting. Do not worry, you will learn to discover and adapt to one another’s behaviours and needs as you go.
Sleeping & Feeding
Our 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. See our Sleep Section in Newborns for more information.
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 food for your newborn/baby. However, it is no easy feat and some women find they are not able to breastfeed, 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.
See our Nutrition Section in Newborns/Babies for more information.
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!).
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 images or shapes, but they will recognise certain facial features and of course, voices.
Studies show babies can 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 or fathers voices immediately upon birth. During the early weeks, your baby should begin to turn their 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 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 is 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.
These are general guidelines and always consult your Healthcare Professional with any queries or concerns you may have.
Babies (3-12 months)
Once your newborn has reached 3 months old, they are babies. and understanding their behaviours and temperament will become clearer as they develop their communication.
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. Do not 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.
In 3-6 months, your baby will begin to develop two-way communication. They can 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, often they will become upset.
In 6-9 months your baby is developing both positive and negative emotions. They are beginning to become interested in three-way 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.
In 9-12 months your babies’ 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 should not 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.
Sleeping & Feeding
By this stage you and your baby may be settling into a more solid Feeding and Sleeping routine – but do not despair if your baby is still not sleeping or feeding regularly, as every baby is different.
Raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 8). Newborn behaviour: an overview. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/newborn-behaviour
raisingchildren.net.au. (2020, August 13). You newborns first week: what to expect. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/newborns-first-week