About newborn baby behaviour
Your newborn baby depends on you and other caregivers to give them what they need for healthy development – warm, loving and responsive attention, comfort, food, daily care, time for gentle play and learning, and so on.
This means that a lot of your baby’s behaviour is about:
- bonding with you
- communicating needs for things like comfort, sleep and food
- exploring the world around them through sight, hearing and touch.
As you spend time with your baby and get to know them, you’ll find it easier to understand your baby's behaviour and what it's telling you.
And when you respond consistently, gently and lovingly to your baby’s behaviour, it builds your relationship and lays the foundation for your child’s development and wellbeing.
Babies are born with very different temperaments. Some are relaxed, and others seem to be more intense. Some seem to move constantly, and others are quieter. Some are cheerful most of the time, and others are more serious.
Newborn bonding: what to expect
Bonding between you and your newborn baby is a vital part of development. Your baby’s behaviour tells you when they want to connect with you and strengthen the bond between you.
For example, when your baby wants to connect and bond with you, you might see behaviour like:
- smiling or making eye contact
- making little noises, like coos or laughs
- looking relaxed and interested.
Responding to bonding behaviour
When you respond to your baby’s behaviour with a smile, touch or cuddle, your newborn feels the world is a safe place to play, learn and explore.
You can’t spoil a newborn baby. Babies who have consistent and nurturing relationships early in life cope better with stress when they’re older. They also tend to get along better with other children. And they’re more likely to be physically and emotionally healthier as adults.
Newborn communication: what to expect
Crying is your newborn baby’s main way of communicating needs and feelings.
Your baby cries when they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick or in pain. Sometimes they cry because they need a change of scenery or comfort, or because they need to know you’re there.
Babies cry and fuss on average for almost 3 hours a day. Some cry for a lot longer than this. Most of this crying and fussing seems to happen in the late afternoon and evening, although each day will probably be a bit different.
Crying peaks at about 6-8 weeks. And as babies get older, they spend less time crying. The crying is also more likely to be spread throughout the day. And it’s easier to understand what babies need when they cry.
Responding to crying
It might be sometimes hard to work out what your baby needs when they cry. But even if your crying baby isn’t sick, hurt, uncomfortable or hungry, it’s still important to comfort them. For example, you could try cuddling or rocking them, taking them for a walk, or giving them a baby massage.
Colic is when babies cry for no obvious reason and are almost impossible to settle. If you think your baby has colic, it’s a good idea to get a check-up with your GP or paediatrician to rule out medical causes for crying.
Newborn exploring and learning: what to expect
As your newborn baby grows, they’ll become increasingly aware of the world around them and start to use their bodies to explore it. For example:
- At 0-1 months, your baby might lift their head briefly when they’re lying on their tummy or turn it to the side when they’re lying on their back. This helps your baby see where you are and what’s around them.
- At 1-2 months, your baby is becoming more alert. They’ll watch you move around now, following you with their eyes from side to side as well as up and down. Your baby has also discovered they have fingers and hands, and they might be able to hold onto a rattle when you put it in their hand.
- At 2-3 months, your baby is starting to look more closely at objects like small blocks and toys. They’ll open and shut their hands more, and they might use their hands and eyes together. For example, they might reach for your face. Your baby is probably showing emotions like interest, disgust, distress and enjoyment.
Responding to newborn exploring and learning behaviour
When your baby’s behaviour tells you that they want to explore, this is a great time for gentle talking, touching, reading, singing and so on. Newborns learn through play, and newborn play and learning is all about the interactions between you and your baby.
Babies need warm, loving care so they feel secure. They don’t understand consequences, and they also don’t know the difference between right and wrong. This means that negative consequences, or punishment, don’t help babies learn.
Newborn sleeping: what to expect
Newborn babies need sleep to grow and develop well. For newborns this is usually 14-17 hours in every 24 hours.
Newborns usually sleep in short bursts of 2-3 hours each. Some newborns sleep for up to 4 hours at a time. Newborns wake frequently to feed because they have tiny tummies. Your baby might go straight back to sleep after feeding, or they might stay awake long enough for a short play.
Responding to newborn sleep behaviour
With newborn sleep and waking, the key is being flexible and following your baby’s lead, including comforting your baby when they need it.
Newborn feeding: what to expect
In the early days, newborns typically need to feed every 2-4 hours.
It might help to know that most babies establish a manageable pattern of feeding over the first few weeks of life. They learn to do most of their feeds during the day and have fewer at night, so it will get easier.
Responding to newborn feeding behaviour
Responding and giving your baby what they need, when they need it, is key. A calm and happy feeding time is a great opportunity for you to bond with your baby and build the warm and trusting relationship that’s so important to your baby’s development.
When to seek help for newborn behaviour
If it’s difficult to comfort your baby or you’re not sure why they’re crying, make an appointment with your GP or call your child and family health nurse. You can also talk to your GP or child and family health nurse if you’re worried or unsure about other aspects of your baby’s behaviour.
All children have the right to be safe and protected. If you think you might hurt your child, you have a lot of support options. These include doctors, psychologists, counsellors, social workers and hotline operators.
Looking after yourself
Looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is good for you, and it’s good for your baby. When you’re well, you can give your baby the loving attention they need to grow and thrive. You can also cope better if your baby is crying a lot.
Remember that part of looking after yourself is asking for help, especially if you’re feeling tired, stressed, anxious or angry. There are many people who can support you and your baby, including your partner, friends, relatives, child and family health nurse and GP.