Nurturing Sleep

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Getting to know your newborn

Posted on May 4, 2015 at 10:10 AM

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to understand your newborn’s behaviours? Well, researchers Peter Wolff, Heinz Prechtl and T Berry Brazelton found that newborn babies display characteristic patterns of behaviours. Often, understanding these behaviour patterns can help new parents respond appropriately to their baby, which can help enhance attachment and their experience as new parents. The behaviours are classified into 6 states of consciousness which are beautifully described and illustrated by Marshall and Phyllis Klaus in their wonderful book Your Amazing Newborn. The 6 states include 2 sleep states, 3 wake states and crying.

Quiet Alert:. When babies are quietly alert they quite still, their eyes are wide and bright as they channel their energy into looking and hearing. She may turn her eyes towards a parent’s voice, and even reach out towards it. The longest period of quiet alert occurs after birth when the newly born baby closely observes her parents’ voices and faces. Make the most of your baby’s quiet alert state to socialise with her!

Active Alert: this more active and ‘fussy’ state, when your baby will look around more and her movements will be more jerky; you’ll probably observe this behaviour often before feeding.

Drowsiness: this is the ‘falling asleep’ and ‘waking up’ state; her eyes will be glazed and unfocussed and eyelids droopy either as she’s falling asleep or just waking up. She may also smile or frown.

Crying: the newborns’ communication system! She maybe hungry, lonely, bored, uncomfortable... Parents typically respond by picking their baby up and putting her to their shoulder to soothe. Interestingly, researchers have found that it is the picking up movement rather than the upright position that calms the baby and often puts the baby into the quiet alert state!

Newborn sleep: Newborns sleep18 hours or more in 24 hours; this sleep is divided into 30 minute cycles of quiet sleep and active sleep.

Quiet sleep: peaceful, restful sleep! When in quiet sleep babies are relaxed, eyelids are closed, they lie very still and their breathing is regular. She’ll be quiet and still except for the occasional startle and very small mouth movements.

Active Sleep: or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. A baby’s body is more ‘active’ and mobile in this sleep state and her breathing may be irregular and a little faster than in quiet sleep. You may observe her eyes moving under the eyelids, and her eyelids ‘fluttering’; she may also smile, grimace, frown and make sucking movements – interesting to watch! Babies are more likely to wake from ‘active’ sleep than from quiet sleep.


Recognising and understanding these 6 states of being can help parents get to know and understand the needs of their newborn baby, and so can contribute to making those first few weeks of parenthood an empowering and enjoyable experience for all!


Sources and Further Reading -

Klaus, M and Klaus, P. (1999). Your Amazing Newborn. Cambridge MA: Da Capo Press Inc.

Nugent, K. (2011). Your Baby is Speaking to You. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to inform and not for medical diagnoses or treatment. Please contact a health care professional if you have concerns about your baby or child’s health.




Categories: Parenting