Many new parents might not know what is considered "normal" newborn behavior. Babies develop at different rates, but they still display many of the same behaviors. Don’t be alarmed if your baby seems a little behind. It is important to know what kind of behaviors to expect from your newborn so that you can tell if there is a problem.
If your baby was born prematurely, don’t compare his or her development to that of full-term newborns. Premature babies are often developmentally behind full-term babies. If your baby was born two months early, then he or she might be two months behind a full-term baby. Your doctor will follow the developmental progress of your premature baby. Contact your doctor if you think your baby is developing at an unusually delayed rate.
Newborn babies usually sleep 20 minutes to four hours at a time, up to 20 hours a day. Their stomachs are too small to keep them full for long, so they need to be fed every few hours. Babies have different sleeping habits, but at three months most babies sleep six to eight hours a night.
Newborns might cry for several hours a day. It is their way of telling you they need something or that something is wrong. Newborns cry when they:
- Are hungry
- Are tired
- Are too cold or too hot
- Need their diaper changed
- Need to be comforted
- Have gas
- Are over-stimulated
- Are sick
It is also common for newborns to hiccup, sneeze, yawn, spit up, burp, and gurgle. Sometimes newborns cry for no reason at all. If this happens, try comforting your baby by rocking, singing, talking softly, or wrapping him or her in a blanket. Soon you will be able to tell what your baby needs by how he or she cries.
You might not always be able to comfort your newborn. This is not your fault. Try to be patient and remain calm when your newborn does not stop crying. If necessary, have someone else stay with your baby while you take a break. Never shake your baby under any circumstance. Shaking your baby can cause serious brain damage, known as Shaken Baby Syndrome, resulting in lifelong disabilities.
Contact your doctor if your newborn cries more than usual, cries at a different time of day than usual, or if the crying sounds different than usual. These might be signs that your newborn is sick.
During their first few weeks, newborns maintain the position they had in the womb (fetal position): clenched fists; bent elbows, hips, and knees; arms and legs close to the front of the body. This will change when your baby develops more control over his or her movements. Newborns have several natural reflexes. Understanding these reflexes will help you understand the cause of some of your newborn’s behaviors. Newborn reflexes include the following:
- The rooting reflex —The newborn turns in the direction of food and is ready to suck. Stroking a newborn’s cheek will cause this response.
- The sucking reflex —If you place an object in a baby’s mouth, the baby naturally begins to suck.
- The startle response —The baby throws out his or her arms and legs and then curls them in when startled. This response often includes crying.
- The tonic neck reflex —The baby turns his or her head to one side and holds out the arm on the same side.
- The grasp reflex —The baby’s fingers close tightly around an object placed in his or her palm.
- The stepping reflex —The baby’s feet imitate a stepping action when he or she is held upright with the feet touching a hard surface. A baby’s arms, legs, and chin might tremble, especially when crying. This occurs because newborns’ nervous systems are not fully developed.
It is not uncommon for newborns to experience irregular breathing. This is when newborns stop breathing for five to 10 seconds and then immediately begin breathing again on their own. This is normal. However, you should call your doctor or take your baby to the emergency room if he or she stops breathing for longer than 10 seconds or begins to turn blue.
Newborns can see, but their eyes might be crossed because it is hard for them to focus at first. Newborns can see movement and the contrast between black and white objects. For the first couple of months, it is easier for them to look at things at an angle. By two to three months, babies have more control of their eye muscles and are able to focus their eyes on one thing. They can also follow objects with their eyes.
Newborns can distinguish between different sounds. They recognize familiar voices, so you should talk to your baby often. You might soon find that your baby turns toward the sound of your voice. To newborns, language sounds like music with different tones and rhythms.
- US Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women's Health: Health Topics: Your baby’s first hours
- KidsHealth: Communication and your newborn
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit Cleveland Clinic: Health or Cleveland Clinic Florida. This document was last reviewed on: 3/10/2016