Tuning Into Your Newborn

Newborns:  Different ways of being awake

Have you noticed that your very young infant sometimes seems to engage with you in a sort of magical bubble that contains just the two of you and other times seems less interested in gazing at your face and being with you?  You may have tuned in and instinctively responded to these varying patterns.  Here’s why they happen.

Newborns actually have six states:  three sleep and three awake.


Sleeping babyDEEP SLEEP, in which your infant breathes deeply and rhythmically, occasionally jerking her body or making sucking movements with mouth.  (This isn’t a good time to awaken her to feed or go somewhere, as she’ll wake only briefly and needs to sleep.)

REM SLEEP, this dream sleep is usually the biggest part of the day for a newborn.  You’ll see him move, suck, whimper and perhaps even cry briefly.  His brain is exploring and integrating all the stimulating sensory experiences he’s been having.  (If he cries in this state, you needn’t immediately reach to comfort him.  Instead pause a moment to see if he resettles, it may be part of his dream sleep.) 

DROWSY is an in between state, with irregular breathing. Your baby’s eyes may not focus and may even be cross-eyed.  She will either return to sleep or rouse.  (You have a choice here, you can pick up your baby and draw her into the world or watch and see if she returns to sleep.)


CRYING is how your tiny infant lets you know he needs your help.  Sometimes there is a clear need – to be fed, changed or comforted.  Other times, infants seem to cry as part of getting themselves organized and integrated into the world.  (You will quickly build some intuitions about your infant, responding knowingly to many needs.  Other times, your presence and touch may be what you can best offer.)

ACTIVE AWAKE is a time when your infant is using her body, working muscles and eventually moving her head, arms and legs.  It’s triggered in part by the nerves in various parts of the body becoming myelinated and better connecting.  If your baby is happy in this state, she’s probably discovering her body, exercising it and strengthening it.  (She may enjoy your cycling her legs or moving her arms or she may not, you can explore).  If your infant becomes fussy in this state it is a signal that she needs feeding or comforting.

QUIET ALERT is the magical time, when your infant is attentive and interested in you and the world.  He is calm and still, observing you and his surroundings, listening to you speak, enjoying things you share with him.  These minutes are the times to play games, hold up interesting objects for him to slowly track as you move them before his face; laugh, smile, talk gently to him and hold his gaze with yours.  You are helping him open the door to his social world and learn about his physical world.

Newborn baby

Responding to these natural states opens the way to being an attuned parent.