The 6 Behavioral States of a Newborn

By Lisa Walker
Your newborn will give you signs.
Your newborn will give you signs.

During the first month of his life, your newborn will alternate between six states of consciousness. Three of these stages relate to his sleep patterns and three are the different types of behavior during his waking time. Recognizing the various states can help you work out what your little bundle wants and needs during each day.

Three Sleep Stages

Your newborn will spend most of his time sleeping -- although it won't feel like that to you as it will not always be at night. According to the Healthy Children website, newborns sleep for an average of 16 hours a day, but this will be split into naps over 24 hours and will switch between three stages of sleep. Deep sleep is when he is still and possibly difficult to wake. Light sleep is when he is easily disturbed by noise. Drowsiness is the state between waking and sleeping, where his eyes might open and close and his body might fidget. Avi Sadeh, director of the Laboratory for Children's Sleep and Arousal Disorders in Tel Aviv, Israel, says newborns need plenty of sleep to grow and to allow their immune system and brain to develop.


Newborn babies cry, and while it's stressful for you, it is perfectly normal. A crying newborn might be telling you he needs feeding, changing, sleep, a cuddle, some company, a suck on something or to be moved to a different position. He might also be too hot or cold or over-stimulated. He might cry as soon as he is put down because he will feel more comforted by the warmth and smell of you holding him -- a baby sling can help with this. According to the Mayo Clinic, crying is not harmful to your baby and if nothing is working, it can be OK to leave him to "cry it out."

Quiet Alert

Your newborn will have periods when she's just taking you in. According to, she will enjoy looking at you, hearing your voice, being touched and smelling you. Her sight will not be fully developed at this stage and you will need to be about 8 to 12 inches away for her to see your face clearly. Stripes in black and white or contrasting stripes will stimulate her vision and will be more enjoyable for her to look at than pale colors.

Active Alert

Your newborn will wave her arms about and kick her legs when she is in an active alert state. She will not be consciously controlling these movements to begin with, but they will be helping to build up muscles in her limbs. You can put her on her tummy for a stretch when she is in this active mood, to help build up her neck muscles. Never leave her unattended in this position because it increases the risk of suffocation.

About the Author

Lisa Walker began her journalism career in local newspapers. She later joined Teletext to work on its website and analogue and digital TV services. Walker spent time as a qualified childminder whilst raising her own two children and now enjoys a career writing and editing for various websites, including parent website