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Understanding baby behaviour and awareness

Your baby’s early experiences and relationships stimulate her brain, shaping the way she sees and responds to the world. As your baby’s awareness of the world expands through these experiences, she develops and learns, and you’ll see lots of changes in her behaviour.

Your baby’s relationship with you is the main way he learns about the world and how to respond to it. For example, your baby soon learns to tell you apart from everybody else. He understands where he ends and you start. He might even recognise his name, or his face in the mirror. But once he understands you’re a separate person, he might fear that you’ll leave and not come back.

You might also understand more about your baby and the things she does. For example, you might be able to work out the difference between how she behaves when she’s hungry, and what she does when she’s sleepy.

What makes your baby happy

Your baby will develop strong attachments to people and things. For example, he might love one toy much more than all the others.

Your baby is also learning who the important people in her world are. They’re the people who make her feel loved, safe and secure, so she prefers to be with those people. She’ll definitely prefer one person to everyone else, almost certainly you or another primary carer.

So playing with his favourite toys and being with his favourite people makes your baby happy. He’ll smile, make happy noises and might even wave or clap his hands when he sees you.

What makes your baby anxious

Instead of being afraid of everything, your baby might become afraid of specific things. As she learns what to expect of life, the unexpected might really upset her.

Your baby might sometimes be scared when important people – usually mum or dad – go away. And he’ll let you know, probably by crying. He might also get anxious or upset when he’s with people who aren’t important or familiar to him or when unfamiliar people talk to him. This fear of strangers is a normal part of child development.

What interests your baby

Your baby will want to use things the ‘right’ way, and will start experimenting with objects to see what they’re for. This might involve dropping your phone in the cat’s water dish or tipping the sugar bowl onto the rug. Everything will probably seem to end up in your baby’s mouth too, because this is how she likes to explore objects.

At 6-12 months, your baby starts to understand cause and effect and begins to have some control over his behaviour. This is a good time to start setting gentle limits to form the basis of teaching your child positive behaviour in the future. For example, if your baby gets too close to the oven, you can say, ‘No, the oven is hot’. Then pick him up and move him to a safe area.

Your baby doesn’t understand danger, so it’s important to create a safe home environment for her, especially when she starts moving. For example, it might be best to use a gate or some other way of keeping your baby out of the kitchen and away from hot cooking surfaces.

Your baby will probably do things just to see how you react. You can smile and use a happy tone if your baby is behaving in a way that you like. Even if your baby is behaving in a way that you don’t like or that isn’t safe, it’s still important to respond calmly. This helps your baby feel safe.


Newborn Behavior

What behaviors can I expect from my baby?

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 , 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.

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Newborn babies usually sleep 20 minutes to 4 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 6 to 8 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 5 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 2 to 3 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.

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