Health Topics

Newborn Behavior

Newborn Behavior

Many new parents may not know what is considered "normal" newborn behavior. Babies develop at different rates, but they still display many of the same behaviors. If your baby was born prematurely, don’t compare his or her development to that of full-term newborns. It is important to know what kind of behaviors to expect from your newborn, so that you can tell if there is a problem.


Newborn babies usually sleep 20 minutes to four hours at a time, and 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 may cry for several hours a day. It is their way of telling you that 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
  • 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 may not always be able to comfort your newborn. Try to be patient and remain calm when your newborn does not stop crying.


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 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 may 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. 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 may be crossed because it is hard for them to focus at first. Newborns can see movement and the contrast between black and white objects. 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 may soon find that your baby turns toward the sound of your voice.