Right from birth, your newborn baby comes into the world capable of doing many things. Your baby will coo and gurgle, listen to sounds, and try to orient his head towards voices. He will move his arms when excited and may also imitate some of your facial expressions. Newborn babies enjoy looking at faces. Even though your newborn baby’s vision is limited at this point in time, he can detect light, shadows, shapes, contours, and movements.
Conveniently, your face has all of these elements that can capture your baby’s attention and provide a basis for your interactions. Smile, talk, and nod your head while looking at your baby. If your baby is enjoying this kind of interaction, he will look towards you. When he feels that he needs a break from too many sights and sounds, he may look away. As he gets older, his whole head may turn from you. Do not feel rejected when your baby looks away; this is a normal part of your baby’s development and one way for him to control how aroused or excited he becomes. When this happens, let him look away and enjoy his company quietly. Your baby will rely on you to read all sorts of signals right from birth that will guide your interactions together.
Some signals, like looking away for a few moments, will be more difficult to detect than others. Be patient with yourself as you learn to read your baby’s signals that tell you how he is feeling and wants you to react. Other cues, like crying, are much easier to detect. When your baby cries, it is his way of telling you that something is wrong and that he is uncomfortable or feeling distressed. Comforting your baby when he cries will not spoil your baby; in fact, trying to comfort your baby as best you can when he is distressed is an important part of your interactions with him right from birth. Slowly, as your baby develops in the coming months, he will learn from your comforting that he can depend on you and have confidence that you will be there for him.
Newborn babies do a lot of sleeping. In fact, although you may not get much sleep during this time, your newborn baby spends about 18 hours of each day getting his zzz’s. However, a newborn baby’s sleeping pattern is different from that of adults. Newborn babies spend only 20% of their sleeping time in a deep, sound sleep. The rest of the time they drift in and out of sleep, which means that by the time you put him down and try to take a nap, he will be awake and crying again. This can be very exhausting for you, but as your baby starts to take larger amounts of milk at each feeding session, his naps will stretch out longer.
Newborn babies also spend a considerable amount of time feeding. For the first few weeks, newborn babies are fed “on demand,” meaning whenever they are hungry, and they should receive at least eight feedings per day. If each feeding lasts 20 minutes, this translates into over two and a half hours per day. Healthy, well fed newborn babies pass about three to four bowel movements per day in the first couple of weeks, and they wet about five to six diapers per day. That means a lot of diaper changing for you, which can be a fun bonding experience or a messy chore, depending on how you look at it.
The rest of the time, your newborn baby may spend his hours in a quiet or alert state, or he may spend a great deal of time crying. His little lungs are capable of belting out wails for hours on end. He might simply have this type of temperament, or he may have colic. Keep in mind that crying is the only way that your newborn baby has to communicate with you. As he gets older and develops other ways to communicate, his crying will decrease.