Monday, July 20, 2009

Sometimes Newborns’ “Good” Behavior Can Be Misleading

I was speaking at a conference the other day and a nurse told me that she worries when she calls a mom during the first week after hospital discharge and she hears that the newborn is a “good baby” who sleeps all the time, never cries, and is consistently “content.” She’ll ask about feedings and diapers and more often than not, there are lots of red flags and she’ll ask the mom to bring the baby in to see the doctor.

During pregnancy, most first-time moms don’t learn about what it is like to care for an infant and they expect that newborns should behave like the older babies they see in public or on television shows. Normal chaotic newborn behavior can lead some parents to panic while parents of quiet, sleeping babies believe they have won the genetic jackpot.

Newborns Take a Lot of Work
Newborns are born with tiny stomachs, developing brains, and very limited physical ability. While healthy newborns shouldn’t be “persistent criers” (see: ), they should wake fully, demand and sustain good feedings, and have short periods of alertness during the day and night. Sometimes, when sleepy babies gain strength and stamina, parents are shocked that their “good babies” are suddenly so demanding. Soon enough, babies settle down, lengthen their feeds, and sleep longer, but in the first few weeks, they need frequent feedings, fresh diapers, and lots of rest. When things are going well, newborns keep their parents busy!

Most newborns need to eat 10-12 times per day, almost every 2 hours. If babies are not waking to feed or fall asleep immediately after they start feeding, parents may need to work harder to wake their babies. How do they do that? Remember how “repetition, repetition, repetition” calms babies down? Using a variety of stimulation is the key to waking sleepy babies. For example, parents can try undressing the baby, changing the baby’s diaper, gently changing the baby’s position, and talking or singing to the baby using different sounds and voices. All the variety will wake the baby more fully for better feeds.

When is Good “Too Good?”
“Good” babies who don’t wake to feed, aren’t showing interest in feeding, have a weak suck, or don’t have frequent wet or dirty diapers need to get checked out by the doctor. Any time newborns go more than a few hours without a good feed, parents should check in with their doctor or the advice nurse. Most of these “good” babies will get back on track once things are figured out. Just be ready for that “not so good” but “oh, so healthy” baby to take over for a few weeks.

Did you have a sleepy baby? How did you get your baby to wake up enough to feed?

Next time we’ll share some ideas about how moms can work with their employers both before and after their babies are born.


  1. I am a postpartum Doula and find sleepy babies often need some help to stay awake long enough to get a satisfactory nursing session. Although it is important to remember that feeding is a lot of work and babies may need a little "cat nap" during a feeding session, waking them up when they seem to have given up can often double the amount of a single feeding. All of the examples you gave work very well to wake a dozing baby. I might add stimulating their feet with a tickle or a fingernail tap. When all else fails, my never fail solution is a face wash with a damp cloth.

  2. Thanks Amy! I've used that washcloth trick myself.

  3. The washcloth didn't really work for us. I found that blowing my baby's face worked well for a while. After that, we had to switch to the rattle to wake her up.

  4. Gotta love these articles. Google result from "my baby never cries" -- new parents see the headline and frantically click.

    Sometimes, you really do hit the genetic jackpot. I have two. The first one was a fussy newborn from the moment of her birth, then a colicky infant, and now a sweet, smart, and bossy toddler who sleeps through the night, every night (unless she's sick).

    Number two has been alive for a week, and he's just a miracle baby. Totally healthy, and barely even cries during his midnight diaper changes.