Understanding Your Newborn: The 6 Different States of Consciousness

Good morning! Today, I will talk about the different states of consciousness of the newborn (also called behavioral states), as classified by Dr. Peter Wolff and Pr. Heinz Prechtl. What use is it? By learning to identify the different states of consciousness of your newborn, you will learn faster to know her rythm, which will allow you to answer her needs better and help you feel more confident as a new parent. These six states of consciousness are : quiet awake, active awake, crying, quiet sleep, active sleep, and somnolence.

All of these behaviors have their reason to be, and have different needs associated with them. But I shall start with the most interesting one to me: Quiet alert state

Baby in quiet alert state
Quiet alert state is very close to the attitude a grown-up has when listening attentively to someone. The baby is calm, awake, aware of her surroundings, and taking in new information. Newborns (especially those born without drugs) almost all have a long quiet alert period right after birth, lasting from 30 minutes to one hour. It is the longest time a baby will stay awake for the next few weeks, and it is an important moment to get to know each other, as much for the baby as for the mother. It is one of the many, many reasons why separating a newborn from her mother right after birth can greatly affect bonding. During the first week of life, the baby only spends about 10% of her time in quiet alert state, most of it being during feeding time.

In quiet alert state, the baby is receptive to what surrounds her, and is looking to learn new things about the world, especially about her parents. The newborn is born near-sighted, but she can see at a 25-30cm distance (which incidentally is the distance between the breast and her mother's face). The baby also has a particular preference for human faces. Even this small, they are able to recognize the different facial expressions and try to reproduce them. This can actually become a fun game for parent and child to do together, one that many mothers do instinctively. When baby is in this receptive state,  put her face-to face with you, and make a facial expression, repeating it after a few seconds. Open your mouth, or stick out your tongue, or make a big ''O'' with your mouth. Very often, you will be surprized to find your newborn imitating you! The baby can also follow a red object with her eyes, or turn her head to the side to see where a new sound has come from. But be careful of overstimulating! Stop the game when your baby seems to lose interest or is getting tired. The attention span of such a small baby is very short.

The active alert state : In that state, the baby is moving her limbs and body vigorously, is looking around, and sometimes makes sounds. The baby won't necessarily move continuously, but in a particular rythm, every one or two minutes. This state means in general that it is time to eat, or that something is bothering her, and, if nothing is done, the baby will start crying.

Crying: It is important to know that a newborn baby will never cry for no reason. Crying is a mean of communication. Cries can mean many different things: she is hungry, she is tired, she needs to be changed, she needs to be reassured, she is not feeling well, she is feeling left alone, etc. With time, parents eventually learn to recognize that baby's cries change depending on what she is trying to communicate, and can respond more accurately to her needs. If the baby is crying because she is hungry, it is always better to calm her first, then offer her the nipple. One really efficient way to calm a crying baby is to take her in your arms and/or hold her upright against your shoulder, and walk around with her. When a parent responds to a baby when she is crying instead of ignoring her, it teaches the baby that the world isn't hostile and that her parents are there for her. That helps the baby to feel more secure and loved.

Drowsyness is more of a in-between state, happening as the baby is waking up or as she is falling asleep. The baby has falling eyelids and tired, eyes with an absent look.

During quiet sleep, the baby's face is relaxed, her eyelids are closed and still. She has little of no movement, except for occasional somersaults or mouth movements. Breathing is regular, with the occasional long sigh.

In active sleep, the baby is in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep. This is the sleeping state associated with dreaming. The baby's eyes are closed, sometimes half-closed, and we can see the eyes moving under the eyelids. During this sleeping phase, breathing is not regular, and the baby is moving her arms, legs and whole body, or/and makes various facial expression, grimaces and mouth movements. Usually a baby will wake up coming out of an active sleep cycle.  A baby's sleep is almost evenly distributed between active sleep and quiet sleep cycles, changing every 30 mins approximately. Sleep cycles of babies are very short, which explains why they wake up so often.

I hope this article will help you to understand your newborn baby better.

Have a nice day!

Note* I am using the femininine  to talk about the baby, simply to avoid having to put him\her every time. I try to alternate from one article to the other.


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