What Do Newborn Babies Do? A Look at the Behaviors and Activities of Newborns

Bringing home that precious newborn bundle fills parents with equal parts joy and terror. Every gurgle makes you glow while each wail ratchets anxiety to the max.

But setting fears aside, what exactly do babies spend those early days, weeks, and months actually doing besides looking angelically adorable?

The short answer is eating, sleeping, crying, eliminating, bonding, growing, and not much else! While caring for an infant seems all-consuming for mom and dad, newborn activity primarily centers around these essential developmental tasks needed to thrive.

Read on as we unpack what really goes on during your baby’s newest chapter.

What Do Newborn Babies Do?

The main activities newborn babies do are eating, sleeping, crying, eliminating, bonding, and growing. Specifically, newborns:

  • Sleep around 14-17 hours per day, cycling between REM and non-REM sleep
  • Eat breast milk or formula every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times per day.
  • Communicate through crying for reasons like hunger, discomfort, or overstimulation.
  • Eliminate frequently, with several wet diapers and stools daily
  • Bond through sights, smells, sounds, touch; skin-to-skin is especially important
  • Proliferate, quickly regaining birth weight, height increasing ~1”/month.

While newborn activity seems limited to families providing round-the-clock care, eating, sleeping, crying, bonding, and growth represent essential developmental tasks.

Sleeping: Newborns Spend Most of Their Time in Slumber

Those first few weeks home can be chaotic for parents. You might look at your sweet little sleepyhead and wonder:

“How can this tiny human sleep so much? Is this normal newborn behavior?”

The answer is a resounding “yes!” Those long sleeping stretches are entirely developmentally appropriate for a newborn.

In fact, babies can spend up to 16 to 18 hours of the day sleeping, sometimes only waking to eat:

That might seem like an extraordinary amount of shut-eye, but newborns need sleep to aid their rapid growth and development.

So when can you expect some reasonably more extended periods of wakefulness?

Around 6-8 weeks, babies become more alert for longer stretches during the day. But even then, your newborn will still likely sleep over 14 hours per day on average.

Some additional fascinating facts about newborn sleep patterns:

  • Newborns cycle between REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep stages, just like adults.
  • They enter a deep sleep state more quickly than older babies and adults.
  • Newborns tend to sleep in shorter 2-4 hour increments around the clock.

While it might wreak some havoc on mom and dad’s sleep schedule at first, just know—that newborn sleeping is an entirely normal part of their development!

Newborn Sleep Safety Must-Knows:

Since newborns spend so much of their precious time sleeping, parents need to understand safe sleep guidelines:

  • Babies should be placed on their backs—not their stomachs or sides—to lower the risk of SIDS.
  • Use a firm mattress covered with a tight-fitting sheet in a safety-approved crib or bassinet.
  • Don’t use pillows, blankets, bumper pads, or stuffed animals inside the crib during the first year.

Following these newborn sleep safety recommendations reduce the chances of suffocation and SIDS risks dramatically.

Eating: Frequent Feedings Fuel Growth:

Parents quickly adjust to their newborn’s need to eat frequently—very frequently!

So, how often is a newborn hungry in those first few weeks of life?

On average, newborns need 8-12 feedings spread throughout each 24 hours.

Eventually, this frequent feeding schedule will space out more as your baby grows. But at first, expect feedings at least every 2-3 hours around the clock, including overnight sleep disruptions.

Both breastfed and formula-fed infants consume small “snacks” of about 2-4 ounces per feeding on average.

But some extra-hungry newborns might polish off more at each mealtime while others need less.

Trust your pediatrician’s guidance and your baby’s hunger cues rather than sticking to a rigid feeding schedule. Feeding on demand helps ensure your newborn consumes adequate nutrition during this critical developmental window.

Breastfeeding mothers can expect babies to nurse for 10-15 minutes or longer on each side during those early weeks.

Over time, nursing sessions might shorten in duration as babies become more efficient at removing milk from the breast.

Keep in mind that frequent feedings also serve an important purpose beyond just delivering essential nutrition:

Feeding helps newborns bond with their parents and offers comfort, security, and pain relief from procedures like vaccinations or heel sticks for testing.

So even when your baby fusses outside of a scheduled feeding time window, offer them some snuggles and a snack. They will certainly appreciate the gesture!

Frequent feedings fuel the rapid growth and development taking place inside those tiny bodies!

Crying: Communication Cues and Self-Soothing Skills Emerge

Few sounds frazzle new parents’ nerves more than the piercing cries of a newborn baby echoing through the house.

You brace yourself with every diaper change or clothing switch, knowing intense sobs might erupt without warning.

But what compels this loud, insistent crying during a newborn’s earliest days and weeks?

While every outburst differs slightly, most experts categorize newborn tears into three overarching, hunger-related reasons:

  1. Real Hunger Cries: High-pitched squealing or grunting sounds often accompany hunger pangs. These cries stop when your newborn eats.
  2. Early Hunger Cries: Slight fussiness or crankiness surfaces before intense hunger sets in. Your baby might not accept food right away but calms down readily.
  3. Pain With Hunger Cries: When your baby needs food ASAP, crying intensifies even during feeding attempts. They seem inconsolable.

Understanding these varying hunger cries helps parents address their newborn’s needs appropriately. Keep the baby fed on demand per your pediatrician’s guidance.

Of course, as babies grow, additional reasons for tears crop up like:

  • Discomfort from a soiled diaper
  • Exhaustion or overstimulation
  • Boredom or need for connection
  • Minor pains like gas or vaccination reactions

Luckily, newborns also start developing self-soothing skills for calming themselves without relying entirely on parental rescue. You might notice things like:

  • Sucking on fingers or hands
  • Staring intently at faces or patterns
  • Snuggling into soft blankets

Take heart, parents. While the newborn crying game might never end ultimately, your baby’s reasons for those sweet tears will evolve.

Bonding Through Touch, Sound, Sight, and More

Those precious early days, weeks and months with a newborn nourish one of life’s most meaningful human connections:

The parent-child bond.

But how exactly do babies bond with their moms, dads, and other caregivers during the newborn phase?

Let’s explore some of the primary ways babies communicate, forge neural connections, and bond during their earliest development window.

Vision: While visual clarity remains limited at first, babies show a preference for basic high-contrast patterns, human faces, and motion. Making eye contact while feeding and holding your newborn close nourishes attachment.

Hearing: Newborns recognize mom and dad’s voices right away, thanks to exposure in the womb! They also respond to sound associations like snuggling to the same lullaby or perking up when they hear a sibling’s voice.

Smell: Following birth, babies use their sense of smell to locate breastmilk, triggering instinctive rooting and feeding behaviors. This reinforces bonding and feelings of comfort and security through familiar scents.

Taste: Breastmilk instantly soothes and satisfies newborns while exposing them to flavors from mom’s diet. The formula delivers reliable nutrition, too, while enriching the connection between baby and caregiver at feeding time.

Touch: Skin-to-skin contact offers vital nourishment for growth while also lowering the baby’s stress levels and reinforcing the attachment process. Gentle baby massage brings similar benefits!

The adorable coos, snuggles, and smiles new parents enjoy represent their newborn’s efforts to reciprocate affection as those early bonds solidify. Truly, bonding begins from day one!

Growth and Development: What to Expect Those First Weeks

During pregnancy, seeing those ultrasound images and following weekly fruit size comparisons gives parents-to-be a vague sense of their baby’s physical growth happening behind the scenes.

Yet nothing fully prepares mom and dad for just how rapidly an infant’s body transforms after birth! Those early months almost feel like a stop-motion video recorded in Fast Forward.

Here’s an overview of some awe-inspiring newborn growth patterns:

Weight Gain:

  • Most newborns lose about 5-10% of their birth weight in the first days after delivery.
  • Once the supply of mature breastmilk increases for breastfed babies, weight regain escalates quickly thanks to the milk’s high fat and calorie content. Formula-fed newborns gain weight steadily, too.
  • On average, most babies surpass their birth weight again by 10-14 days old.
  • Expect your newborn to pack on around 1⁄2 to 1 ounce per day or 5-7 ounces per week!

Height Increase:

While harder to notice day-to-day, all that weight gain translates into remarkable height jumps, too:

  • On average, newborns grow about 1⁄2 to 1 inch per month in length.
  • Expect them to stretch out close to 10 inches during that first year—almost doubling in height!

Tracking early head circumference provides insight, too:

  • The average newborn’s head measures around 13-14 inches.
  • That expands to over 17 inches by their first birthday, so plan for some adorably oversized hair bows!

Clearly, human growth and transformation have progressed rapidly from day one! Those sweet little newborn snuggles won’t last forever, so embrace every precious moment.

Conclusion: Essential Activities for Thriving Newborns

In just their first days and weeks of life outside the womb, newborn infants captivate their parents with incredible development unfolding daily.

From eating and sleeping cycles to bonding and self-soothing, newborns need loving support to continue building critical skills.

While the constant feedings, diaper changes, and crying spells might overwhelm moms and dads initially, just remember—this too shall pass!

Before you know it, those round-the-clock caregiving marathons and sleepless nights give way to giggles, babbles, crawling, and so much more.

For now, snuggle up and tune into your baby’s unique rhythms. Together, you’ll forge new traditions and powerful attachments to treasure for a lifetime.

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about what newborn babies do:

How much do newborns sleep?

Newborns sleep a lot! Expect your newborn to sleep 14-17 hours per day on average, in 2-4 hour increments. They alternate between REM and non-REM sleep cycles, like adults.

How often do newborns eat?

In the first few weeks, expect your newborn to eat 8-12 times per 24 hours. Breastfed babies eat every 2-3 hours around the clock, while formula fed babies may go a bit longer between feedings.

Why do newborns cry so much?

Crying communicates hunger, discomfort, overstimulation, or a need for connection. Newborns also cry for minor pains from gas, vaccinations, etc. They start developing self-soothing techniques like sucking hands or blankets.

How do newborns bond?

Babies bond through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Skin-to-skin contact is especially important. They recognize parents’ voices and smells. Making eye contact while feeding and holding them close nurtures attachment.

How much and how quickly do newborns grow?

Expect your newborn to lose 5-10% of birth weight initially but gain about 1⁄2 to 1 ounce per day after that. They grow 1⁄2 to 1 inch per month in length. Head circumference expands dramatically too, over 3 inches by baby’s first birthday!

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