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The Behaviour of Babies

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 19 Apr 2010 | comments*Discuss
Baby Behaviour Teething Crying

Getting ready for a new baby usually means preparing the nursery, stocking up on nappies and baby supplies, buying stacks of cute little outfits and waiting impatiently for your due date to arrive. For first time parents, there is no way to know exactly what to expect once baby joins the family. Even people with some experience around small children are often amazed at the things they learn once they become parents.

Sleeping and Crying

In the beginning, babies often divide their days between two activities - sleeping and crying. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day, almost always in 1-2 hour stretches. What this means for mum and dad is sleep deprivation, since it is almost impossible to get any real rest with a new baby at home. Fortunately, within a few months, most babies are giving their parents longer and longer periods of rest and some babies sleep through the night by their third month of life.

Parents can expect setbacks though when it comes to sleep patterns, even in babies who seem to be in a set routine: teething; separation anxiety; ear infections and numerous other factors will undoubtedly awaken your baby at times.

Crying can be especially difficult for new parents to cope with. Tiny little people can produce quite a racket! Early on, crying is the only way that babies have to communicate, so they cry for a variety of reasons. Hunger or a dirty nappy are the first things that come to mind, but sometimes babies cry for seemingly no reason at all. This can be very difficult for parents who are operating with very little sleep and want nothing more than to keep their baby happy.

After a while, many parents learn to decipher what their baby is trying to tell them by a combination of the sound of their cries and the baby's facial expressions. Sometimes though, babies cry when they are overtired or feeling stressed and after a good nap, they return to being their cheerful selves.

Expressing Opinions

While newborns are typically happy to snuggle with their parents, older babies have definite opinions about what they want to be doing. Some babies are naturally active and will wriggle impatiently if they are held too long. Instead, they prefer to explore their environment, touching and tasting everything that they come across. Some enjoy relaxing in a swing or playing in their activity centre. One thing is certain- it won't take long for your baby to learn to express opinions!

Teething and Separation Anxiety

Two things that cause plenty of concern for parents during their baby's first year are teething and separation anxiety. Teething can begin in very young babies and can turn an otherwise happy baby into a grumpy one pretty quickly. Fortunately, once the first few teeth have emerged (usually between 4-7 months), babies often fare better as additional teeth come in. In the mean time, parents can help teething babies by offering teething rings or frozen washcloths. In cases where the discomfort seems extreme, the GP may advise giving pain medication.

Separation anxiety is very common in babies and usually makes its first appearance at around nine months. Babies at this age often show signs of distress when a parent or other caregiver leaves the room. While this is a perfectly normal behaviour, it can be difficult for parents who must sometimes leave their baby to go to work or for other reasons. The anxiety will pass in time, but is important for parents to cheerfully assure their little one that they will be returning soon. For some babies, snuggling with a comfort item, such as a well-loved toy or blanket, can help during this tough time. Games of peek-a-boo are often helpful as well, since they show baby that a person can "disappear" and "reappear."


As babies become increasingly independent, it is perfectly normal for them to test their limits a bit. Many will hit or push and most will show some possessiveness about their toys and belongings. Fortunately, babies want very much to please their parents and will usually respond well to gentle guidance.

It is important to show older babies how you expect them to behave, but it will take a number of months for them to begin cooperating with behavioural guidelines. Most often, simply redirecting a baby's attention toward a more acceptable behaviour or activity works best. In time, they will learn to share and take turns, but for now, babies do not have the capability to understand these concepts.

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