Newborn Sleep, Behaviors and Vital Signs: What’s Typical?
Contributing Expert: Barbara N. Johnston, MD
This post is part of our newborn health and wellness series. For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page.
There is no single way to be a newborn. Babies decide all on their own how they will sleep, eat and act. As you get to know your baby in those first few months, you’ll start to know what’s characteristic for them.
However, through caring for hundreds of newborns, pediatricians know some typical newborn behaviors and measures. Here are a few basics to help orient you if you are getting ready to bring home a newborn.
Typical Newborn Sleep Schedule
Sleep is undoubtedly the thing newborns struggle with the most. It’s also the thing new parents struggle with the most!
In the weeks after birth, newborns sleep a lot — as much as 16 out of 24 hours for those first few days. They have short sleep/wake cycles. For example, they may sleep two hours, eat and then fall back asleep for another few hours. After about two weeks, they start to have longer wake periods.
Many babies are born with day/night confusion as well. In the womb, there is so much movement during the day. All that walking around and jostling lulls the baby to sleep. But at night, when all is calm, they are often active. After a baby is born, it’s a big job to understand that nighttime is for sleeping.
As long as your baby is feeding and gaining weight, however and whenever they sleep is okay in these early weeks.
Typical Newborn Weight, Temperature, Jaundice Levels and Other Measures
Pediatricians have certain measures they use to monitor how a newborn is doing. If any number falls outside a normal range, your pediatrician will talk to you about it.
- Weight: Newborns are most commonly between 6 and 9 lbs., but weight depends on gestational age (how many weeks they were in-utero). Pediatricians usually check babies under the 5th percentile or over the 95th percentile for hypoglycemia.
- Temperature: Over 100.4 degrees is considered a fever. Pediatricians take fevers in newborns seriously. However, you don’t need to regularly check your newborn’s temperature, unless you suspect illness or your pediatrician has suggested you take it.
- Head circumference: The average is about 35 centimeters, but there is a huge range. Pediatricians look less at the number than the growth trend.
- Jaundice levels: Pediatricians check bilirubin levels at the hospital, and during the first weeks of life. If the levels are too high — usually that means over 20 — your pediatrician may have you bring your baby in for light therapy.
- Heart rate: Newborns have fast heart rates, usually between 100 – 160. It’s not something parents need to check, unless directed by pediatrician.
- Blood sugar: In the first hour of life, blood sugar is very low (often in the 40s). It should rise to 45 or over after that. Pediatricians may test a baby’s blood sugar if the baby is sluggish or doesn’t want to eat.
- Blood pressure: For a newborn, the average blood pressure is 64/41, but it slowly increases. However, this isn’t a vital sign pediatricians take regularly in healthy babies.
Common Newborn Behaviors
Newborns are endlessly fascinating to watch. In addition to behaviors you expect, like crying, you might catch your newborn:
- Having tremors: A baby’s hands and feet will sometimes shake or jerk, but if you gently set your hands on them, it usually stops.
- Seeming startled: Babies have a startle reflex that can make them feel like they are falling. Swaddling can help with this.
- Making panting sounds while sleeping: Sometimes newborns take pant-like, shallow breaths when falling asleep or waking up. If there is no change in their color, it’s perfectly normal.
- Fluttering lips or eyes: A baby’s eyes sometimes roll up, and their lips may make small movements.
- Having blue hands and feet: Newborns still have immature blood circulation, which can cause extremities to have a blueish look.
- Having what looks like a period: Newborn girls can have estrogen withdrawal, which causes little spots of blood in their diaper.
What Newborn Behaviors Should I be Concerned About?
Call your pediatrician right away if:
- Your baby has a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees or less than 97 degrees.
- You notice blood in their stool.
- You are unable to wake your baby, or the baby seems unusually sluggish.
- You notice a blue tinge around your baby’s lips or mouth.
- Your baby is sweating when feeding (when temperature conditions do not suggest they would be hot).
Parents and caregivers of newborns have a lot of questions. Never hesitate to call your pediatrician. They are your partners and should be a key part of your support system.
In addition to expert specialty care, Lurie Children’s offers several primary care locations around the Chicago area for your child's healthcare needs — from infancy through childhood and adolescence. Learn more about our primary care services.
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