Your baby will use their behaviour following their birth to have their basic needs met. These include the need for comfort, love and food.

Taking time to get to know your baby by recognising their reflexes and different sleep and wake states can help you understand your baby’s behaviour and contribute to the relationship and bond that you have with your baby. 

  • Rooting reflex – your baby turns in the direction of their food. Stroking your baby’s cheek will also cause this response.
  • Sucking reflex – your baby will suck when an object is placed in their mouth 
  • Startle reflex -  your baby extends their arms and legs and then recoils. You may see this reflex when your baby cries
  • Grasp reflex - your baby will close their fingers when an object is placed in the palm of their hand 
  • Step reflex - your baby will demonstrate a stepping action when held in an upright position with their feet touching a hard surface 
  • Tonic neck reflex - your baby will turn their head to one side and hold out their arm on the same side 

Most of these reflexes will disappear as your baby grows and develops. The only reflex which does not disappear is their sucking reflex.

Your baby has six different states. Three are sleep states and three are awake states. Being able to recognise the state your baby is in can help you to respond and provide the support that your baby needs. You will notice that your baby moves through these different states quickly and not necessarily in the same order. 

Young babies in particular will move quickly through the different states with very little warning and their behaviour and colour can change as they move through these different states. 

  • Deep sleep - your baby will be still, eyes closed, even breathing and they be difficult to wake up
  • Light sleep - your baby’s eyes will be closed but you may notice rapid eye movements, they may make sucking noises and make different facial expressions
  • Drowsy - your baby may look glazed and they may startle every now and again
  • Quiet alert - your baby is interested in their surroundings and ready to interact
  • Active alert - your baby will be unsettled, fussy and sensitive to loud noises and lights
  • Crying - your baby is distressed, has tears in their eyes, making noise, and their colour will also change, the more distressed that they become

Why does your baby look and sound different? Being able to interpret your baby’s state helps you to respond.


  • Deep sleep – to achieve deep sleep, your baby needs to be comfortable. Your baby will need to learn to protect their sleep which is essential for them to be able to grow and develop.
  • Light sleep - in this state your baby will need time to be able to wake up or go back to sleep. 
  • Drowsy - in this state your baby may want a cuddle whilst they wake up or go back to sleep
  • Quiet alert - in this state your baby is ready to be engaged with and ready to interact with you. Allow time and watch what your baby wants. Be aware of the cues that they may give you.
  • Active alert - in this state your baby may be feeling overwhelmed and may need a change of environment, pace or be getting ready for a feed. You may notice that your baby may sneeze or hiccup. These can sometimes be signs that your baby is stressed. 
  • Crying - in this state your baby will be feeling distressed. There are many reasons why your baby might be crying, and you may want to consider the following:Is your baby hungry?
    • Is your baby uncomfortable because their nappy is wet or dirty or are they too hot or too cold?
    • Is your baby tired?
    • Is your baby bored?
    • Does your baby need a cuddle?
    • Does your baby have colic?
    • Is your baby in pain?

As your baby moves through these different states it is normal for their colour and breathing pattern to change.