Making the most of your baby’s quiet alert time

There have been a number of studies into the behavioural stages of a baby’s day, which are useful for identifying and supporting your baby’s needs and regulating movement between those different stages of the day. Of course – all babies are different – but research has outlined the following states of consciousness, two are sleep states and four are wakeful states:

  1. Quiet sleep – baby’s eyes are closed, her face is relaxed, she is breathing deeply and does not respond to stimuli. If you were to raise your baby’s arm, it would drop heavily when released. Enjoy the peace!
  2. Active sleep – baby is in a state of REM sleep with fluttering eyelids, some facial expressions, bodily movements, cute little sounds, and she may respond to stimuli. Most of your little one’s sleep time will be in this lighter state with you on high alert as you anticipate an end to naptime.
  3. Drowsy – in this state, baby’s eyes might be open, shut or glazed. She will likely be unresponsive or return to sleep if she has just woken, particularly with some gentle soothing such as rocking or shushing.
  4. Quiet alert – baby is relaxed with bright, open eyes, relaxed limbs and she is observant of things going on around her as she absorbs information and takes everything in.
  5. Active alert – baby’s eyes are open, but she is likely less engaged with what is going on around her. She will be sensitive to stimuli, easily over-stimulated, and might be fussy or moany if a nappy change is required, for example.
  6. Crying – in this state, baby’s eyes might be open or shut, breathing will be irregular, and she will be over-stimulated and not receptive to new sensations. Your baby requires something in this state and might be overtired, very hungry, uncomfortable, or in need of some close contact. You may find some soothing is required before she is ready for a feed, even if she is very hungry. 

So, you might be thinking, ‘why are these states important?’

Well, very young babies are often unable to transition between these states smoothly, requiring assistance when overstimulated or upon waking from an active sleep state, for example. Your little one’s ability to transition being these states is called modulation and many babies need to learn how to do this. By responding to your baby’s cues in the moment and by picking up on any patterns and routines favoured by her, parents are well-placed to support their little one’s immature nervous system, while also developing her ability to self-regulate.  

When is the ideal time to interact with and stimulate baby?

The quiet alert stage is the holy grail of states when it comes to interacting with your little one. That first quiet alert stage after birth is magical – baby will be calm, will likely be staring into mum’s eyes, she might touch mum’s skin, and will listen to the voices around her.

As baby gets older, the quiet alert stage will increase in length, allowing you to enjoy some quality awake time together without baby become over-stimulated too quickly. During this stage, baby massage is a lovely bonding activity to do together as baby will be relaxed and comfortable. 

Once your baby moves into the active alert stage, she might still seem responsive and receptive to things around her as her curiosity intensifies, but this stage is often a precursor to fussiness, so it is important to try not to over-stimulate your little one at this point.

Being aware of the stages in a baby’s day can be useful in planning activities and sussing out baby’s natural routine. This routine will change as baby grows but learning through learning her cues, you will be better able to anticipate and prepare for these changes as they occur.

Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett

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