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Baby Zones: What Zone Is My Baby In?

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a dad having a hard time getting his baby to eat

New parents Jessica and Bill are in my office for their infant’s first checkup. Mom seems anxious. “I put her to my breast, but she falls right back asleep,” Jessica sighs. “So I lay her down—and then her eyes spring open and she's awake. I can’t tell what she really needs!” Like most new babies, Jessica and Bill's little one is still unsettled - she is having a hard time managing her "zones," or Newborn States. And like many new parents, Jessica and Bill are confused about what zone their baby is in, or is trying to reach.

Newborn Zones - what are they?

Newborn zones are the states that all babies move through between deep sleep and out-of-control crying. The three zones are the Resting Zone (the sleeping baby), the Ready Zone (the baby who's ready to eat or play) and the Rebooting Zone (the fussy or crying baby). Because new babies have undeveloped neurological systems, they cycle through these zones many times each day, and even within a single hour, so that one minute your infant might seem perfectly happy listening to you coo, and the next he's red-faced and screaming.

A newborn's erratic behavior can be confusing to parents, especially first-timers. But you can learn how to "read" your baby's zones - and then help the infant move to the best zone for eating, sleeping, or playing.

The Resting Zone

During their first office visit, Jessica, Bill and I discuss the "Resting Zone" and two types of newborn sleep: deep and light. Newborns cycle between these every hour or so.

Deep and light sleep:

A baby is in deep sleep (or non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep) when her body is totally still and her breathing is deep and regular. She looks asleep. On the other hand, light sleep looks very different, as I explain to Jessica and Bill. "In light sleep, your baby wiggles and squirms. Her eyes flash open, and she makes those sweet baby sounds. When she's sleeping lightly, more blood circulates to her brain, and she is getting smarter! So when you see her moving while she's sleeping, she may not be waking up—just transitioning from deep to light sleep.”

Helping your baby sleep well:

A baby in light sleep can learn to cycle back down into deep sleep - and you can help him. When your baby wiggles and vocalizes, you know he’s entering his light sleep phase. If it’s not time for him to eat, you can lean over the cradle and talk quietly to him. In a few minutes his breathing may slow down, and he may grow still and quiet again - you'll see that you’ve helped him back to the deep Resting Zone.

The following week, Jessica and Bill return, looking happy—their baby has been sleeping better, thanks to their help and her increasing ability to manage her own zones. “Now and then,” Bill reports, “we hesitate a moment before we respond when she's in light sleep. Sometimes she’ll get quiet and go back to that deep Resting Zone all by herself in a few minutes. She’s so smart, and we get another hour of sleep ourselves!”

The Ready Zone

A baby in the “Ready Zone” is alert. Her eyes are bright and her body movements decrease, signaling that she is able to engage with the world around her. A baby in this zone is ready to eat and ready to play.

Helping your baby get to the Ready Zone to eat:

Most full-term, healthy babies get themselves to the Ready Zone when they are hungry. However, Jessica’s baby was born a few weeks early, and Mom was told that her baby may need help waking up to eat well. “I’ve learned how to help her get to the Ready Zone,” Jessica explains. “I undress her and put her against my chest, skin-to-skin.  She squirms, sometimes fusses a moment, and then opens her eyes. I sway her gently or let her suck my finger a minute until I see her eyes brighten up. Now I know she’s ready to eat.”

Helping your baby get to the Ready Zone to play:

Once your baby has eaten and rested, you'll notice that she seems more alert. Bill shows me what he does to help the baby get to the Ready Zone to play. “When I see her eyes open and she starts to pay attention to me, I swaddle her and hold her face up toward mine, like this,” he explains, holding her at a 45-degree angle. In this position, his daughter’s eyes are attentive, her breathing gets more regular, and her body movements decrease.  “She’s ready to watch me shake her new rattle or listen to me sing her favorite song,” he says.

The Rebooting Zone

The Rebooting Zone (the fussy or crying baby) is familiar to all parents. At times, you may even feel overwhelmed by your baby’s crying. The amount of time a baby cries typically increases around two weeks of age, to two hours a day or so. At six weeks, crying commonly peaks to three hours a day. It then tapers off to about one hour by the time the baby is twelve weeks old. (This same curve applies to premature babies by their adjusted ages.)

Reading the Rebooting Zone:

You can help your baby transition out  of the crying phase and settle down by reading the first signs of distress. As a baby enters the rebooting zone, you may start to see his movements increase and become jerky, his face get pale or red, and his breathing speed up. When you see this happen, it's time to help him reboot!

Recognizing that the stress of over stimulation has brought your baby into the rebooting zone, now's the time to decrease stimulation and increase your support - keep it quiet, stop trying to engage your little one, and hold him close.

New parents Jessica and Bill are in my office for their infant’s first checkup. Mom seems anxious. “I put her to my breast, but she falls right back asleep,” Jessica sighs. “So I lay her down—and then her eyes spring open and she's awake. I can’t tell what she really needs!” Like most new babies, Jessica and Bill's little one is still unsettled - she is having a hard time managing her "zones," or Newborn States. And like many new parents, Jessica and Bill are confused about what zone their baby is in, or is trying to reach.

Newborn Zones - What Are They?

Newborn zones are the states that all babies move through between deep sleep and out-of-control crying. The three zones are the Resting Zone (the sleeping baby), the Ready Zone (the baby who's ready to eat or play) and the Rebooting Zone (the fussy or crying baby). Because new babies have undeveloped neurological systems, they cycle through these zones many times each day, and even within a single hour, so that one minute your infant might seem perfectly happy listening to you coo, and the next he's red-faced and screaming.

A newborn's erratic behavior can be confusing to parents, especially first-timers. But you can learn how to "read" your baby's zones - and then help the infant move to the best zone for eating, sleeping, or playing.

The Resting Zone

During their first office visit, Jessica, Bill and I discuss the "Resting Zone" and two types of newborn sleep: deep and light. Newborns cycle between these every hour or so.

Deep and Light Sleep

A baby is in deep sleep (or non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep) when her body is totally still and her breathing is deep and regular. She looks asleep. On the other hand, light sleep looks very different, as I explain to Jessica and Bill. "In light sleep, your baby wiggles and squirms. Her eyes flash open, and she makes those sweet baby sounds. When she's sleeping lightly, more blood circulates to her brain, and she is getting smarter! So when you see her moving while she's sleeping, she may not be waking up—just transitioning from deep to light sleep.”

Helping Your Baby Sleep Well

A baby in light sleep can learn to cycle back down into deep sleep - and you can help him. When your baby wiggles and vocalizes, you know he’s entering his light sleep phase. If it’s not time for him to eat, you can lean over the cradle and talk quietly to him. In a few minutes his breathing may slow down, and he may grow still and quiet again - you'll see that you’ve helped him back to the deep Resting Zone.

The following week, Jessica and Bill return, looking happy—their baby has been sleeping better, thanks to their help and her increasing ability to manage her own zones. “Now and then,” Bill reports, “we hesitate a moment before we respond when she's in light sleep. Sometimes she’ll get quiet and go back to that deep Resting Zone all by herself in a few minutes. She’s so smart, and we get another hour of sleep ourselves!”

The Ready Zone

A baby in the “Ready Zone” is alert. Her eyes are bright and her body movements decrease, signaling that she is able to engage with the world around her. A baby in this zone is ready to eat and ready to play.

Helping Your baby Get to the Ready Zone to Eat

Most full-term, healthy babies get themselves to the Ready Zone when they are hungry. However, Jessica’s baby was born a few weeks early, and Mom was told that her baby may need help waking up to eat well.

“I’ve learned how to help her get to the Ready Zone,” Jessica explains. “I undress her and put her against my chest, skin-to-skin.  She squirms, sometimes fusses a moment, and then opens her eyes. I sway her gently or let her suck my finger a minute until I see her eyes brighten up. Now I know she’s ready to eat.”

Helping Your Baby Get to the Ready Zone to Play

Once your baby has eaten and rested, you'll notice that she seems more alert. Bill shows me what he does to help the baby get to the Ready Zone to play. “When I see her eyes open and she starts to pay attention to me, I swaddle her and hold her face up toward mine, like this,” he explains, holding her at a 45-degree angle. In this position, his daughter’s eyes are attentive, her breathing gets more regular, and her body movements decrease.  “She’s ready to watch me shake her new rattle or listen to me sing her favorite song,” he says.

The Rebooting Zone

The Rebooting Zone (the fussy or crying baby) is familiar to all parents. At times, you may even feel overwhelmed by your baby’s crying. The amount of time a baby cries typically increases around two weeks of age, to two hours a day or so. At six weeks, crying commonly peaks to three hours a day. It then tapers off to about one hour by the time the baby is twelve weeks old. (This same curve applies to premature babies by their adjusted ages.)

Reading the Rebooting Zone

You can help your baby transition out  of the crying phase and settle down by reading the first signs of distress. As a baby enters the rebooting zone, you may start to see his movements increase and become jerky, his face get pale or red, and his breathing speed up. When you see this happen, it's time to help him reboot! Recognizing that the stress of over stimulation has brought your baby into the rebooting zone, now's the time to decrease stimulation and increase your support - keep it quiet, stop trying to engage your little one, and hold him close.

 
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