How Long Is the Newborn Stage? (Plus, Tips to Navigate It)

Here’s your mini survival guide for those crucial first few months.
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Updated July 9, 2024
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Taking care of a newborn baby can be a nerve-wracking experience, whether you’re a first-time parent or a seasoned expert. After all, newborn babies can seem impossibly tiny and fragile. All those hours spent soothing and feeding your little one might make you wonder: How long is the newborn stage, exactly? Truth is, while those sleepless nights might feel eternal, the newborn stage is actually kind of short. Read on to find out what to expect so you feel more prepared, including newborn milestones and tips to navigate this short and sweet stage—then soak in the snuggles, the “new baby” smell and the newborn scrunch while you still can.

How Long Is The Newborn Stage?

The newborn stage is actually a lot shorter than many people might assume: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the official length of this time period is 28 days. “However, many consider it to last until an infant is about 4 to 6 weeks old,” says Jessica Madden, MD, IBCLC, a pediatrician, neonatologist and medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps.

Once the newborn stage is over, baby moves into the infant stage, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as up until one year of age.

What Does a Newborn Need?

In those first few weeks of life, you can expect a lot of cuddling, feeding and, yes, crying. Newborn babies don’t require much outside of the basic needs of survival. In theory, if you keep them fed, rested and feeling loved, they should be pretty happy (although, realistically, things aren’t that easy!).

“It’s best to keep things simple with a newborn and be low-tech, if possible,” Madden says. She notes that parents don’t need to stress over sleep training: “This isn’t developmentally appropriate until an infant is at least 4 months old,” she says. Here’s a look at what baby does need:

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Whether it’s breast milk, formula or a mix of the two, newborn babies are constantly eating. “A newborn needs to drink enough breast milk or formula to be able to grow and thrive,” Madden says. How often to feed them can sometimes depend on whether you’re offering breast milk or formula. According to Demi Lucas, IBCLC, a doula, maternal health and infant advocate, and clinical resource manager at The Lactation Network, newborns who are breastfeeding will need to feed on demand. “This typically looks like eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period,” she says. “At birth, their stomach is approximately 5 to 7 milliliters in size and can hold that volume. This will gradually increase over the coming days and months.” If you’re offering formula, the CDC recommends giving 1 to 2 ounces every two to three hours, feeding baby eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. “Babies this age should gain between half an ounce to 1 ounce per day on average once they’re back to their birth weight,” Madden adds.


Newborn babies sleep a lot, but the bulk of that sleep can sometimes happen at the wrong time—many babies have their days and nights mixed up. So if you find that they’re up more during the night than the day, that’s par for the course, Madden assures. “This is physiologically normal, as newborns need to wake up to feed frequently, but then also have stretches of sleep between feedings,” she says. You can expect newborns to sleep between 18 and 20 hours a day on average, and Madden stresses that you shouldn’t expect any kind of sleep schedule at this age. It’s also important to keep safe sleep practices in mind: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends placing babies on their backs on a flat, firm surface with no blankets, pillows, toys or any other objects, keeping them swaddled if you’d like.

Basic hygiene

Expect to go through a lot of diapers during those first few weeks: Newborn babies pee and poop frequently, and blowouts are a very real thing. “You may be changing newborn diapers up to 12 times per day depending on how often and how much they’re feeding,” Madden says. She also notes that you don’t need to give baby a bath every day since it can dry out their skin. The AAP suggests aiming for three baths a week, tops.

Physical contact

Snuggling with your little one isn’t just enjoyable for you—it’s something they need to grow and thrive. Madden suggests doing “skin to skin,” which is where baby’s bare chest is against a caregiver’s bare chest. “Newborns benefit from skin to skin from all caregivers, not just mothers,” she notes.

What Are the Newborn Milestones?

In terms of monumental milestones, the newborn stage isn’t super exciting. In their first few weeks of life, you shouldn’t expect your little one to be doing much (did we mention they mainly just eat and sleep?). But even if their milestones aren’t quite as obvious as the later ones—like their first words or steps—they’re still important in their own right.


By the time your little one reaches the one-month mark, the AAP notes that they should be more alert and responsive than in the first few weeks of life. Baby will be more coordinated and more aware of your presence.

  • Movement milestones. By this age, babies should be moving their arms around in jerky motions, bringing their hands to their face and keeping their hands in little fists, according to the AAP. You should also notice some strong reflex movements and that they may move side-to-side when lying on their belly.
  • Smell and touch milestones. After a few weeks, you should start to see that baby recognizes the smell of Mom’s breast milk. They should be avoiding things that smell bad too. You may also notice that they enjoy touching soft or textured things and that they don’t like being handled roughly.
  • Visual and hearing milestones. After the first few weeks, you’ll see your newborn beginning to explore the world around them more. They should be able to focus 8 to 12 inches away, their eyes will wander and occasionally cross and they’ll show preference for human faces. By this age, their hearing should be fully developed, and you should notice them turning to look for you when they hear your voice.


At 2 months, baby will be even more expressive and aware of their surroundings, according to the CDC. Here’s what else you can expect:

  • Social and emotional milestones. By 2 months, you’ll notice baby showing more recognition for parents and caregivers. They’ll calm down when being picked up and will seem happy to see you, even smiling when you talk to them.
  • Language and communication milestones. Baby will be making cooing sounds and visibly reacting to loud sounds.
  • Cognitive milestones. Watch baby when they’re staring at something—whether it’s you or a toy: They’ll be more focused than before, looking at things longer and more intently.
  • Movement milestones. Look for new movements, like baby opening and closing their fists. They’ll also be able to hold their head up when lying on their tummy, and move both arms and both legs.

Tips to Navigate the Newborn Stage

The newborn stage may seem peaceful—but in reality, many new parents struggle with sleep deprivation, postpartum anxiety and other issues. “The newborn stage is a period of major hormonal fluctuations and extreme sleep deprivation that includes the additional huge responsibility of keeping another human being alive,” Madden says. “I cannot think of any other period of one’s life that has this same combination of physical, mental and emotional stress, and fatigue all at once.”

Here are some tips for how to get through the newborn stage.

Alternate night feedings and wakeups

Newborns are wakeful. With that said, try to set a nighttime plan in place where you can alternate feedings with your partner or another caregiver, if that’s an option. “If a newborn is bottle-feeding, it can help a ton for parents to alternate feedings at night, or even each take an entire night on duty—so that the other can sleep,” Madden says. Even if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, your partner can help with diaper changes and soothing baby. If sleep is a huge challenge, you might want to look into help from a postpartum doula, night nurse or a helpful family member.

Focus on bonding with baby

Bonding is incredibly important during the newborn stage. “Seeing as newborns are in their womb-to-world transition during this period, it provides them with so many important physical benefits,” Lucas says. She highly recommends making time for skin-to-skin contact at least once a day. “Skin-to-skin quite literally is used in NICUs to support regulation of heart rate, body temperature, the nervous system and to calm newborns,” Lucas explains. “It’s one of the best tools to implement when bonding with one’s newborns.” Madden recommends holding baby frequently, and really being present when doing so. Singing and talking to them, and looking into their eyes, are all ways of bonding.

Take advantage of your support system

If there’s ever a time to take a friend or family member up on their offer to help, the newborn stage is it. If handing over baby stresses you out, they can help with tasks like cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. “This season does pass, and it’s so important to get through it with proper support from partners, family, friends and a healthcare team,” Lucas says. “Lean on those who love you and ask for help.” If you need nursing help, she also encourages reaching out to a lactation consultant.

Know when to ask for mental health help

For some, the newborn stage simply feels overwhelming. For others, it can lead to postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. “If you or your partner are exhibiting … persistent sadness or crying, overwhelm, lack of interest in being around your newborn, feelings of shame or being a bad parent, difficulty sleeping or any other concerning symptoms, please make sure to reach out for help ASAP,” Madden says.

Remember that fed is best

If you’re struggling with nursing, pumping or producing breast milk, remember that it’s okay to supplement with or only use formula. “The main priority is to make sure baby is fed and well-nourished,” Madden says. “Infant formula is an acceptable breast milk replacement, and if you do need to supplement, please don’t be hard on yourself and know baby will be okay.”

Learn baby’s cues

It can take some time, but eventually parents or caregivers will begin to pick up on what baby is trying to say. Once you realize that one very specific cry means, “I’m starving!” and another means, “I’m exhausted!” you’ll start to feel like you’re figuring things out. Pay attention to what you think baby needs and follow your gut instinct.

Keep every room of your house stocked with essentials

Newborns are messy and convenience is key when it comes to making the day-to-day feel a bit easier. Make sure to have a few key items in every room of the house, or at least the rooms baby is often in. This can include things like extra bibs and burp cloths, diapers and wipes, a set of pajamas in case of an accident, and an extra pacifier and blanket. Keep a mini fridge by your bed stocked with either already-made bottles of pumped breast milk or formula and a water bottle and snacks for you to make middle-of-the night feedings more streamlined. Having things within arm’s reach instead of moving them all over the place can make you both more comfortable.

Write down questions and notes for your pediatrician

Even if you’re not a first-time parent, the first few weeks of baby’s life come with a lot of questions and concerns. Use a little notebook or the notes app on your phone to jot down any question or worry that pops into your brain, so you know exactly what to ask your provider during your next visit.

Don’t pressure yourself

“This is a great time to keep things simple and focus on your basic needs and those of baby—food and nourishment, recovery and sleep,” Madden says. “This is not a period of time to focus on perfection or how you appear on social media or to the outward world.” Remind yourself that you’re doing a great job—and that it’s normal if this feels hard. “If it seems really hard to take care of a newborn, you’re not doing anything wrong!” Madden says. “Newborn care is tiring and can be stressful, and it’s important to be gentle on yourself.”

This stage may only last a few weeks, but in the moment, it can feel like it stretches on forever. “The newborn phase is one of the most transformative times families will experience,” Lucas says. Remember that this is your time to bond with baby—but don’t forget to take care of yourself. This intense period will pass—and you may even look back and miss it one day.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.


Demi Lucas, IBCLC, is a doula, maternal health and infant advocate, and clinical resource manager at The Lactation Network.

Jessica Madden, MD, IBCLC, is a pediatrician, neonatologist and medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps. She earned her medical degree from Ohio State University.

World Health Organization, Newborn Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Positive Parenting Tips: Infants (0-1 Years), May 2024

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How Much and How Often to Feed Infant Formula, June 2023

Healthy Children (American Academy of Pediatrics), Your Newborn’s First Week: How to Prepare & What to Expect, August 2023

Healthy Children (American Academy of Pediatrics), Bathing Your Baby, September 2023

Healthy Children (American Academy of Pediatrics), Developmental Milestones: 1 Month, June 2009

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Important Milestones: Your Baby by Two Months, April 2024

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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