Abstract While traditional studies of newborn diet have focused on the effects of malnutrition on the central nervous system, there is now interest in how qualitative differences in the composition of early newborn feeding might influence behavior. This paper reviews the available techniques for assesing newborn perception and cognition, as well as behavioral organization. The paper then focuses intensively on measures of newborn state behaviour in view of evidence in adult humans, as well as in non-human species, suggesting a relationship between sleep behavior (sleep onset, night waking) and brain serotonin levels. A study designed to examine the relationship between dietary precursors of brain serotonin (within the range of concentrations found in human milk) and newborn state behavior after feeding is described to illustrate the application of these techniques. Healthy, fullterm newborns were fed a modified formula, containing tryptophan or valine, on one day, a routine formula on another day, and observed continuously for 3 h after each feeding for the observation and recording of newborn state. Data from individual infants in the tryptophan and valine groups are presented to illustrate the findings that infants fed tryptophan entered quiet sleep and active sleep sooner than infants fed valine and spent more time in active sleep and less time alert. These results illustrate the value of newborn behavior as a sensitive dependent variable in studies of behavioral effects of diet and suggests that variations in serotonin levels in the newborn brain may modulate the newborn's sleep/wake behaviour.