cry; crying; baby; unsettled; upset; fuss; wind; slings; sleep; wrapping; spoiling; comforting; settling;
Crying is the main way babies have of letting us know when they need help, but it is not always easy to work out why a baby is crying.
Babies often cry a lot in the early weeks and some babies cry a lot more than others. Some babies cry for 2 hours or more each day and this can be normal for them. For many babies the time that they cry often gets longer until they are around 6 – 8 weeks old, then gets less by the time they are around 3 months old.
It is hard to be with a crying baby.
Some reasons why babies cry
- Uncomfortable - hot, cold, needs nappy change, wind or tummy pain.
- Unwell: if your baby is crying a lot, check with your doctor so you can feel sure that your baby is well.
- Needs a cuddle.
- Too much has happened in the day and the baby is stressed.
Many babies cry a lot in the late afternoon and evening. This is sometimes called colic. No reason has been found why babies cry like this. There is more about this in the topic 'Colic in babies'.
Some babies seem to be in pain due to reflux. There is more about this in the topic 'Reflux'.
Many times when young babies cry no reason can be found.
Comforting your baby
If your baby is crying, she needs you to go to her, and care for her. You cannot spoil a baby by doing this. In the early months a baby needs to learn that her world is a safe place to be in, and that she can trust her carers to meet her needs. It seems that when you comfort a young baby she may cry less when she is older.
As you get to know your baby you will find it easier to work out when she wants a feed or a cuddle or needs to be settled to sleep.
Sometimes you will check to see if something is upsetting her, and you will find nothing wrong and that nothing helps her calm down. All you can do it sit and hold her and help her learn to cope with her distress.
- Hold your baby. Crying babies arch their heads back and stiffen their legs. Holding them curved into a C or flexed position can help them calm down. Here are some different ways of holding your baby that may help.
- Wrapping a baby can be calming and help the baby sleep for longer. See our topic 'Wrapping babies'. Make sure you leave plenty of room so your baby's legs can be bent up and not wrapped tightly.
- Dummies help some babies to settle, but if you are breastfeeding your baby, don't use one in the early weeks until the breastfeeding is well established.
- Baby slings are great to provide the comfort and contact that babies need when you have something else to do. However some babies have suffocated in baby slings - they need to be used with care. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released a safety alert about baby slings.
- Soft music, rhythmic sounds or continuous machine noises (such as the noise made by a washing machine) soothe some babies. Do not put your baby on top of the washing machine in a capsule or cradle. He may fall off and some babies have been seriously hurt like this.
- Many babies settle when taken for a walk in the pram, and the exercise helps parents feel better too. Don't leave your baby sleeping by himself in a pram.
- Some babies only seem to settle when taken for a drive. This can be a problem, but if you are able to do this safely (ie. you are not too tired, or too distressed by your baby's crying) this might be useful for the few weeks before he grows past this stage.
- Whispering to babies will sometimes get their attention and stop them crying.
Coping with your own feelings
It is very hard to always be patient with your baby, especially if she cries a lot.
You may find yourself feeling frustrated, angry, helpless and distressed. These feelings are real and cannot just be ignored. Just because you love your baby doesn't mean you have to like her behaviour all the time.
- Remind yourself that your baby cannot control her crying and is not trying to get at you. She is not "spoilt" and attending to her will not spoil her.
- If there is someone nearby to help, give your baby to him or her while you take a break.
- If you are on your own, you may need to take a break when you feel angry feelings building up. Put your baby down in a safe place and walk away. Go outside perhaps, and take some deep breaths, phone someone or make a cup of tea. When you feel calmer, go back to your baby and try to settle her again.
It can be very hard when nothing seems to help. Shaking a baby can cause brain damage. Have a look at the topic 'Never shake a baby'.
It is important to look after yourself when you have a young baby who depends on you. Take up offers of help and get some regular breaks when you can. See our topic 'New mums' for more ideas.
If things are really getting you down so you are finding it hard to enjoy your baby at all, or you are often tearful or feeling depressed, it is important to talk it over with your doctor, a child health nurse or a counsellor.
Where to get help
South Australia - Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
In other Australian states there are also telephone help lines. These are listed on this page:
The Children's Hospital at Westmead has developed a DVD which you can watch online about a crying baby, some ideas to settle a baby and a warning never to shake a baby. 'Responding to a crying baby'
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.