About crying in babies
Babies are born with the ability to cry. Crying is their main way of communicating. They cry when they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick or in pain. Sometimes they cry because they need comfort.
But it can sometimes be hard to work out what your crying baby needs. So when your baby cries, start by checking that baby isn’t sick or hurt. If you’re not sure, make an appointment with your GP or call your child and family health nurse.
Crying and fussing: what to expect
On average, babies cry and fuss for almost three hours a day, and around 1 in 10 babies cry for a lot longer than this.
Crying usually reaches a peak at about 6-8 weeks of age, and then gradually lessens as babies get older.
Also, babies under six months tend to cry most in the late afternoon and early evening. It might help to know that this stage of intense crying will pass, usually before five months.
As babies get older, crying is more likely to be spread throughout the day. That’s because crying in older babies is more about communicating with you or about something in their environment.
Colic is when babies cry for no obvious reason and are almost impossible to settle. If you think your baby has colic, it’s a good idea to get a check-up with your GP or paediatrician to rule out medical causes for crying.
How to manage your baby’s crying: tips
The first step is to check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable. You might be able to respond to your baby’s crying by giving a feed, putting baby down for a sleep or changing baby’s nappy.
Here are some other tips that might make crying easier to cope with until your baby gets older and can tell you what they need. Some of these tips are useful for crying at any time of day, and some are most useful for crying at sleep time. You might need to try different things at different times – just experiment to see what suits you and your baby best.
Moving your baby
- Gently rock or carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling. Sometimes movement and closeness to a parent can soothe babies.
- Go for a walk or a drive, as long as you’re not too tired! Even if your baby doesn’t stop crying, it’s sometimes easier to cope when you’re on the move. Note that leaving your baby to sleep unsupervised in a pram isn’t recommended.
Calming and relaxing your baby
- Give your baby a warm bath.
- Try baby massage. This might help you relax too. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your baby. Your child and family health nurse can teach you how to do baby massage.
Settling and soothing your baby for sleep
- Try to establish a pattern to feeding and settling.
- Wrap your baby. This can help your baby feel secure.
- Lay your baby on their side in the cot and rhythmically pat baby’s back. Gently turn baby onto their back if they fall asleep.
- Offer a dummy or the breast. Sometimes your baby isn’t hungry but wants or needs to suck. If baby is 3-4 months or older, you could also help them find their own fingers or thumb to suck.
- Speak softly to your baby, sing to baby or play soft music. White noise can also be soothing for some babies. You could try a fan, a vacuum, or a radio set to the static between stations.
- Calm things down by dimming the lights, which helps to reduce stimulation.
Managing your own feelings
Try putting in some imaginary earplugs. Let the sound of the crying pass through you, and remind yourself that everything is OK. You’re doing all you can to help your baby.
Babies feel safe and secure when you interact with them in warm, loving and responsive ways. So you can’t spoil babies by picking them up, cuddling them or talking to them. Feed your baby whenever you think they’re hungry, and pick baby up to offer comfort when they’re crying.
Looking after yourself when your baby is crying
If your baby is crying a lot, it’s very important to look after yourself. Even just five minutes reading a book, walking around the block or doing some meditation can give you a break if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry. Or sometimes it might help to have another person take over for a while. If you can, ask your partner or a friend or relative to help out.
Seeking support is an important part of looking after yourself. It’s good for you and it’s good for your family. If you need support, you can phone your GP or child and family health nurse. They might offer phone consultations. You could also call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
You should also see your GP or nurse if you or your partner experiences the signs of postnatal depression in women or postnatal depression in men. Symptoms of postnatal depression include feeling sad and crying for no obvious reason, feeling irritable, having difficulty coping and feeling very anxious.
Never shake a baby. It can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage. If you feel like you can’t cope, put your baby in a safe place like a cot. Try going to another room to breathe deeply, or calling your state or territory parenting helpline for help.