About newborn baby behaviour
Sleeping, feeding, crying. That’s what newborn behaviour is all about in the first few months.
Although your baby might give you some eye contact, crying is probably the main thing you’ll notice about your baby’s behaviour. For example, your baby will cry because they feel hungry, unsettled, wet or uncomfortable, or just because they need a cuddle. And sometimes your baby will cry for no obvious reason.
Babies are born with very different temperaments. Some are relaxed and easygoing, and others seem to be more intense. Some seem to move constantly, and others are quieter. Some are cheerful most of the time, and others are more serious.
Newborn crying: what to expect
Crying is a newborn’s main way of telling you what they need. It’s a sound that can spur you into action, even when you’re asleep. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, it can trigger your let-down reflex.
Crying peaks at about 6-8 weeks. This period of intense newborn crying is hard, but it will pass.
Babies cry and fuss on average for almost three hours a day. Some cry for a lot longer than this. Most of this crying and fussing seems to happen in the late afternoon and evening, although every day will probably be a bit different.
As babies get older, they spend less time crying. The crying is also more likely to be spread throughout the day. And it’s easier to understand what babies need when they cry.
Crying is often a sign that your baby is tired or overstimulated. But newborns also have other tired signs. For example, newborns might pull at their ears or suck on their fingers when they’re tired.
Understanding and responding to your newborn baby’s behaviour
Your newborn baby is working out what the world is like. The way you respond to your baby’s behaviour, especially crying, tells your baby a lot about the world.
For example, your baby might find out that when they cry, someone comes to give them what they need. This might be a nappy change, a feed or a cuddle. If that happens, baby will learn that the world is a pretty OK place.
When you respond quickly to comfort your crying newborn, your baby might cry less often overall. It’s absolutely fine to pick up your newborn baby when they cry. It helps your baby feel safe and know that you’re nearby.
You can’t spoil a newborn. If your newborn is crying, it’s because they need you to comfort them. If you respond calmly and consistently, it helps your baby learn that the world is a safe and predictable place.
Managing newborn crying: tips
If your baby cries a lot, it can be frustrating, upsetting and overwhelming. It’s OK to take some time out until you feel calmer. Put your baby in a safe place like a cot, or ask someone else to hold your baby for a while.
These ideas might help you and your baby:
- Reduce the stimulation around your baby – for example, try sitting with baby in a quiet, dimmed room.
- Swaddle or wrap your baby. This can help your baby feel secure.
- Hum a gentle, calming tune. Your baby knows your voice and prefers it to other sounds.
- Lay your baby on their side in the cot and rhythmically pat their back. Gently turn baby onto their back if they fall asleep.
- 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.
- Take your baby for a walk in the pram or a sling. Movement can sometimes be soothing.
- Try playing ‘white noise’ like a fan or the radio tuned to the static between stations. This can help to settle your baby.
- See our illustrated, step-by-step guide to soothing a crying baby.
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.
When to seek help for newborn behaviour
Dealing with crying gets easier as your newborn learns more about the world and gets better at letting you know what they need. Also, it gets easier to understand your baby’s cues and body language.
No-one knows your baby better than you, so if you’re worried about your baby’s crying, talk things through with your GP or child and family health nurse.
All children have the right to be safe and protected. Seek help if you feel that you can’t cope or you might hurt your child.