Healthy living

Crying baby

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 they spend crying often gets longer until they are around 6 to 8 weeks old, then gets less by the time they are around 3 months old.

It is hard to be with a crying baby and it may be distressing for parents.

It can be very difficult when your baby does not become calm when you try so hard to settle her. Remember never to shake your baby or handle him roughly as this can harm him

Some babies who cry a lot find it hard to settle into a pattern of eating and sleeping, so everyone gets very overtired.

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn – please change to suit your child's sex.

Normal crying patterns

Parents often feel their baby cries more than other babies, or more than they expected.

There is a wide range of normal crying. Some babies cry much more than other babies for no clear reason.

Young babies may have 1 or 2 times each day when they usually cry, with some unsettled behaviour in between.

Many babies cry a lot in the late afternoon and evening. No reason has been found for this.

Studies show babies fuss or cry about 2 hours a day on average, some more and some less

Some reasons why babies cry

  • Hunger – Young babies may need feeding fairly often, especially if they are breastfed.
  • Discomfort – Your baby may cry if she feels hot, cold, needs nappy a change, has wind or tummy pain, or her clothing is uncomfortable or tight around her tummy.
  • Bowel action – Young babies can make a lot of fuss about doing a poo, even when it is soft or runny.
  • Tired – Is she in the best place to settle? Some babies prefer a dark quiet place to settle, others do better with some noise and activity.
  • Unwell – Check for signs of illness, especially if her crying is different to her usual pattern. Seek help if you are worried.
  • Overtired.
  • Needs a cuddle.
  • Stressed – Perhaps too much has happened in the day.
  • Reflux.
  • No reason at all!

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. Research has shown that when you comfort a young baby, she may cry less when she is older.

You may not be able to stop the crying every time, but you need to do what you can to provide comfort, and help your baby learn to cope with his distress.

Settling ideas

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. 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.

Soothing sounds – 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 asleep in a pram unattended.

Some babies only seem to settle when taken for a drive. This is not ideal, but if you are able to do this safely (that is, 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.

For safety advice on wrapping and use of slings visit Red Nose (external site).

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If there is someone nearby to help, give your baby to them 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 (her cot) 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 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.
  • If things are really getting you down and 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, child health nurse or counsellor.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Parenting Line 

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network

© Women’s and Children’s Health Network, reproduced with permission. The South Australian Government does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of this reproduction

Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health (CAHS CH)

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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