Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Crying baby

11-minute read

Key facts

  • The only way young babies know how to communicate is through crying.
  • Babies may cry because they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable or need a cuddle.
  • Most babies like to be picked up and held when they're crying.
  • Never shake or hurt your baby — or become angry with your baby.
  • If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by your baby's crying, place them in their cot, walk away and return when you're feeling calm.

Why do babies cry?

Babies cry for many reasons. Sometimes it's obvious they're hungry, tired, or even bored; at other times, it can be less clear what they want. Babies don't cry to annoy you — they are communicating a need in the only way they know how.

The only way young babies know how to communicate is through crying. In the first 3 months of life, crying helps to build a close relationship between parents and their baby, as your baby learns how to call you when they need something.

The pitch and intensity of your baby's cry are designed by nature to get you to respond quickly. As they mature, they'll learn other ways to tell you what they need. Be patient as you learn what your baby's cries might mean and what they need.

In very young babies, a couple of hours of crying in the late afternoons and evening is common.

Your baby's individual personality and temperament influence their behaviour. Although all babies are sensitive, some need a little more frequent soothing and reassurance than others.

Will my baby's crying change as they grow?

A baby's age, environment and temperament all have an impact on their behaviour. All babies go through changes in their crying patterns, and sometimes it's hard to work out why.

Babies also change their sleeping and feeding routines when they're growing through a new developmental stage. It's the same when they're unwell, teething, or experiencing separation anxiety.

In the first 3 years of life, babies are developing connections or pathways in their brain and need consistent nurturing to feel safe. This takes a lot of energy from parents, who often feel tired and sleep deprived.

As your baby gets older, their sleep patterns will become more predictable. Newborns sleep between 14 and 17 hours of each 24-hour day. As they mature, they'll need less sleep during the day and have more continuous sleep overnight.

What are some of the common reasons for crying?

Sometimes it may be hard to know why your baby is crying. But it's helpful to be able to rule out a few of the more common causes of crying and to understand why your baby is upset.

Consider whether your baby might be:

  • feeling uncomfortable — try changing their nappy and checking they're not too hot or cold
  • hungry, tired or have a tummy ache — overtired babies often cry loudly when they need to sleep
  • in need of cuddles and reassurance
  • not feeling well — sometimes crying is the only obvious sign that a baby is unwell

What are the best ways to settle a crying baby?

Most babies like to be picked up and held when they're crying. Rocking, 'shooshing', swaying and patting can help them to settle.

Babies aged less than 3 months often respond well to being swaddled. This helps them to feel secure and supports longer sleep periods. Young babies often prefer settling in arms, or with hands on settling strategies until they learn more independent skills.

Babies often feel calm with movement, which is why going for a walk with the pram or placing them in a sling or carrier can help.

Some babies are particularly sensitive to stimuli such as noise and lights, and calm more quickly in a dark, quiet room. Others prefer some background sounds rather than a completely quiet environment.

Think about your own emotions when your baby is crying. Many parents say their baby 'picks up' on what else is going on in the household, especially when there's tension. Try to be mindful and focus on staying calm and reassuring when your baby's crying.

Tips for settling your baby

Try these tips to settle a crying baby:

  • Once you've checked the basics — your baby is clean, dry, comfortable and fed — consider if they just need to be close to you. Often, babies don't need anything 'done' for them, they just want to be held by the people they feel emotionally connected with.
  • Hold your baby close to you and gently pat, rock or sway. Use a soothing, reassuring voice to let them know you're there. Sometimes the only way you'll be able to settle your baby is to hold them until they fall asleep. See your child health nurse if your baby always needs to be cuddled to sleep.
  • Take a walk outside and have a change of scenery — this can help because it's distracting.
  • Try holding them in different positions in your arms. Offer skin-to-skin contact if they're still very young.
  • Offer a dummy if your baby has one.
  • Give your baby a warm bath and a massage afterwards. Be sensitive to your baby's cues; some babies love baths and others dislike being undressed.
  • Offer your baby a comforting breastfeed. If your baby is bottle feeding, they may need some extra milk.
  • If your baby is younger than 3 months, swaddle them with a light cotton or muslin wrap.
  • Put some music on, try humming, singing a song or reading to your baby. The sound of your voice may be enough to soothe them.
  • Hand them to another trusted adult. Have a break from the intensity of your baby's crying.

No long-term harm is done when healthy babies have short term periods of crying. What's important is that parents do what they can to provide calm reassurance.

Tips to settle a crying baby - video

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

What can I do to help avoid my baby crying?

Follow a regular settling routine — this will help your baby to feel secure and learn it's time for sleep. A gentle, predictable wind-down period helps babies transition from being active to becoming calm. Learning your baby's tired signs, such as yawning, rubbing their eyes, grizzling and fussiness are common signs they need to sleep.

Try to separate your baby's feeding and settling times. It's normal and very common for young babies to go to sleep when they're feeding and being held. Missing their 'sleep window' can lead to overtiredness, making it more difficult to settle.

Make sure they're comfortable, warmly dressed (but not too hot) and have a dry nappy. The best time for most babies to settle is after feeding. Try to place your baby in their cot when they're still drowsy, rather than asleep in your arms.

Stay with them until they're relaxed and drifting off to sleep. Support your baby so they learn how to settle independently, without always needing your help.

What is ‘period of PURPLE crying’?

The ‘period of PURPLE crying’ refers to an acronym that describes newborn crying behaviours typically seen over their first few months of life.

Some babies cry more than others for a variety of reasons and sometimes there is no obvious reason why your baby is crying and this can be very distressing.

This period of excessive crying usually begins within the first few weeks of life and peaks at around 6 to 8 weeks. It often stops by the time the baby is 4 months old, and by 6 months at the latest.

‘PURPLE’ stands for:

  • Peaks in crying — the time when your baby will cry the most (usually around 8 weeks)
  • Unexplained — there is no apparent reason why your baby is crying
  • Resists soothing — usual techniques for settling your baby don’t work
  • Pain-like face — your baby might pull faces like they are in pain
  • Long-lasting — crying for a long time, 5 or more hours at a time
  • Evening — your baby is more likely to cry late afternoon or evening

Once you have fed, changed and burped your baby, it’s important to stay calm while providing the emotional support your baby needs. Most babies who cry a lot are going through a period of emotional growth and need a lot of calm love and support to help them feel safe.

The term ‘colic’ has previously been used to describe this period of time.

Speak to your doctor or child health nurse if you are worried about how much your baby is crying.

What is colic?

‘Colic’ is a term that is no longer used that would describe an unsettled baby that would cry for more than 3 hours at a time.

Typically starting around the first few weeks, it can peak around 8 weeks, but can last up to 4 to 5 months. This period of excessive crying is now often referred to as the ‘period of PURPLE crying’ (see above).

Over-the-counter medication and devices labelled for ‘colic’ have no proven benefit.

How do I look after myself when my baby is crying?

Parenting can be a challenge, and it's important to look after your own needs. This means eating regular, healthy meals, staying well hydrated, getting as much rest and sleep as possible and knowing when to ask for help. Accept all reasonable offers of support from the people closest to you.

Read more on looking after your mental and physical wellbeing.

Try to stay calm, even though your baby is upset. Practice some mindfulness exercises and deep breathing.

Understand that sometimes you won't know what your baby wants. Try not to view their crying as something you need to 'fix', but instead see it as their main means of communication.

What are the signs my baby is unwell?

Take your baby to a doctor if they have:

You also shouldn't be afraid to take your baby to the doctor if you are worried, or sense something is not right.

What not to do when your baby is crying

It can be stressful and frustrating at times when your baby is crying, especially when you can't get them to settle down.

What's important is that you never:

  • shake your baby — this can cause bleeding in their brain, which can lead to brain damage and even death
  • become angry with your baby — including raising your voice, smacking, or handling them roughly
  • stay physically close to your baby when you're feeling angry

If you think a baby has been shaken, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance or take the baby to the nearest emergency department as soon as possible.

If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by your baby's crying, place them in their cot and walk away. Return when you're feeling calm. Be mindful of your own mental health and see your GP or child health nurse if you're feeling anxious or depressed.

Resources and support

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

Crying Babies

Most babies have periods of crying which may last one to three hours, once or twice a day.

Read more on Karitane website

Understanding and soothing a crying baby

This fact sheet aims to help parents and carers to understand and soothe their crying baby, including why babies cry and comfort strategies.

Read more on Emerging Minds website

3-6 Month Baby Crying | Baby Waking Up Crying | Tresillian

Understand your 3-6 month baby's crying using communication cues and get expert advice on what to do when your baby won't stop crying.

Read more on Tresillian website

Settling a crying baby factsheet | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Crying is a normal part of your baby’s communication and development. There are strategies to help settle your baby and look after yourself.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Colic - Better Health Channel

Caring for a crying baby with colic can be stressful, so take some time out to calm down.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Is it really low supply? | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Fussy or crying baby? Soft breasts? Baby cluster feeding? Can't pump milk? It can be hard to know what’s going on. 

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Baby Sleep | Tresillian

Need help with a crying baby who is not settling? Here you’ll find Tresillian’s top baby tips and advice on how to help your baby sleep.

Read more on Tresillian website

Why Won't My 2 Month Old Baby Stop Crying | Tresillian

Wondering why your 2 month old baby won't stop crying? You are not alone. Tresillian provides expert advice and support on how to soothe crying babies.

Read more on Tresillian website

How To Stop Crying | Newborn Baby Crying | Tresillian

Does your baby cry inconsolably for long periods? Tresillian provides expert advice on how to cope and get the support you need.

Read more on Tresillian website

WWWT Worksheets/Strategies: Understanding baby's crying

A baby’s crying is very distressing to parents. It is not known why babies sometimes cry for long periods without being easily comforted. However, babies vary in the amount and intensity of crying in their first year. If babies are well fed and are not currently sick, prolonged crying might be related to being over-stimulated and over-tired. If your baby cries for periods of longer than five to ten minutes and your current soothing strategies do not seem help, perhaps your baby needs quietness and sleep.

Read more on WWWT - What Were We Thinking! website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.