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Settling a crying baby

4-minute read

All babies cry since it's their way of communicating that they need something. Sometimes it's easy to work out what it is, but sometimes it isn't. Trying to soothe a crying baby can be tiring and stressful.

Why babies cry

Crying is normal. Common reasons for crying include being hungry, tired, scared or uncomfortable, or having a wet nappy. In most cases, the cause is not a medical problem.

How much crying

All babies are different. At 6 to 8 weeks, babies often cry for a total of 2 to 3 hours in a 24-hour period. Some babies seem to cry more than others. Crying can last for 5 hours in a 24 hour period, or more. When a baby is crying a lot it is sometimes called colic.

The crying usually peaks at 6 to 8 weeks and lessens by 3 to 4 months of age. By 4 to 5 months, most babies have become more settled although some may continue to cry for longer.

How to settle a crying baby

Try not to let your baby become really distressed before you respond to their cries. You cannot ‘spoil’ a baby by being responsive or by cuddling them too much. Here are some ways to settle a baby.

Feeding

First, consider whether your baby is hungry. Try offering a breastfeed or if the baby is formula fed, you could try giving the next bottle a little earlier. Your nurse or doctor can advise you on feeding and the amount of milk your baby needs. If you are breastfeeding, you can also call the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s helpline on 1800 686 268.

Sucking

If your baby has fed in the past 2 hours, you can offer something to suck, like a dummy. Some babies may suck on their fist, fingers or thumb.

Cuddling or holding

Try holding your baby close to you so they can feel your heartbeat. You can also try talking or singing gently and quietly to your baby to soothe them.

Swaddling

If your newborn baby has been awake for a while, try swaddling to help them feel secure. Try to make the room dark or quiet to reduce stimulation.

Changing their nappy or clothing

Check if your baby has a wet or dirty nappy that needs changing. Also check if they are too hot or too cold and whether their clothing is comfortable (not too tight, for example).

Movement

Gentle movement can help pacify some babies. Try gently rocking your baby in your arms, but avoid fast or rough movements, which can be dangerous. Or, you can put your baby in a pram or approved sling and walk around outside.

Bath

If your baby likes it, a warm bath may help them calm down.

Baby massage

You can try giving your baby a massage with a nut-free oil. Keep the room warm enough so they are comfortable.

Tips to settle a crying baby - video

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

What to do if nothing is working

It can be very upsetting and frustrating if nothing you try seems to be working. Never shake your baby since it can cause bleeding in their brain and could result in brain damage. If you feel like you are losing control, put the baby down in a safe place for a few minutes while you calm down. If possible, ask somebody to take over the settling.

It may also help to phone a friend, or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 for advice or support.

See a doctor if your baby cries excessively or their cries are unusual, or if they seem unwell or have other symptoms such as vomiting or a fever.

Where to get help

Talk to your doctor or child health nurse if you are concerned about your baby, or if you find it difficult to cope or feel positive about your baby. You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: December 2019


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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.

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