It’s a pity they don’t come with a manual, but reading this will be the next best thing if you want to learn how to settle a newborn.
Trying to figure out how to settle a crying baby is possibly the nightmare of new parents everywhere. They don’t speak, they can’t tell you what they want and you have absolutely no idea what to do to stop your baby’s cries.
We have seven things you can try to settle a newborn who is crying. This includes how to get a baby to sleep. By the end of this article, you’ll be armed with all the tools you’ll need to face—and soothe—a crying baby.
Why young babies cry
Crying is actually a baby’s form of communicating—and usually, it’s because they:
- are hungry
- have a wet nappy
- have wind pain
- are tired
- want to be cuddled
How much crying is normal for newborn babies?
In the early days, many parents may actually find that they have a dream baby on their hands. The baby hardly cries, but that’s usually only because a newborn sleeps a lot, not because they think crying is a waste of time.
While all babies are different, all babies will inevitably wake up, find their lungs and cry. Whether this happens in the first few days or first few weeks will of course depend on your baby. A baby’s cry usually peaks at around 6 to 8 weeks of age and can be more noticeable in the late afternoon or evening. This will usually taper off by the time they’re about six months old.
If you notice your baby cries a lot at a certain time of day or simply will not settle, your baby may have colic, as Dr Simone Kooke explains.
In the video below, she talks about how to identify and help a colicky baby.
How to settle a newborn who is crying
“In the first few months, parents should promptly respond to a new baby crying, since it’s normally a sign they need attention or affection,” says Heather Winter, a midwife with Sydney Adventist Hospital. “A parent’s quick and effective response to their needs helps to promote parent and child bonding.”
Here are seven different things to try when your baby is crying.
1. Feed baby
Babies, especially newborns, get hungry very quickly.
2. Offer a dummy
Some babies may not be hungry and simply have a very strong desire to suck. A dummy can be helpful in this instance (don’t worry, you’re not “muting” them. If they’re actually hungry, you’ll know).
3. Change nappy
Nobody likes wet or dirty underpants and neither does your baby. Check if their nappies need changing.
4. Check for gas
Having wind in their belly can be very uncomfortable for newborns. Sometimes, you will notice that babies will draw their legs up to their tummies and appear to be unsettled—it may indicate they have wind. Try burping them, softly rubbing their belly in a clockwise direction, or laying them on their backs and lifting their legs to do bicycle kicks.
Related: Does my baby have reflux?
5. Hold them
There’s nothing wrong with cuddling and holding your baby. Some babies just want to be near you, to feel your warmth, to smell you or to hear your heartbeat. If you have chores to do, you could put them in a baby carrier and go about your day.
6. Move them
It’s a subconscious thing we all do. When we have a baby in our arms, we inevitably sway from side to side or rock them. And babies love it! Just make sure the movements are gentle. You can also put baby in a pram and push it back and forth.
7. Establish a sleep routine
Babies need plenty of sleep, but they don’t always know that. Instead of voluntarily having a nap, babies will cry instead. If possible, get to know your baby’s tired signs, which can include:
- jerky movements
- rubbing eyes
- fist clenching
- and more
Now is the time to establish a good sleep routine so that baby learns it’s time to sleep. This can include swaddling, singing and then placing them in their bed when you recognise baby’s cues for rest.
Your baby will likely continue to wake up through the night for the first few months—if not years—of their life. Don’t worry or stress about this. However, continue to establish and reinforce good sleep habits while responding to their needs.
During these early months, it’s important to help your baby to tell the difference between day and night time. You can do so by keeping night feeds dimly lit and brief. Starting a bedtime routine even if they’re only sleeping for short periods of time at night is also a good idea. This can include:
- a warm bath
- a massage
- a feed
- a story
- placing baby in bed drowsy but not sleepy
This will help to create a good sleep pattern for when they’re developmentally ready. Remember though that routines take time to develop and babies learn to self-settle at different stages in their development.
Note: Make sure your baby is in a safe sleeping environment to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Where to get help
It’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated or upset if your baby continues to cry for a long time even after you’ve tried everything.
Remembering babies cry to communicate, consider if the crying is normal for your baby or is a sign of baby being unwell.
“If you are experiencing frustration or anxiety over your baby, place baby in their cot, take some deep breaths to try and calm yourself, and seek help and support from family or friends,” advises Heather.
If you have any health concerns regarding your baby, contact your GP for advice. Parents who are experiencing difficulties with uncontrollable crying in an otherwise healthy baby can seek help from their early childhood health centre, or the Tresillian, Karitane (Australia), or Plunket (New Zealand) 24-hour helplines.
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