Understanding and soothing a crying baby

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource aims to help parents understand and soothe their crying baby. It provides some information on why babies cry, along with strategies that might help you to comfort your baby when they are crying. It also offers advice to help you manage your own emotions when the crying becomes too much. It has been developed with the guidance of family members with lived experience, practitioners and researchers.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Why do babies cry?

Crying is one of the main ways that infants communicate. It’s how they let you know – sometimes very loudly – what they need.

Babies usually cry because they are:

  • hungry
  • tired
  • uncomfortable – for example, if they are too hot or cold or need a nappy change
  • unwell or teething
  • going through a growth phase
  • needing to be held so they feel safe – for example, if you’re in a different environment, or they’ve been overstimulated by seeing lots of new faces.

Babies who cry and fuss a lot, for no obvious physical or medical reason, may have ‘colic’. Babies with colic are frequently unsettled or ‘grizzly’, may look like they are in pain, and also cry very loudly, especially in the evening. Find out more on the Raising Children Network website and talk to your general practitioner (GP) or child health nurse if you think your baby might have colic.

To learn more about the role of a GP, watch this video.

Crying peaks at about 6–8 weeks of age. This period of intense newborn crying is hard, but it will pass.

It can be stressful when your baby is crying and you don’t know why, or you know why but can’t fix it. But it’s still important to offer your baby comfort, even when you are becoming frustrated yourself. Pick them up, hold them, talk to them in a soothing voice, offer them a dummy or see if they want to feed.

What is ‘normal’ crying?

An infant’s behaviour, including crying, is affected by lots of factors including their age, feeding and sleeping routines, and what’s going on in their environment. Like adults, every baby has a different personality and temperament. Some infants are more sensitive than others; they will be quicker to cry and will need to be soothed more frequently. By learning to notice your baby’s unique cues and the ways they like to be comforted, you’re helping them to learn how to emotionally regulate and calm themselves when they’re upset.

Just as infants’ sleep patterns change as they grow and develop, so do their crying patterns. For example:

  • At around 3–4 weeks, babies often cry more, for no apparent reason. They can also become more difficult to soothe, especially in the afternoons and evenings. This is normal, and not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong.
  • For many babies, crying peaks at around 6–8 weeks. This can be challenging for parents, but it can also be helpful to know it will pass.
  • Usually when your baby is around 3–4 months old their crying will ease off, as they learn other cues and sounds to get your attention and let you know what they want.
  • Crying can also increase when babies are unwell, teething or experiencing separation anxiety.

A baby’s crying is affected by lots of factors including their age, personality, feeding and sleeping, and what’s going on in their environment.

If your baby appears to be well but is crying inconsolably a lot (more than three hours total a day, more than 20 minutes at a time), it may be a sign of a health issue. It may also be a sign your baby is having difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing, which can occur as they struggle to adjust to their new environment. You can read more about this in our resource on understanding infant mental health and wellbeing. Your GP or child health nurse is a great place to get support if you are concerned about your baby’s crying.

Soothing your crying baby

The first move is usually to check whether your infant is hungry, tired or uncomfortable. Sometimes all they need is a dry nappy, a sleep or a ‘top up’ feed (especially when they’re going through growth spurts).

Often a crying baby just wants to be held and feel secure. At those times, holding them close to you (newborns especially love skin-to-skin contact) and gently rocking, swaying or patting them may do the job. Using a baby sling can help make this more comfortable for you, especially if you are needing to get some light jobs done.

Despite what you may have heard, you can’t ‘spoil’ a newborn. When you respond quickly and calmly to your crying baby, they might cry less often overall. They learn to trust you and feel safe, knowing that you are there to care for them when they need you.

You could also try the following to calm a crying baby:

  • Talk or sing to your baby in a gentle voice.
  • Many babies are calmed by movement. Try taking your infant out in the pram or a sling or carrier for a walk.
  • Some babies love a bath and massage afterwards (you probably would too!). The Raising Children Network has a great picture resource on how to massage your baby if you are not sure where to start.
  • Some infants are easily overwhelmed by bright lights, too much noise, flashing toys or people being ‘in their face’ too much. Take your baby to a quiet and dimly-lit place, cuddle them and talk or sing softly to help them calm down.

With time, you’ll get to understand your baby’s cries and know what they need and what works to comfort them.

Often when they’re crying, babies just want to be held and feel secure.

What to do when it feels like the crying won’t stop

Sometimes you won’t be able to soothe your baby, no matter what you try. It’s normal to feel frustrated or upset or think you’re not doing a good job at those times, but try to remind yourself that that’s not the case.

‘I had a baby that cried a lot, didn’t sleep, and I had very little support. The combination really did make me feel overwhelmed at times. I think it’s important to remember that babies are new, but so are parents. I wish I could go back and tell myself I was doing a good job, because I was, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.’

–  Jocelyn, mother of two, South Australia

Try not to think about your infant’s crying as something you have to ‘fix’. Instead, do your best to stay calm and be curious about what might be causing the crying:

  • Start by checking for any discomfort (like teething, or a wet nappy) and ruling out any physical illness. It might be helpful to keep a simple checklist you can run through when you’re feeling tired or stressed. For example:
    Is my baby

    • hungry?
    • too cold?
    • too hot?
    • tired?
    • needing a cuddle?
  • Think about what’s going on in the household. Babies will naturally pick up on the mood or stress at home. And if you’re not calm, it’s hard to calm your baby. If this is the case, it’s important to think about your own self-care strategies.
  • Remind yourself about the stages of infant development and ‘normal’ sleeping patterns. Is your baby adjusting to big developmental milestones? Or are they maybe not getting enough sleep?
  • Try to remember that crying is the main way your baby can communicate, and that short bouts of crying won’t do them any harm.

Take your baby to your child health nurse or GP, so they can rule out any physical or medical causes, check your feeding technique and help you to identify any other potential issues.

What is most important is that you never:

  • shake your baby – it can damage their brain
  • shout at your baby or handle them roughly, even if you feel frustrated or angry
  • stay with your baby if you’re not coping and feel like you might hurt them.

It’s normal to sometimes feel frustrated and even angry when you’re dealing with a lot of crying. If you feel overwhelmed, put your baby in their cot or another safe place and find some space to take a few deep breaths. Call a family member or friend to come and hold your baby for a while. Or call a parenting helpline (listed in the next section) to talk to someone who will understand what you are feeling.

If you can get someone to look after your baby, take a break and rest or do something for yourself. See the suggestions in this resource about self-care for parents. Even just 10 minutes to yourself, to have a cup of tea, read or have a warm shower, can help you to reset.

It’s normal to sometimes feel frustrated when you’re dealing with a lot of crying. If you feel overwhelmed, put your baby in their cot or another safe place and find a space to take some slow deep breaths.

More information and support

You can get more information and advice about understanding and soothing your crying baby from these parent support services:

Parent helplines

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