Tips to soothe a crying and unsettled baby

While it’s common for newborns to have crying and unsettled periods, sometimes the usual soothing techniques just don’t seem to work if your baby has colic. If you have a baby that cries a lot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with them.

Crying is your baby’s way of communicating. Sometimes there’s a medical cause for crying, so get your baby checked over by your doctor or maternal and child health nurse to rule out any physical causes (which is not often the case).

Other babies persistently cry because they’re adapting to the world outside the womb. Try to see the fourth trimester from your baby’s perspective. Some little ones are particularly sensitive to the new physical and emotional events inside and outside their body.

All of this crying can be exhausting and stressful for both you and your baby. Be rest assured that it’s nothing you’re doing wrong. Colic is common and a normal part of development. If you have a baby who is difficult to soothe, we have some useful tips for you to help comfort them (and yourself).

Tips to soothe your crying and unsettled baby

  • Cuddle them Remember that there is no such thing as too much affection, too much attention, or too much care. You can never spoil your baby with love.
  • Give them a warm bath Better yet, have one together! This opportunity of skin to skin and the soothing water is the perfect recipe to calm you both.
  • Find ways to self-regulate It’s hard to provide reassurance and a sense of calm to a distressed baby if you’re feeling stressed. Stop, take deep breaths, ask a trusted caregiver to hold your baby while you go for a walk, or listen to soothing music.
  • Feed on demand Sucking at the breast or bottle (or dummy) can help to settle them for a short period. Check with your maternal and child health nurse about your baby’s milk needs.
  • Rock or hold them Wear your baby, let them nap on you, rock them, take them for walks, or a drive in the car. Find which type of movement soothes them.
  • Take a baby-centred approach Remember that your baby isn’t manipulating you, they simply don’t have the brain power to do that. Try to see the big new world through their eyes.
  • Keep stimulation low Speak in a calm voice, play soft music or white noise, reduce the number of visitors, and perhaps even keeping artificial lights and the TV to a minimum might help.
  • Importance of touch Give your baby a gentle massage, keep them close to you for extra reassurance while they can smell you and feel you. YOU are their most important source of comfort.
  • Plan for it If your baby cries more in the evenings, you could try making dinner ahead of time, or ask for help during this difficult part of the day. If possible, nap in the afternoons or at least take it as slow as possible.
  • Resist the idea to sleep train Your baby needs you during this temporary uncertain and unsettling time, and a rigid sleep schedule will only make them feel less secure. Self-soothing is developmental, and will only happen when your baby is ready.
  • Fill your baby’s cup When your baby is alert and content, try to meet their emotional needs through connection and enjoyable engagement. Here are some ideas.

Support is available

You might feel like you’re the only one with a baby who is difficult to soothe, but you’re definitely not alone. Read here about a baby’s temperament and the parenting style that can help nurture them.

Getting support is crucial during this challenging time. If your baby is crying most of the day, talk to your doctor or maternal and child health nurse. They can refer you to a paediatrician, counsellor, or infant mental health specialist.

If you can, ask for and take up all offers of help from family and friends. Getting some baby-free time, even small amounts, can be hugely beneficial. If you can’t get any help, it’s okay to put your baby in a safe place, such as an empty cot, for a few minutes to calm yourself down.

Deep breaths, mumma, this phase is very common and usually doesn’t last beyond four months of age.

The Royal Children's Hospital, Crying and Unsettled Babies - Colic

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