Crying: What to do

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Key points to remember

  • crying is a normal part of baby development - it's your baby's way of communicating
  • play safe - pick up and comfort your baby
  • your baby is not 'being naughty' when they cry
  • responding to your baby's needs is essential
  • babies often need a lot of calming, soothing and holding when they are very upset
  • your baby won't develop bad habits or become spoilt if they are comforted and soothed when they are distressed
  • remember no matter how upset you feel, take care of your baby safely and never shake them

Why do babies cry?

Mother holding her crying babyCrying is a normal part of baby development and is the only way your baby can let you know that something is upsetting them and that they need you. When babies cry they may be:

  • hungry or thirsty
  • too hot or too cold
  • unwell or in pain
  • over-tired, or overstimulated
  • uncomfortable or scared
  • startled, needing to be settled by holding close and cuddling

When should I seek help?

Ring PlunketLine (0800 933 922) or HealthLine (0800 611 116), see your doctor, or go to your local hospital if you feel:

  • the sound of your baby's crying changes
  • your baby seems to be sick, or unwell
  • your baby is refusing feeds
  • the crying is affecting your relationship with your baby or your partner
  • nothing you try is reducing the crying
  • worried that something might have happened to them, or there has been any kind of injury

If you are finding it difficult to cope, or find that you are not enjoying being a parent at all, try contacting PlunketLine, or see your doctor for help and advice.

PlunketLine and Healthline are available 24 hours and are free to callers throughout New Zealand, including from a mobile phone.

Quick tips - what to try

If you have made all the obvious checks (hunger, nappy change, thirst) and your baby just won't stop crying, try:

  • another feed- your baby may still be hungry
  • cuddling your baby - rock your baby close to your chest so the baby can feel your heart beating
  • taking your baby for a walk in the fresh air
  • singing or talking to your baby
  • wrapping your baby in a small soft sheet so they feel secure and try to settle your baby in a dark and quiet place

It is important to try to stay calm (which is not easy). You will find it more difficult to comfort your baby if you are very upset. You can increase your feeling of calmness by deep breathing, singing quietly, listening to your favourite music, thinking of your favourite place or even your favourite food. Try to slow down – your slow breathing and calm heartbeat will help your baby. Try to breathe in to the count of 5 and out to the count of 5.

If these things haven’t worked, read further for some more detail on things that you can try.

The following ideas help with most babies. Try them and over time you will learn what works best for your baby. Give each strategy time to see if it works; try not to switch too quickly from one to another. Some things will work sometimes but not at other times. If something isn’t working, it may help to try something different. You can then try the first strategy again a day or two later, or even a week or two later. 

Some more ideas for when your baby's crying

Holding

At this time in your baby's life, they are learning that they can trust you to meet their needs. The best way to meet your baby's needs when they are crying and distressed is to:

  • hold and comfort your crying baby if you can
  • hold your baby close and snuggled in to you
  • try to keep your baby still - jiggling them will not help
  • avoid constantly changing your baby's position or continually picking up and putting your baby down
  • talk gently and quietly to your baby about anything (such as the weather)
  • remember, you can't make your baby stop crying. You can try to comfort and help your baby to become calm

It is not easy. Some babies don't like to be held closely, so try holding your baby close but facing away from you and give your baby the chance to calm down. 

Moving

  • carry, or gently rock your baby or use slow, rhythmical movement. Try not to do too many things at once.  Avoid fast, frantic or rough or shaking movements. (They may be dangerous!)
  • try using an approved pouch or sling.  Remember you must always be able to see the baby’s face. Try to walk around inside or outside the house
  • put your baby in a pram, put the pram harness on and walk around outside. This will keep your baby safe while the pram is moving. Go for a walk in a quiet place where you can feel more relaxed
  • try using a baby rocker or bouncinette for short periods (no longer than 30 minutes). Ensure the harness or belt is used and that the rocker/bouncinette is on the floor, not on a table or a bench of any kind
  • you may like to try going for a drive in the car in an attempt to settle your baby. Make sure your baby is in a child restraint approved for use in New Zealand (see fact sheet on Car seats on this website). Never have a baby in a car in a person’s arms

Sucking

Sucking can help:

  • calm your baby
  • reduce your baby's crying
  • help them to settle

Let your baby suck on their fist, fingers or thumb.

If you are breast feeding, try offering another breast feed.

For formula fed babies, sometimes it might help to give the next feed a little earlier but try not to give formula more often than every 3 hours as this may encourage snacking or the baby using the bottle as a dummy.

Try giving a dummy if your baby has one - place the dummy just on your baby's lips - the lips will automatically latch on to the dummy. If your baby is breastfed try to avoid giving a dummy during the first 4-6 weeks as it may affect your baby's suckling ability and have an effect on your milk supply.

Bathing

A bath may help your baby calm down. Some babies will relax and enjoy a bath but others will become tense and more distressed. Make sure to run the cold water first, then add hot water. Always check it isn't too hot before putting your baby in the water. Never leave your baby alone in the bath, even for a moment.

Baby massage

Rub your baby's tummy gently and firmly in a circular clockwise motion. You can find more information about baby massage in most baby books or the web.

Playing

Try distracting your baby with a favourite toy. This will not always work, especially if your baby is very upset or overtired. If it doesn't work, stop.

What to do when nothing seems to be working

It is very hard to cope with a baby who seems to be crying a lot. 

  • you may feel helpless when your baby keeps on crying. Remember that you can’t always stop the crying but you can still comfort your baby (and keep yourself calm!). Take a few deep breaths first if it helps you to calm down
  • try not to let your baby become too distressed before you decide to pick up and comfort them
  • if your baby continues to cry and you are starting to feel desperate, put your baby down in a safe place and walk into another room for a short break. If possible, ask somebody to take over the settling for a while, or phone someone to talk to
  • most parents feel like they are failing at one time or another. It may be difficult to ask for help, but it is often easier if someone can help you. It is important to look after yourself as well
  • you will get a lot of advice from many different people. This can leave you very confused about what to do. The best advice to take is usually what feels right to you
  • you may decide that the best thing to do is to pick up and cuddle the baby. You cannot spoil a small baby by picking them up and cuddling them
  • if your baby is crying, friends or relatives may suggest you use medications or herbal preparations, change to formula (if breastfeeding) or change the formula. Before making changes, you may find it helpful to talk to your doctor, midwife or Plunket nurse about this

Acknowledgements

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the co-operation of The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick, and Kaleidoscope - Hunter Children's Health Network in making this fact sheet available to patients and families.

The image of a mother holding her crying baby downloaded with credits from:
http://www.dreamstime.com/

This page last reviewed 12 December 2014
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 23 December 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand