Possible reasons why baby is crying and tips to soothe them.

When a baby cries and is hard to comfort, it can be one of the biggest challenges faced by new parents.

Crying is communication

All babies cry – this is how they communicate. A distressed baby needs adults to help them get back to a calm state, because babies haven’t yet learned how to regulate their own emotions. They rely on parents and whānau for this.

Trust is important

Babies who are left to cry tend to cry more and for longer, and sometimes they just give up. If this happens often, baby will learn they can’t trust the world they’ve been born into. Trusting that their world is generally OK helps baby feel secure. Then baby will develop the confidence to be curious, to explore and to learn.

So, responding to baby is essential for them to feel content and develop properly. Parents will not spoil a baby by doing what they can to soothe them back to a calm state.

Never shake a baby

It’s important for parents to monitor their own feelings and their response to baby’s crying. If baby is crying continuously and parents feel they’re starting to ‘lose it’ and are at risk of shaking their baby in frustration, it's time to move away, put baby down somewhere safe (preferably in their cot) and take a break. Parents could distract themselves briefly by hanging out the washing or having a quick shower before attending to baby again. Parents need to calm themselves so they can help their baby calm down too.

Never Ever Shake A Baby | KidsHealth(external link)

Ask for help

It’s important to remind parents that it’s OK to ask for help if they’re getting wound up by their baby’s crying.

It’s also a good idea to work out a list beforehand of who they might contact in this situation. Crying affects the parents the most, so it’s very helpful if someone else takes over and tries to calm baby.

Suggestions for calming baby

The suggestions below might help whānau who are finding their baby’s crying hard to handle:

  1. Try to stay calm, as a parent’s emotional state can influence their baby’s emotional state.
  2. Check baby – are they hungry or tired, does their nappy need changing, are they too cold or too hot, do they need company?
  3. For an upset newborn, try Dr Harvey Karp’s ‘5 S’s: swaddle, side, shush, swing and suck'. They help reassure baby by imitating the feeling of the womb, and the method is backed up by research. Watch How To Settle a Baby Dr Harvey Karp | Dr. Phil (YouTube 6:58s)(external link) to see parents using the techniques effectively.
  4. Crying can peak between 2 and 12 weeks old. Babies may cry more in the late afternoon and early evening, suggesting overtiredness may have an influence. Learning to identify some of the Tired signs in babies and toddlers | raisingchildren.net(external link) may help avoid baby becoming overtired.
  5. Parents should trust their gut and seek medical help if they think baby is unwell.
  6. Spend time listening and watching baby’s cues to figure out what messages they’re signalling.
  7. Priscilla Dunstan, an Australian researcher, suggests certain cries seem to match certain needs. In Dunstan Baby Language on Oprah | Baby Ears (YouTube)(external link) , she advises the key is noticing the first cry, before their messages get complicated.
  8. Resist the urge to try one thing and then something else to get baby calm. Choose one action to soothe them and keep using it. If that isn’t working, continue with it and add another action so you’re doing two things over and over. Repetition is key to successful soothing.

Helpful resources for whānau