1. Newborns
  2. Behaviour
  3. Understanding behaviour

Newborn behaviour: an overview

0-3 months

It is not possible to ‘spoil’ a newborn. Every bit of attention you give now helps your baby grow and develop.

In your baby’s early months, she is working out what the world is like. If your newborn cries and someone comes, and if she is cuddled, kissed and played with, she is going to think the world is a pretty OK place.

On the other hand, if your baby cries and nobody comes, or if nobody ever smiles or cuddles him, he is going to think the world is a pretty hard place.

Research shows that when a parent responds quickly to comfort a crying infant, the baby cries less often overall. It is absolutely fine to pick your baby up when she cries. It tells her that she is safe because you are a caring, responsive parent who loves her.

Most parents and professionals believe that babies are born with very different behavioural styles, or temperaments. Some are relaxed and easy going, others appear more intense and dramatic. Some seem to move constantly, others are more docile. Some are cheerful most of the time, others are more serious.

You don't need to worry about spoiling your baby in the first month, or even the first six months.

Why babies cry

Crying is a newborn’s way of communicating, of telling you what he needs. It’s a sound that can spur you into action (even when you are fast asleep). It can turn on a mother’s milk like some kind of magic remote control.

Crying peaks at six weeks old. This kind of crying will pass. The crying baby flowchart (PDF doc: 212kb) can help you eliminate possible causes of crying, but you might not be able to stop the crying every time. This can be hard for you.

Normal babies cry and fuss on average for almost three hours a day (and some for a good deal longer than this), studies show. Most of this crying and fussing seems to take place in the late afternoon and evening, although there is considerable variation from day to day. 

Babies’ crying becomes more communicative as they get older and it is more likely to be spread throughout the day.


How to settle a crying baby


This short video demonstration takes you through essential tips to help settle a crying baby. It outlines a checklist of common things that can upset a baby and cause crying. You can check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable and whether the conditions are right for settling.

If you’re not able to comfort your newborn quickly or easily, remind yourself that crying is what babies do. Crying has nothing to do with how good you are as a parent.

Inconsolable crying

Some babies suffer long bouts of unexplainable crying, commonly called colic. Some people believe colic is because of stomach pain caused by wind. Many doctors now think it is simply natural behaviour for some babies, especially at the end of a long day.

Recent research suggests inconsolable crying might be caused by too much stimulation. Crying might help a newborn take control of her environment. It’s as if your baby is saying, ‘Enough already! I’m just going to cry to shut out the world’.

Coping with inconsolable crying

  • Reduce the stimulation around your baby. This might help to soothe her.
  • Try sitting in a quiet, dimmed room. Lay your baby on his side and rhythmically pat his back (remembering to turn him onto his back if he falls asleep).
  • Inconsolable crying can be very distressing for parents. Try putting in some imaginary earplugs. Let the sound of the crying pass through you, and remind yourself that everything is OK. You are doing all you can to help your baby. 

Settling strategies


This short video describes strategies and techniques you can use to settle and soothe your baby. These include rocking, patting, singing and walking. Every baby is different, and not all babies will respond to all techniques. You might need to try several things before you find one that works for your baby.

For more ideas, see our illustrated, step-by-step guide to soothing a crying baby

If you feel frustrated, angry, helpless or distressed and are not able to respond to your baby safely, you might need to leave her to cry for a short time while you take time out or ask for help. Lay your newborn on her back in a safe place, like her cot, while you take a short break.

All children have the right to be safe and protected. But parenting can be hard work. Seek help if you feel that you can’t cope and you might hurt your child.

Dealing with crying gets easier as newborns get a handle on the world around them. Babies get better at showing us what they want. Also, we become experts at ‘reading’ their behaviour. Remember, no-one knows your baby better than you, but if you’re worried about your baby’s crying, talk it through with your doctor or child health nurse.


Newborn connecting and communicating: in a nutshell

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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