1. Newborns
  2. Behaviour
  3. Understanding behaviour

Newborn behaviour: an overview

0-3 months

Newborn behaviour – it’s all about cuddling, sleeping, feeding and lots of crying. It isn’t possible to ‘spoil’ a newborn by responding when she cries. Every bit of attention you give now helps your baby grow and develop.

Understanding your newborn baby’s behaviour

Cuddling, sleeping, feeding, crying. That’s what newborn behaviour is all about in the first few months.

Although your baby might give you some eye contact, crying is probably the main thing you’ll notice about his behaviour. For example, he’ll cry if he’s hungry, unsettled, wet or uncomfortable.

Babies are born with very different temperaments. Some are relaxed and easygoing, and others seem to be more intense and dramatic. Some seem to move constantly, and others are quieter. Some are cheerful most of the time, and others are more serious.

Newborn crying: what to expect

Crying is a newborn’s main way of communicating, of telling you what she needs. It’s a sound that can spur you into action, even when you’re asleep. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, it can trigger your let-down reflex.

Crying peaks at about six weeks. This period of intense newborn crying will pass.

Babies cry and fuss on average for almost three hours a day. Some cry for a lot longer than this. Most of this crying and fussing seems to happen in the late afternoon and evening, although every day will probably be a bit different.

As your baby gets older, it’ll be easier for you to understand what he’s trying to tell you through crying. His crying is also more likely to be spread throughout the day.

Video

How to settle a crying baby

2:02

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.

You won’t always be able to stop your baby crying, which can be hard. If you can’t comfort your baby quickly or easily, just remind yourself that crying is what babies do. It doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job as a parent.

Understanding and responding to your newborn baby’s behaviour

Your newborn baby is working out what the world is like. The way you respond to her behaviour, especially her crying, tells her a lot about her world.

For example, your baby might find out that when he cries, someone comes to give him what he needs. This might be a nappy change, a feed or a cuddle. If that happens, he’ll learn that the world is a pretty OK place.

When you respond quickly to comfort your crying newborn, your baby will cry less often overall. It’s absolutely fine to pick up your baby when she cries. It tells her that she’s safe because you’re a caring, responsive parent who loves her.

You can’t spoil a newborn. If your newborn is crying, it’s because he needs your help. If you respond calmly and consistently, it helps your baby learn that the world is a safe and predictable place.

Inconsolable crying or colic

Some babies cry a lot over a long period of time. Nothing seems to comfort them. This is often called colic.

Colic might just be natural behaviour for some babies, especially at the end of a long day and after too much stimulation. Crying might help a newborn take control of her environment. It’s as if your baby is saying, ‘Enough! I’m just going to cry to shut out the world’.

If your baby cries like this, it can be very hard for you to cope with. These ideas might help you and your baby:

  • Reduce the stimulation around your baby – for example, try sitting with baby in a quiet, dimmed room.
  • Lay your baby on his side in his cot and rhythmically pat his back. Gently turn him onto his back if he falls asleep.
  • Try putting in some imaginary earplugs. Let the sound of the crying pass through you, and remind yourself that everything is OK. You’re doing all you can to help your baby.
  • Take baby for a walk in the pram or a sling. Movement can sometimes be soothing.
  • Try playing ‘white noise’ like a fan or the radio tuned to the static between stations. This can help to settle baby.
Video

Settling babies for sleep: tips and strategies

2:20

This short video shows parents demonstrating strategies and techniques for settling babies for sleep. These strategies 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 options before you find one that works for your baby.

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

When to seek help for newborn behaviour

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 or you might hurt your child.

Dealing with crying gets easier as your newborn learns more about the world and gets better at showing you what she needs. Also, you’ll become an expert at ‘reading’ your baby’s behaviour. No-one knows your baby better than you, but if you’re worried about your baby’s crying, talk it through with your GP or child and family health nurse.

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Last updated or reviewed
18-12-2017

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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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