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Newborns : Behaviour

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

newborn behaviour crying sleep comfort hungry nappy change

Behaviour Newborns (0-3 months)

During your new baby’s early months, there is so much happening as your little one works out this big wide world. They develop their own unique behaviours and you will develop your own ways to recognise and respond to these.


At first there is one thing that baby will understand from the get-go – that if they cry, you will be there. Some mothers have criers, some have quiet babies, but when they figure out that crying means they will be soothed, fed or snuggled, then their perceptions of the world will be that it is a safe and welcoming. We are firm believers that there is no such thing as lavishing too much attention on your baby.

It really is almost impossible to spoil your newborn too much. Studies suggest that if you respond to your child’s cries quickly, they may cry less often, as they feel that they are cared for. So why do they cry? Remember that we cry for many different reasons. We cry when we are sad or stressed of course, but we also cry from relief, elation, joy etc. We do this to release our emotions, even though we also may have dialogue to express our thoughts and feelings.

Babies use their tears for many more reasons. It is their primary way to communicate, and their way to prompt you to respond. Their cries will vary, and many parents will be able to recognise certain cries – those which mean I am hungry, I’m tired, I’m in pain, I’m being fussy etc all may sound different and unique to you. It is common for babies cries to even trigger milk flow in a woman’s breasts – which goes to show just how amazing and powerful those little lungs really are!

There are some basic things you may look for when your baby cries. It helps to go through these possibilities to try and understand why your baby is bawling.

  1. Does your baby need comfort? Try holding your baby, gentle rocking, patting their bottoms, making soothing sounds and snuggling them close.

  2. Is your baby hungry? Consider when you last fed, if it were within the past hour or two then it could be other factors aside from hunger. Mothers tend to be moved to “comfort feed” which is fine from time to time but remember all babies need routine and if they know they can be fed any time they like it may become tiring and disruptive for you.

  3. Does your baby have a dirty nappy or rash? Babies commonly cry when their nappy is dirty or when they have a stinging or burning nappy rash. The best way to overcome rashes is by rinsing the rash site gently in warm clean water and applying a soothing nappy rash cream.

  4. Does your baby have wind or need to burp? Prop her upright either on your lap with your hand cradling her chest/chin, or up on your shoulder with a burping cloth draped over your back, and give her a nice back rub or a firmer pat depending on how she likes to be burped.

  5. Is your baby comfortable? Check your baby’s temperature, if she seems too hot or cold you may need to adjust her clothing or bedding to suit the temperature. Also check that your baby’s clothes are positioned correctly, and the garments are not pinching or too tight.

  6. Is your baby overtired? If she is due for a nap or has not been sleeping well, she can become upset or ‘grizzly’ due to extreme tiredness, yet she is fighting it and will not seem to settle. Try wrapping her securely in a swaddle and putting her down in a quiet dimly lit room for some peaceful rest.

  7. Is your baby in the right environment? You may find conditions may not be what your baby is used to or prefers, and so they may become agitated and upset. This is unavoidable at times, so wherever you are, try and find a space that has minimal stimulation.

  8. Is your baby sick? It is hard not to think of this first but try to remember that crying is the only way for a baby to communicate, so it does not always mean they are uncomfortable or ill. Take your baby’s temperature if you are worried and talk to your healthcare provider with any concerns.

  9. Do YOU need time out? Babies are like little sponges. They absorb their world from the first day, and as parents are the ones who baby relies on for everything, they will naturally pick up on your emotions and behaviours. If you are overtired, hungry, stressed or upset yourself, then your little baby may very well become agitated too.

Just remember a baby does not get injured or hurt if you just need to put her down securely in her crib and spend just a few minutes centering yourself in another room of the house. You will return to your baby after a few minutes of time out, refreshed and ready to take on the tears again!

There are some babies who have long bouts of inconsolable crying. This is referred to as Colic, which has long been said to be due to the baby suffering from wind or stomach pain. Studies now suggest this is simply a part of some babies live and to them, is just natural behaviour. There is some evidence to support the suggestion that Colic may be caused by overstimulation. We say nobody really knows since we cannot ask the babies themselves! The key to dealing with it, is trying different things and seeing which best soothes your child.

Inconsolable crying can be extremely distressing for parents. You must always try and remember that you are not doing anything wrong and you are doing the absolute best to help your baby. Try reducing stimulation, sitting in a quiet dimly lit room, try some soothing rhythmic movement/massage, or playing some peaceful music.

Again, remember to take time for you, do not feel ashamed to ask for help, give your baby to your partner, friends or family and take some time out. The stress levels can go through the roof if you cannot settle your baby. Again, if you are alone and you really cannot cope, put her down in a safe place such as her crib and go and sit quietly for a few minutes. Yes it is ideal to remain with your baby until they settle, but you are much better for them when you are refreshed and calm.