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How to cope with an unsettled baby

Dr Nicole Highet

Dr Nicole Highet

Dr Nicole Highet is the Founder of COPE. As well as the Executive Director of COPE (the Centre of Perinatal Excellence). COPE is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to reducing the impacts of emotional and mental health problems in the pre and postnatal periods.
Created on Oct 22, 2023 · 3 mins read
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Caring for a newborn is exhausting at the best of times and if you have an unsettled baby, it can make the adjustment to parenthood very challenging. Especially when you are still in the process of forming a bond with your baby.

If your baby is constantly crying and difficult to soothe, frequently wakes during the night or after very short sleeps, or is difficult to settle to sleep most of the time – these are all signs that you may have an unsettled baby.

If this is the case, it is important to know that you are not alone. In fact, excessive crying occurs in up to 30% of infants during the first 3 months of their life.

There can be various reasons your baby may not be as settled as you expected, or appear very different from your other children:

1. Babies all come with their own, unique temperaments

Just like you or I, some babies will be easy-going and placid, whilst others will be highly sensitive or determined in their own way. This is not a reflection on you – it is human nature.

2. You have had a preterm baby or a baby with a medical condition

If you have a baby that arrived preterm or that has a medical condition, this can bring additional challenges. Often common medical conditions (such as reflux or colic) can cause your baby pain and lead them to cry or become unsettled.

It’s a good idea to have your baby checked by a health professional to rule this out as a possible reason for their distress and crying. If this is the case, there are treatments available to alleviate their pain and symptoms.

3. It’s part of their nature

For other babies, crying may simply be part of their nature. Try and take the opportunity to learn about your baby, and come to accept them for what and who they are – just as they will learn about you as they grow and develop.

If you are looking for support, there are a range of early parenting services available. By seeking support through these centres, they will be able to assist you with any difficulties in settling your baby.

There are also a number of private consultants that will offer their services in sleep and settling. If your baby continues to be unsettled, we also suggest that you seek further support from a health professional.

Impacts of an unsettled baby on your mental health

An unsettled baby can lead parents to experience high levels of fatigue, which can then impact your ability to function well. These signs of fatigue are often minimised and parents do not receive the support that they need. The signs of fatigue and sleep deprivation can sometimes be viewed as signs of postnatal depression or anxiety.

Being aware of these conditions, the symptoms and how they differ from exhaustion is important to help you identify the type of help that is likely to be right for you.

Seeking help and support

Accessing support early on will give you the chance to restore your well-being and can make a big difference to how you feel about yourself and your baby. Don’t hold back on reaching out if you have family or friends who may be able to offer you some valuable relief during this time.

Over time, excessive crying may lead you to have negative feelings toward your baby. This does not mean that you are a bad parent – it is a natural response to a stressful situation. If these feelings become intense, continue to come back, make you feel as if you cannot cope or if you have feelings of harming your baby, it is an important time to talk to a health professional or call an advice line.

If you or someone you know needs help you can visit COPE.org for a wide range of support resources, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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