Coping with an unsettled baby

Coping with an unsettled baby can be highly demanding and stressful for any parent. Unsettled babies can make the adjustment to parenthood very challenging – especially when you are still in the process of forming a bond. Signs of an unsettled baby can include constant crying which is difficult to soothe, a baby that wakes often during the night, wakes after very short sleeps, and/or is difficult to settle to sleep.

Excessive crying occurs in up to thirty per cent of infants in the first three months of life.

There are various reasons as to why your baby may not be as settled as you expected, or even very different from your other children. Some babies are just easier to settle than others – it is no reflection on you.

Babies all come with their own unique temperaments and like people generally, some will be easy going and placid, whilst others will be highly sensitive or determined in their own way. You may also have had a preterm baby, or a baby with a medical condition which can bring additional challenges for them and for you. Often common medical conditions (such as reflux) can cause your baby to be in pain and lead them to cry and be unsettled. It is 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, and if it is the case, seek treatment for them to alleviate their pain and symptoms.

For other babies however, the crying is just part of their nature. Babies who cry frequently without an underlying, identifiable cause are often described as having colic. 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 to do with you as they grow and develop.

Impacts of an unsettled baby on your mental health

Being aware of the impact of the baby’s crying and distress on you, also needs to be recognised.

It’s the difference between hearing them (the baby) cry and saying ‘there’s the baby again’ and ‘Oh God I cannot face this, I cannot bear this’.

An unsettled baby can leave you feeling highly fatigued, which can then impact upon your ability to function well. Often however, these signs of fatigue are minimised and parents do not receive the support that they need.

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 for an unsettled baby

Accessing support early to give you a chance to restore your wellbeing can make a big difference to how you feel and your feeling towards your baby – so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have family or friends who can offer you some valuable relief.

If you are looking for professional support, there are a range of early parenting services available in both private and public health settings. This may include a brief admission of a parent and their infant to a residential centre. Generally these centres will provide parents with four or five night interventions to address your needs as well as that of your baby. There are also helpline services available.

Excessive crying over time 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.

My partner is back at work and I am struggling. I can never get her (my daughter) to settle. She cries for hours and I feel so disconnected from her. I am emotional, irritable and tired.

If these feelings become intense, continue to come back and/or make you feel that you cannot cope or you have feelings of harming your baby, it is time to talk to seek help from a health professional.

Discover The Mum Drum

Discover The Mum Drum: an eight-part YouTube and podcast series where real mums share real stories about their journey through pregnancy, birth and parenting. You can find all the episodes here. In Episode 4, Nia talks openly about the challenges she faces as a new mum with an unsettled baby, and how this impacted upon her emotional and mental health.