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
- A baby that wakes after very short sleeps
- A baby that is difficult to settle to sleep
- Infant or newborn cries when put down
Excessive crying occurs in up to thirty per cent of infants in the first three months of life.
Why is my baby so unsettled?
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. 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. 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 your 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’.
Ongoing challenges with settling a newborn or infant can leave you feeling highly fatigued. This 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. This can help you identify the type of help that may be right for you.
Seeking help and support for coping with an unsettled baby
Accessing support early to give you a chance to restore your wellbeing can make a big difference to how you feel. It can also make a difference to how you feel towards your baby. 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, or help with how to settle a newborn or baby, there are a range of early parenting services available in 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. This is a natural response to a stressful situation.
My partner is back at work and I am struggling. I can never get [my daughter] to settle. She cries for hours and I feel so disconnected from her. I am emotional, irritable and tired.
If these feelings around your unsettled newborn or infant 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 seek help from a health professional.
Ready to COPE
The early weeks and months of parenting can feel like a steep learning curve. This is also a time when you’re sleep-deprived and still recovering from the birth. Ready to COPE app delivers tailored and honest information about what to expect and how to cope with the range of changes and challenges of your baby’s first year.
Download our free app new parents, Ready to COPE, from Google Play or the App store
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