Managing challenging days with an unsettled newborn

“It’s OK to ask for help”

Did you know that your baby’s temperament can play a big part in how they manage their emotions and experiences? The temperament each baby is born with is unique and a mixture of genetics, environment and how parents and caregivers respond to their needs.

And the way you helped your first baby to sleep may not work with your second child because they have different temperaments and needs.

Some young babies cry because they need more physical closeness and comfort. Others cry because they need less handling and less stimulation. Many babies need a bit longer “wind down” time before bedtime.

A big part of the journey for new parents is learning to understand each child’s temperament eg. sensitive, cruisy, more alert and easily stimulated and how to best respond to those needs.

There will be days when your baby will find it difficult to settle and nothing you do works. Whilst this is well within the boundaries of normal infant behaviour, on those days you may start to feel anxious, frustrated and upset.

As you are learning to respond to your baby’s needs, it is also important to be mindful of you as a parent, how you are feeling and coping. Self care is so important both for you, your partner and your baby.

Here are 5 tips to deal with challenging days

  1. If your baby is unsettled and won’t sleep and nothing you seem to do can change this (within normal expectations), it is important for you to stop what you are doing, put your baby in a safe place like the bassinet or cot, following safe sleep guidelines, and step away even for just a few minutes.
  2. Recognise how you are feeling and try to take a few minutes to focus on your breathing, slowing it down, inhaling/exhaling, for a few minutes until you feel less anxious. Sometimes counting slowly backwards from a number, say 50, can help you refocus on this task and self-regulate, then respond to your baby’s needs. The aim is to try and manage your own emotional self-regulation (you can’t give from an empty cup) before you can effectively meet your baby’s needs.
  3. If needed, leave the baby’s room even for a few minutes, focus on a simple task like making a cup of tea or phone a friend/partner for support. Be reassured this is OK to do for a few minutes in order for you to regroup.
  4. Sometimes a change of scenery is a great tonic for managing the stresses and anxiety that accompanies the huge adjustment to early parenting. Exercise, a daily walk to the park, around the block or the nearest local cafe to meet other mums can be an enjoyable and valuable part of your daily routine as a new parent. Particularly if you know that the baby carrier or pram is a great tool to extend your baby’s sleep periods.
  5. If you’re not coping after trying some of these simple strategies then contact your partner, friend, family or neighbour to come to you and give you support and/or care for the baby. It’s OK and totally reasonable to need a breather and some time out, in fact it will support good mental health.

NOTE: It is common for new parents to experience a range of emotions, both positive and negative, in response to these changes. Many people find that pregnancy or having a baby is more challenging than they anticipated – this is a common experience of re- adjustment.

For some however, the challenges become overwhelming. When this occurs, it is important to seek help. 


  1. The Gidget Foundation
  2. COPE 
  3. PANDA

The advice in this article is general in nature. Please always consult a medical professional to obtain advice that is tailored to yours or child’s specific condition.

Written for 9Honey Parenting by Beth Barclay