Newborn babies are great teachers. In just one day they can make you more patient and tolerant, selfless with your time, forgiving and understanding. By happy genetic coincidence, these are some of the basic life skills needed to care for your little one – and the rewards are amazing; among them are unconditional love and affection, and daily lessons in becoming a better person.

The first lesson in parenting starts with the crying. Your baby’s frequent cries are her test – her way of asking, “Are you there?” Don’t worry if at first it takes a while to decipher what it is that your baby needs – here are plenty of tips that might help.

The whys of cries

Crying is your newborn’s main means of attracting your attention. It’s a primordial human communication, which will trigger physical reactions in adults, such as symptoms of stress (raised blood pressure) and leaking breastmilk in new mothers.

Adults usually only associate crying with being upset, but your baby’s cry can have many other meanings, and you’ll soon be able to interpret her sounds.

Most newborn babies cry for up to three hours a day, usually settling down between the crying periods. With patience, you will learn to adjust and, after a relatively short time, typically around six months, the crying will become more occasional and far less dramatic. Alternatively, you may be lucky enough to have a placid bub that settles easily.

Translating your baby's cries

“Comfort me!”

Your baby may just want to be held close. Walking around with her, singing and making soothing noises may calm her. Babies love to be touched, held and carried.

One good way to calm a fretful baby is to rock her gently. Whether she’s in your arms, in a pram or baby carrier, the rhythm of being rocked can often do the trick. Hold her close so she can feel your warmth and hear your heartbeat. Be sure never to rock her too vigorously or you may accidentally shake her.

Alternatively, try taking bub for a walk in the pram. The repetitive sound of the washing machine or vacuum cleaner may also soothe and settle her.

“Change my nappy!”

Babies dislike the feel of a wet or soiled nappy. They will let you know straightaway that they want to be changed.

“Feed me!”

A rhythmic cry that starts with a whimper before becoming louder and more sustained means your baby is hungry. Even if she’s been fed recently she may not have had her fill and be demanding more.

Remember that breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis: the more you give, the more you make – so don’t worry about running out, as your breasts will replace the milk your baby takes. The more often baby breastfeeds from birth, the earlier you will bring in your full milk supply.

Generally, your baby feeds eight to 10 and even up to 12 times every 24 hours in the first few weeks once your milk supply is well established. If you’re concerned about the number of feeds your baby is having, speak to your midwife, early childhood health nurse or lactation consultant.

“I’m not comfortable!”

Newborns like to feel warm and secure, so exposing her skin to the air when changing her nappy or clothes can be enough to set her off crying. As your baby gets used to these tasks she’ll cry less.

“I’m too tired!”

Babies don’t always go to sleep when they’re tired, instead they become fractious and cranky. You’ll soon recognise the signs that nap time is approaching and be able to put her in the right environment for sleep, such as in her cot.

“My birth was tricky!”

Research has shown that babies born under traumatic circumstances (including a very long or quick delivery, the umbilical cord being wrapped around the baby’s neck or the use of a ventouse or forceps) can experience temporary distress. This will usually settle down within the first weeks without the need for any treatment.

“Ouch, it hurts!”

This cry may begin with a high yell or shriek; it’s followed by about a second of silence as your baby takes a breath, then will become more vigorous, reaching a higher volume and pitch. Check to see what could be causing the pain. If you can’t find an obvious cause and the crying continues, consult your doctor.

“I’m over-stimulated!”

Babies love attention, but they can become overwhelmed by too much stimulation, particularly after being surrounded by lots of people or after a day when you’ve been rushing from one place to the next. If this happens, let her have quiet time to calm down. Reduce the amount of stimulation she’s getting by taking her to a quiet room, keeping distractions and noise to a minimum or turning off the television. Stay calm and stroke her forehead, slowing the strokes gently. Try to match the rhythm of your breathing to hers while stroking. Gentle massage could also help.

“My gums are sore!”

Health experts differ widely in their opinions on whether teething makes babies cry. Sometimes a new tooth will emerge with no fuss at all, while another’s arrival can coincide with lots of crying. If your bub is around six months of age and you suspect she is showing signs of distress from tooth pain, using a teething gel may help.

Incessant crying

About one in 10 babies do just cry a lot. If all your usual soothing techniques haven’t worked, try the following tips.

● Put your bub in the pram and go for a walk. Crying never seems as bad when you’re outside, and the motion of the pram may send her off to sleep. Getting out of the house for a bit will do you good, too.

● If you can’t stand it anymore, place your baby in her cot and leave the room for 10 minutes. (Under six months, babies need reassurance, so come back every couple of minutes.) Don’t feel bad, you can’t help your baby when you are tense. You’ll probably be ready to try again after a short break. Don’t leave very young babies to cry for long periods, so be aware of how much time out you take.

● Get help. Call a friend or relative. Another adult’s voice can help calm you down.

● Remember, this is just a temporary phase – it gets better, even though it may seem like
this stage is never going to end.