Home › Health Topics › Family & Relationships > 

Fathers – settling a baby

fathers; dads; settling; crying;

Crying is the main way babies have of letting us know when they need help, but it is not always easy to work out why a baby is crying.


It is tough for fathers too when your baby cries a lot, or does not sleep well or seems unhappy when you try to comfort them.

As well as the content of this topic there is another topic with more information Crying baby.

The early weeks

Babies often cry a lot in the early weeks and some babies cry a lot more than others. Crying is the main way babies have of letting us know when they need help, but it is not always easy to work out why a baby is crying.

Some babies cry for 2 hours or more each day, often in the later afternoon and early evening, and this can be normal for them. For many babies the time that they cry often gets longer until they are around 6 – 8 weeks old, then gets less by the time they are around 3 months old. This crying is sometimes called colic.

When they are a little bit older

Young babies are usually happy to go to different people, not only the person who looks after them most. But by the time they are around 5 to 6 months old they may cling to one person and become unhappy when held by someone else, even if the person is someone they know really well, such as their father. They may refuse to be settled to sleep by anyone other than their mother.

This is a stage that babies go through, not a sign that your baby doesn't like you, but it is really hard not to feel rejected by your baby.

Sean was frustrated because he could not settle 6 month old Liam but his partner Danny could.  He felt he was not doing enough with Liam and wondered if Liam did not like him.  This created tension because Sean thought he would be better off at work.  However he was able to talk about his feelings with Danny and together they worked on building Sean's confidence and skills in bathing, changing, wrapping and settling.  Over time Sean learned to settle Liam for the night and he is now working on being able to settle Liam when he wakes.

The topic Separation anxiety has more about this behaviour.

Helping your baby feel more comfortable with you

When a baby is crying, it can be hard for anyone other than the person who mostly looks after him to calm him down and settle him off to sleep. And even for this person it can be hard to calm him down.

If this is happening for you, you could start to help him to enjoy being with you more by spending more time with him while he is wide awake and ready for play, or for doing things he enjoys. Have a look at the topic Fathers - your relationship with your baby.

Dads often find bath time is fun for both of them. You can hold them softly and slowly massage their body, or have games such as blowing bubbles on their tummy and tickling their feet. They will often laugh back when you laugh.

Some babies don't like baths, so this may not be the best way to start for them. It can be fun to hold them in your arms and walk around showing them things in the room or the garden. They like the sound of voices, and telling them what things are called helps them learn about talking and listening.

Many people do not know how to play with babies – after all there is so much they cannot yet do. But even young babies enjoy playing. Have a look at Play with children.

Parenting SA has developed a Parent Easy Guide called Growing and learning in the family which has lots of ideas about this, and how families can support their children's learning. Parenting SA is a partnership between the Department for Education and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network in South Australia.

Using a baby sling can also be a good way of settling your baby and becoming closer to him.

Even changing a nappy is a time for closeness.

As you get to know your baby you will start to notice when he is sleepy and needs to be settled. Long before he can talk, your baby will give tired signs that show you what he needs. This can be a good time for both you and your baby to practice going to sleep calmly.

But she still won't settle!

There are times that babies won't settle even when everything 'right' has been tried. This is not because you are the 'wrong' person. Babies are sometimes unsettled for no reason that can be worked out.

Even though she might not stop crying, it is good for her to be held close and talked to gently. She will feel safer in your arms than being left alone 'to cry it out'.

There are many ideas to try in the topic 'Crying baby'.

Sometimes you may feel very upset when your baby does not calm down. When a baby cries it upsets all people, even other children.

  • You may need a break. Ask someone else care for your baby, or put your baby down somewhere safe and go for a walk around the house or the garden.
  • Perhaps have a coffee or a snack.
  • Perhaps have a chat with a friend, or your mother, on the phone. Then go back and have another go.

Be patient with your baby and yourself 

Hang in there. You will learn to be more confident with comforting and playing with your baby, and he will become more confident with you.

He will also grow older and will again be happy to be with people who he knows well but for a while was distressed to be with.

Over time you will be able to settle your baby more easily, especially when you take turns with your partner getting up during the night to settle him or you may find it better to bring the baby to your partner for feeding.  Sharing the load will make it easier for everyone. 

If you are able to stay calm and gentle while caring for your baby when he is unsettled, this will build his trust in you as his father. This will help you build a strong relationship with your child.

For support

  • Parent Help Line 1300 364 100, available 7 days a week.
    Information and support on health, behaviour, development and parenting for parents and carers of 0–12 year olds
  • Raising Children Network - articles for fathers 
  • Mensline 1300 78 99 78, 24 hrs , 7 days.  Mensline Australia is a dedicated service for men with relationship and family concerns.


Raising Children Network has quite a few videos about dads and their babies:

back to top

The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

Home › Health Topics › Family & Relationships >