When it comes to babies, there are a few absolute truths. No two babies are alike, and what works for one baby may not work for another. But all babies have a tendency to cry. The extent of the wails varies from baby to baby, but every new parent must expect at least an hour of crying every day. Why? It’s because crying is their only way of communicating their needs and wants. If there’s a baby translating device, it’s probably selling out. But since we don’t have that, you have to decipher on your own the reasons why they cry.
Why Do Babies Cry?
If you have a crying baby, chances are they are telling you they need something. Evolutionary speaking, the offspring of mammals use crying as a way to signal to their parents that they need immediate attention. Here are the common reasons why babies cry, plus some helpful tips on how to soothe those tears.
Everybody gets a little cranky when they’re hungry, especially babies. They can go from zero to screaming quickly if they haven’t eaten for a while or after a longer-than-usual nap. You may recognize the “feed me cry” as composed of short, low-pitched, rhythmic, and repetitive cries that rise and fall. Sometimes, it may also include a “new” sound, which stems from the baby’s tongue reflexively hitting the roof of the mouth in search of milk.
Newborn babies up to three months old need to feed as often as every couple of hours. The key with feedings isn’t to watch the clock but to respond to the baby’s cues. If the baby is crying because of hunger, it’s already a late sign. Look for early signs, including lip-smacking, hand-to-mouth movements, or rooting (turning their head to find the bottle or breast).
Sleepiness or fatigue
As an exhausted adult, you may be able to fall asleep the minute you hit the mattress. But babies? Not so much. For them, sleep is a learned skill, just like anything else. Babies who are tired or exhausted turn fussy instead of falling asleep. Newborns don’t have an established circadian rhythm until around four months, and on top of that, they are incapable of self-soothing, so parents and caregivers have to establish these things.
To help reduce crying when they are sleepy and to soothe them to sleep, a little trial and error are likely in order. One of the best ways to encourage sleeping in newborns is to swaddle them. Wrap them snugly in a blanket with only the head and neck peeking out to mimic the feeling inside the mother’s womb. Some babies respond well to rocking, swaying, the sound of a lullaby, or white noise. Changing the scenery can also do the trick. If they can’t go sleep during the day, go for a walk outside with a stroller, or pack your baby in a car seat and drive – the lulling vibration of a car may help them drift off.
By six months, your baby must be able to fall asleep and stay asleep on its own.
If your baby is crying and she doesn’t seem sleepy or hungry, the next thing you have to check is the diaper. A wet or soiled diaper can upset a baby. Take a second to open up the diaper, make a quick check, or take a sniff test. You can also opt for a diaper brand that comes with a wetness indicator so you can quickly see if it’s wet. Check your baby’s diaper often to make sure if it’s clean and dry.
If your baby cries right after feeding, that’s a sign that they need to be burped. But besides feeding, there are also other times good burping may be in order, like after sucking a pacifier, having the hiccups, or even after crying. Any activity that can result in your baby swallowing air – it doesn’t hurt to give them a pat on the back.
To ease crying, take breaks when feeding and burp your baby often during meals. Feed them while they’re sitting up. If that doesn’t help, reflux may be the culprit for fussiness, so it’s best if you talk to your pediatrician. Most of the time, babies with mild reflux get better with thickened formula and by staying away from cigarette smoke.
If your baby is crying while also wriggling, arching their back, or pumping their legs? These are all telltale signs of gassiness or tummy troubles. To help your baby pass gas, hold her on the left side or on their stomach to help with digestion. If the baby is gassy, make some bicycle movements with their legs and push them up to the chest to relieve gas.
Babies can start teething as early as four months old, and when the pain sets in, crying is guaranteed. Other signs of teething include excessive drooling and gnawing on anything she can reach. To help soothe your baby’s teething pains, let your baby suck on a pacifier or a finger. You may also want to give your crying baby a gum massage or let them chew on frozen or refrigerated teethers, washcloths, or even cotton bibs. And to help ease your child’s irritability, don’t forget the moving cuddle. The extra time spent with your baby can help comfort and reassure them that everything’s going to be okay.
All of us experience sensory overload now and then. For a baby, it might be after getting passed around my extended family at a holiday party or after going to the grocery store. Your baby is still getting used to all that commotion, so it may not take much to get them overstimulated, which causes them to be upset.
To help your baby relax, take your baby home and place them in a familiar place. Going for a walk and getting some fresh air in a quiet setting can also do them good. But don’t go too crazy trying to keep the baby away from stimulation just to make sure they won’t cry. Boredom upsets babies, too. The best form of stimulation for a baby is one-on-one quality time with a loved one.
Need for attention
Babies need some quiet alert time on a playmat, baby swing, or bouncer. But your baby is the happiest and most relaxed when they are with you. Sometimes, babies cry because of loneliness because they’re not being held or rocked constantly. They need touch and attention as they go through a period of rapid development. Young babies need to be attended to quickly and empathically, so they become calm instead of aggravated.
If you have a clothing tag that makes you feel itchy as it rubs into your skin, a hair wrapped around your fingers, or an eyelash stuck in your eye – you can simply remove it. But that is not the case for babies. If something brings them discomfort, the only thing they know to do is to cry. If your baby is still crying after napping, being fed, being changed, and burped, check your baby if something is bothering them. Strip down your baby – maybe there’s an insect bite, itchy tags, too-tight shoe, feeling hot, or other small things that can be wrong.
No one likes the feeling of being sick and miserable, especially babies. If your little one is feeling unwell, they are less happy and crying more often than usual. If your baby usually likes rolling around and crawling, and suddenly they are not and are fussier, they can be sick. Look for symptoms like fever and vomiting. If the baby is not alert or inconsolable, you can bring her to the pediatrician for a checkup so you can see what’s wrong.
A nursing mom may pass on what they eat through breast milk, and some foods may upset your baby’s tummy. If that happens a lot, your baby may be allergic to something you are eating, like nuts, wheat, cow’s milk, or other foods. If you think your baby has a food allergy, talk to your pediatrician. The doctor may suggest you stop eating a single type of food for a week to see if your baby’s crying lessens. If you’re feeding formula to your baby, your doctor may recommend switching to another formula.
Last but not least on this list is colic, the hardest thing to soothe in crying babies. Colic is defined as the condition where an otherwise healthy baby cries more than three hours a day, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks in a row. Colicky babies cry excessively and are more difficult to console than average babies. They always have disrupted sleep, which leads to a whole lot of stress and lack of sleep for you and your partner. About one in five newborns get this condition, and it usually happens during the first month after the baby is born.
While it’s not clear what causes colic, it usually stops on its own by three or four months. Until then, you can help lessen crying by walking or rocking with your baby, running the vacuum to lull them to sleep, offering a pacifier, and taking breaks for yourself so you can give the best care for your baby.