Why babies cry and what to do
Babies cry a lot – especially in the first few months of life. It is how they communicate their needs and doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. This article discusses why babies cry and what to do

Babies cry a lot – especially in the first few months of life. It is how they communicate their needs and doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. This article discusses why babies cry and what to do

Babies cry mainly because they

  • Are hungry
  • Are tired
  • Have wind
  • A wet or soiled nappy
  • Being too hot or too cold
  • Teething
  • Illness or pain
  • Colic
  • Want to be cuddled or comforted, or have had a fright
  • Are adjusting to life outside the womb
  • Are experiencing developmental niggles, such as growth spurts
  • Are bored and/or frustrated and/or want your attention (older babies).

Should you leave your baby to cry?

Always respond to your baby’s cry. This is particularly important in the early months when fundamental trust is being established and baby’s needs are real and immediate – hunger, tiredness, pain.

This is the time when she learns to trust herself and others to meet her needs consistently. Check that she is warm, fed, burped, clean and dry.

Controlled crying techniques such as crying down are not appropriate before the age of 6 months or more. It is just too easy to miss what your baby is really trying to tell you if you believe that she is crying because she is naughty or resisting a routine.

Why babies cry

They want reassurance and a cuddle

If you are sure her physical needs have been met, she may just want a cuddle – being outside the womb must be an overwhelming experience for a newborn; no wonder she wants the reassurance of being close to her mom!

Ignore anyone who advises you to leave your baby to cry herself to sleep in case she gets spoiled. You cannot spoil a newborn baby. And you certainly cannot spoil any baby by offering plenty of love, cuddles and reassurance. Responsive parenting is the best way to bond with your baby and to build a strong foundation for self-esteem.

They are hungry

Hunger is the main reason babies cry in the early days – and they often seem to cry for food when they are not supposed to be hungry, often straight after a feed. If this is the case, make sure she is getting enough milk, especially while breastfeeding is still being established, but don’t thicken feeds or offer solids prematurely.

Breastfed babies need to feed every 2 to 3 hours, while formula-fed babies can usually stretch for 3 to 4 hours between feeds. But these are only guidelines; babies have their own internal rhythms, and new babies have frequent growth spurts when their need for calories increases suddenly, so respond to her cues rather than the clock.

Your baby's feeding routine

Most new babies will take just a few weeks to work out their own routines. If you are concerned about overfeeding or underfeeding, have your newborn weighed weekly at a well-baby clinic.

Sensitive or high-need babies

Sensitive babies or so-called high-need babies may cry more than most, simply because they want extra holding, cuddling and reassurance – it is often a good idea to wear a high-need baby in a sling or on your back as the closeness seems to calm them.

Pay attention to the tone of the cry and you will soon learn to tell when your baby is just signalling a need, or when she is in pain or distress.

The three main types of cry

  • Grizzly: a low-pitched droning cry that usually indicates tiredness;
  • High-pitched: A loud, upset wail can indicate pain such as from colic;
  • Urgent: Intense, rhythmic crying often indicates hunger.

Constant crying and fussing

Constant crying and fussing as if in pain or discomfort needs medical attention, especially if there are other signs that all is not well.

The cry of a colicky baby

The cry of a colicky baby is very particular – persistent and high-pitched, usually for about 3 hours in the evening, and you will need to consult your paediatrician for a diagnosis and meds that may help.

How to deal with a crying baby

If your baby's crying is wearing you down

If your baby’s crying is wearing you down, leave the room if you feel angry or desperate and get some help. You may also need to learn some calming and soothing strategies, though the first step is always to make sure the cry is not indicating a physical need.

Hold your baby close while she cries

One method suggests that you simply hold your baby close while she cries, without trying to make her stop, as she may just need to get it out of her system. Some babies respond to a drive in the car or white noise, or you can try techniques such as the 5 S’s.

The 5 S's

  • Swaddling
  • Sucking (breast, dummy or bottle)
  • Soothing sounds (singing a lullaby, shushing)
  • Swinging (or rocking to mimic the motion of the womb)
  • Side or stomach position (eg: over your arm)

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