**Disclaimer: This post is not intended to serve as a substitute to medical advice. This post is a general overview of common reasons why babies cry and how you can help soothe them. Always check with your pediatrician about your baby’s individual health needs.**
As a new parent, adapting to a baby in your home can be both exciting and overwhelming at times. Because your little one cannot yet communicate with words, you probably realized pretty quickly that crying is their primary way of letting you know their needs. It can be difficult at times though to discern why babies cry.
Unfortunately, it’s not always clear what those needs are. Luckily, as you and your baby bond, you will better learn to recognize the reasons behind their cries. But until then, here are some helpful tips about the common reasons babies cry and what you can do to calm them.
Why Babies Cry
Hunger is one of the most common reasons a baby cries. Due to their small stomachs, babies need to be fed often, upward of 8-to-12 times per day. As a result, it can feel like your baby is hungry around the clock. If it has been a couple hours since your baby’s last feeding, there’s a pretty good chance he or she is gearing up for the next meal. Offer up a feeding to see if that helps soothe their tears. Never ever introduce medication (unless prescribed by a medical professional) or alcohol to a baby’s bottle to induce sleep or calm baby.
Fatigue, Boredom, or Over-stimulation
Just like babies eat a lot, they also sleep a lot — although unfortunately for parents, generally not in long, uninterrupted stretches. Because babies are busy adjusting to everything in the world for the first time, it doesn’t take much to cause tiredness or over-stimulation. Rock your baby in a quiet, dim-lit room to see if he or she is in need of a snooze (or at least a less-stimulating environment).
Conversely, babies can become bored and restless if they do not have enough stimulation. Speak softly to your little one, sing to him/her, put them in the stroller for a walk, or use this time to give baby a little bath. The sensory exposure will help stimulate baby and engage them with the world around them.
There are a number of reasons your little one might be uncomfortable. Some common reasons include a dirty diaper, gas after feeding, or being too hot or too cold. Check your baby’s diaper to see if it is in need of a change. Because they eat all the time, babies need lots of diaper changes! If a dirty diaper is not the issue, try burping your baby to see if his or her discomfort is caused by gas. Also, take note of your baby’s environment. Make sure he or she isn’t dressed too warmly (or not warmly enough) for the temperature. A general rule of thumb is that they need one more extra layer of clothing than an adult.
It is extremely important to be sure to check for hair tourniquets, which is when a strand of hair wraps around baby’s toes, fingers, or other extremity. Not only is this uncomfortable or even painful for little one, but in extreme cases hair tourniquets can cut off blood flow and result in serious injury. Click here for guidance on handling hair tourniquets.
Wanting to Be Held
Sometimes your baby’s cry may be the result of just wanting to be held. Babies have a way of making sure you know when they need to be picked up — often times right before you sit down to a hot meal or are about to hop in the shower! But the good news is, all that time spent holding your baby will pay off. Research shows that, for an infant, touch plays an important role in cognitive, language, and behavior development. So go ahead and cuddle your sweet baby as much as you want!
The “Witching Hour”
Many new parents discover that their baby has a “witching hour.” And often, this “hour” lasts much longer than just 60 minutes. This is the time period every day, often in the evenings, that your baby may routinely become fussy even when fed, changed, and burped. One tip for getting through this tough period is wearing your baby in a carrier to soothe him or her with the movement of your body. You can also try gentle swaying, shushing, swaddling, rocking, and playing lullabies. And always remember, this period will pass!
Colic is a condition that can cause unexplained fussiness or crying for extended periods in otherwise healthy babies. It is generally marked by crying for three hours per day or more, at least three days per week, and for three weeks or more. It is most common during the first three months of a baby’s life. Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for colic, but practicing soothing tips such as swaddling, the use of white noise, and keeping your baby in a calm environment may help. Also, make sure to ask another trusted adult for help caring for your baby during this stressful time so that you can take breaks as needed!
It’s important to remember that unexplained crying can also be a sign of illness, milk allergy, or another serious medical condition. Talk to your child’s medical provider right away if crying is accompanied by fever or other symptoms of illness. You may need to omit certain foods from your diet if breastfeeding or switch to a different formula if formula feeding. And always trust your gut — you know your child best!
Remember, what works for one family may not work for another, and what worked for one child may not work for their own sibling. Parenting is hard, and oftentimes it causes great stress to hear your little one scream and cry for long stretches of time. If you find yourself overwhelmed and unable to calm yourself to handle care of your little one, it is recommended to place him or her in a safe area of your home and walk away to calm yourself down. Revisit after you have relaxed a bit and it will be a much safer and more productive effort to calm baby. Do not be afraid to seek out help, you might be surprised how many people would be willing to lend a hand and are waiting in the wings for the request. Talk to friends and family, neighbors, community and religious leaders and other trusted sources to see who may be available to you in times of need so you have a list of available resources to you. You may also reach out for help at a number of organizations aimed specifically at providing assistance for overwhelmed parents, such as the National Parent Hotline (http://www.nationalparenthelpline.org) who can be reached at 1-855- 4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736). As always remember – you are not alone!