A crying baby can be worrying for parents, especially if the reason for their distress is unclear. All babies cry at some point. However, some babies cry more than others. When babies cry, it is usually to alert their parents to an unmet need. As young babies can’t express their needs verbally, it’s down to their caregivers to figure out precisely what their cries mean and how to soothe them. Over time, parents become adept at identifying their baby’s different cries.
One of the most common reasons that babies cry is because they are hungry. Newborn babies have tiny stomachs that can only hold very small quantities of milk at a time. Even if the baby has recently been fed, it’s possible that their stomach has already emptied and they are feeling hunger pangs again. Crying is a late cue for hunger. Babies who are hungry will often show earlier signs of hunger before crying. One such sign is “rooting,” where the baby sticks out their tongue or sucks their hands and fingers. By feeding the baby as soon as they show these cues, you can sometimes avoid hunger crying.
Wet or Dirty Diaper
A wet or dirty diaper can cause discomfort and lead to episodes of crying. It’s worth doing a quick check to see if their diaper is clean and dry or if the baby seems distressed. Regular diaper changes are important for maintaining good hygiene and protecting the baby’s delicate skin. Newborns are expected to wet or soil around ten diapers per day. Sometimes, a baby’s skin can become sore, or a rash can develop due to irritation caused by their bowel movements. By applying a thin layer of barrier cream to the area you can prevent the skin from coming into direct contact with any pee or poo.
Young babies are not very efficient at burping up gas and need their caregivers to help them. If they swallow air during a meal, this can cause pain and discomfort and lead to crying. Crying due to gas pain can often be avoided by burping the baby thoroughly after a feed. Sitting or holding the baby upright and patting or rubbing their back can help them to bring their wind up. If the baby is very gassy, burping at intervals during feeding can help. As the baby gets older and becomes more mobile, they will be able to release trapped wind themselves.
Too Hot or Cold
Babies often cry if they are too hot or cold. Many parents bundle their newborns up in layers of knitwear and blankets to keep them as warm as possible. However, overheating is uncomfortable for babies and can even be dangerous. As a rule, babies need to wear one more layer than is comfortable for adults in the same environment. Newborns often hate having their diapers changed or being taken out of the bath because they get too cold. Dressing a baby in bodysuits with clasps over the diaper allows parents to change them without completely undressing their newborn. Having a soft towel with a hood ready to receive the baby after their bath can also prevent them from becoming uncomfortably cold.
Young babies need a lot of sleep including several daytime naps. When a baby gets too tired, they can find it harder to drop off to sleep and become whiny and tearful. If the baby is crying and they are not hungry, and their diaper is clean, they may need to be put in their crib for a nap. Noticing early signs that a baby is tired can help to avoid crying episodes. Babies who need to go to sleep may develop a ‘blank’ expression, become very quiet or pull at their ears.
Crying can be a sign that a baby is sick. There may be accompanying signs of illness such as congestion or fever. Many parents notice that their baby’s cries are different when they are unwell. The crying may be higher in pitch and more persistent. If sick, newborn babies can become seriously ill l very quickly. It’s important to consult a doctor as soon as possible if there are concerns about a baby’s health.
Newborn babies often meet a lot of visitors in the first weeks and months of their lives. While everyone wants a turn at cuddling the baby, it’s important to remember that all this stimulation can be overwhelming for them. Many babies cry when this stimulation gets to be too much. If the baby is becoming upset, they may need to be taken to a quiet, calm area for some downtime with mom or dad.
Many newborn babies develop a condition known as colic. Babies with a colic cry for at least 3 hours a day for no obvious reason. Other signs of colic include going red in the face, drawing the knees up, and clenched fists. Babies with colic can be difficult to soothe. This may be very distressing for parents and caregivers. However, it usually improves as the baby gets older and should clear up completely by the time they are six months old. Gentle rocking or bouncing, white noise, taking a walk in the stroller or a warm bath may all be helpful for calming a colicky baby.
As babies get older, they require more stimulation and interaction to keep them occupied and happy. Just like adults, babies can become bored and boredom can lead to crying. Providing a range of age-appropriate toys and activities can help prevent crying due to boredom. Sometimes, the baby may simply need a change of scenery and might enjoy a walk outside or even just looking out of the window. Babies are fascinated by watching adults and older children and may be entertained simply by watching their parents go about their household chores.
When is Crying a Concern?
Crying is normal behavior for babies and isn’t usually a cause for concern. However, there are some situations where crying could indicate that the baby needs urgent medical attention. If the crying is accompanied by a swollen scrotum, vomiting, a bulging fontanelle (soft spot), or is triggered by touching or moving the baby, they should see a doctor as soon as possible. Some babies cry for prolonged periods for no apparent reason. However, if these episodes exceed 2 hours and the baby cannot be consoled, this may be a sign of illness or injury.