12 Reasons Why Babies Cry and Tips on How to Calm Them
Topics covered in this article:
Why is my baby crying?
As a new Mum, hearing your baby cry can be nerve wracking and heart-breaking at first. When they don’t stop, it can quickly lead to exhaustion, worry and general tension in your house. To soothe your baby, it’s essential that you understand why your little one is crying in the first place. Most of the time, your baby is crying because he wants to communicate something to you. Although you might like to dream of that ‘motherly instinct’ everyone talks about – it doesn’t include being able to telepathically communicate with your baby – knowing what they need or when they need it. So, we’ve compiled a list of the top reasons why your baby is crying and how you can calm them.
Reason one your baby might be crying: Hunger
Hunger is one of the most common reasons why your baby might be crying. Scheduled feeding times might help, so you know when in your baby’s routine he/she should be feeling hungry again, which might explain the crying. Your baby’s stomach empties reasonably quickly when they are younger. This happens because their tummies are still tiny and can’t hold that much food at a time, which in turns makes them feel hungrier more often.
Reason two your baby might be crying: Dirty Nappies
Can you imagine sitting or lying in a dirty nappy? Perhaps that sentence alone made you feel uncomfortable! Your baby certainly doesn’t enjoy it and will cry for a nappy change. If your little one is irritated or crying, check their nappy and see if it might be time for a change, leaving them happy, fresh and clean.
Reason three your baby might be crying: Sleepiness
We all get a little cranky when we’re tired. Your baby crying continuously might just be a sign that it’s time to go to bed. As a new Mum, it might be unpredictable at first, but you’ll soon become aware of your baby’s sleeping patterns and cues. If your baby has had a particularly busy day filled with visitors and overstimulation, they might be over-tired, which makes the process of getting them to sleep a bit harder than usual. Before it’s time for bed, take your baby to a quiet room where they can calm down and ease into sleep.
Reason four your baby might be crying: Teething
Teething normally occurs between the ages of four and seven months. If your baby is teething, they will be in general discomfort and pain, which could also result in your baby having an irritable mood. The week before a new tooth comes through, your baby will be extra irritable and restless. Teething is a painful process for your little one as new teeth push through their young gums. All babies experience a different teething process, some being more painful than others. However, at some point during the process, there will be some tears. If you aren’t sure whether your baby is teething or not, try feeling their gums to see if there are any emerging teeth or hard spots where a tooth is busy growing out.
Reason five your baby might be crying: Needs to Burp
Commonly after feeding, your baby might seem uncomfortable or start crying. This could be because they swallowed some air while feeding, and are in need of a burp. The air in their tummy causes discomfort which will be relieved when you hold your baby over your shoulder and gently tap them on their back, encouraging a burp. Be sure to throw a baby towel over your shoulder in case it gets a little messy. Some baby’s need to be burped often, while others don’t seem to have much discomfort after feeding time. You’ll soon become familiar with your little one’s behaviour after feeding. If you’ve already tried burping your baby and they are still crying and uncomfortable, look into possible other causes of abdominal pain such as reflux or lactose intolerance.
Read our article on “All you need to know about reflux in your baby’’ for more information on the causes, symptoms and signs of reflux in your baby.
Reason six your baby might be crying: General Discomfort
It isn’t always ‘obvious’ that something might be annoying your baby or causing physical discomfort. Do a quick check to see if there is anything small that could be causing your baby to cry. Maybe something is pricking their skin. Maybe there is something uncomfortable about their clothing. Doctors often also look for a situation called the ‘hair tourniquet’ which is when a hair wraps around your baby’s tiny fingers or toes – cutting off circulation and causing pain and discomfort.
Reason seven your baby might be crying: Overstimulation
A lot is happening for a baby in the new and exciting world around them. However, it could prove to be quite hard for them to process everything that’s happening at once. Crying could be your baby’s way of letting you know that they are having a hard time with everything happening around them at that moment in time. Examples of cases like these could be situations with bright lights, loud noises or frequently being passed around to different people.
In situations like these, newborns enjoy being swaddled. This calms them down and helps them feel safe and secure in their surroundings.
Reason eight your baby might be crying: Need for attention
Like all of us, sometimes babies just want some attention and to be held. If your baby seems to be crying for ‘no reason’ or typically when they have been in their cot for a while, it could just mean that they are asking you to cuddle them. Physical contact is very reassuring to your little one, and swaying and talking or singing to your baby in times like these could increase comfort and general happiness. Your smell, heartbeat, and the warmth of your body are also known to soothe your baby.
Reason nine your baby might be crying: Illness
Soon, you’ll be able to familiarise yourself with the different tones of your young one’s tears. If your baby is feeling sick, the crying might sound a little different than usual. Signs in your baby’s crying when they are ill could include; a weaker cry, an urgent sound, continuous or high-pitched cry. Here’s when your mummy instincts will appear. If your baby is showing any unusual behaviour, it might be a sign that your little one is feeling under the weather. Check your baby’s temperature to see if they have a fever, also try to stay alert for other signs of illness. The cry of a sick baby tends to be distinct from one caused by hunger or frustration. If your baby’s crying just doesn’t sound “right,” trust your instincts and call or see a doctor.
Reason ten your baby might be crying: The Temperature
Be sure to check if it isn’t due to the temperature when trying to decode your baby’s wails. You can check your baby’s temperature by feeling their tummy for a more accurate idea to establish if your baby is too hot or too cold. The temperature of your baby’s room should generally be around 18 degrees Celsius. Be sure to accurately regulate your baby’s temperature, ensuring that they are not over or underdressed.
Reason eleven your baby might be crying: Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a normal stage of emotional development that starts when babies begin to understand that things and people exist even when they’re not present – a concept called object permanence.
Reason twelve your baby might be crying: Colic
Persistent crying in a baby that is otherwise healthy could be due to something called ‘colic’. Colic is a broad term used for babies who cry endlessly and for long periods of time, with no ways of coming to a resolution. Although you try to comfort your baby, they continuously cry, becoming flushed, frustrated and refusing all your efforts. Other signs of colic include your baby drawing up their knees, arching their back or clenching their fists.
Quick Colic Facts:
Some people associate colic with tummy problems, which could be caused by an allergy or intolerance to something in your breastmilk or a type of formula milk. These days though, we have a greater understanding of how normal the pattern of a baby crying is. Some experts think colic is not linked to tummy troubles but is instead a stage called the “Period of PURPLE Crying.”
PURPLE is an acronym, and the letters stand for:
- The Peak of crying. Your baby might be crying more each week, the most at two months, then less between three months and five months.
- Unexpected crying. It can come and go, and you don’t know why.
- Resists soothing. Unfortunately, your baby may not stop crying, no matter what you try.
- Pain-like face. Your baby may look as if they’re in pain, but it’s unlikely that they are.
- Long-lasting periods of crying. It can last for several hours a day.
- Evening. Your baby is most likely to cry more in the late afternoon and evening.
How do I calm my crying baby?
A clean nappy, no fever and a full tummy, but your little one is still crying? If that sounds familiar and you’ve already tried everything you could think of, we’ve got 12 ways you could try to calm your crying baby. Your baby has their own reasons as to why they’re deciding to let it all out and cry. Although you can’t fix every problem or wipe every tear away, you can still comfort your little one while they’re upset in the attempt to soothe their sadness. Who knows, the magic trick might just be here and become your ticket to a peaceful, quiet and happy baby.
The first thing you should do when trying to calm your baby is to look at the 5 S’s.
Swaddle. Babies love to be swaddled. It provides them with a sense of security and reminds them of their days in the womb. The first step to soothing your crying baby is to wrap them in a snug (but not too tight) swaddle with their arms at their side.
Side or stomach position. Hold your baby on their side or their tummy over your arm. Both positions are comforting for your baby and can help resolve gas and other tummy issues.
Shush. Make a gentle shushing sound directly into baby’s ear, which is similar to the noises they heard in the womb. Don’t be afraid to turn up the volume for your baby and see if it works for them.
Swing. Try swinging or gently jiggling baby to get them to calm down (while always taking care to support baby’s head and neck). Babies are used to these types of motions from their time in the uterus and can be startled by stillness shortly after birth.
Suck. A lot of fussy babies deeply relax when they suck on something. Try nursing or using a pacifier once your baby starts to calm down a bit.
Tip two when trying to calm a crying baby: Call in the troops
Send out an SOS signal, you aren’t alone in this, and sometimes it’s necessary to call in for help from friends and family. If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t get your little one to stop crying, allow yourself to take a little break from the exhaustion and frustration. Let someone you trust take over for a while. You also need rest, and sometimes someone else might just have that secret touch to soothe your baby for a bit. It’s important to have a strong, healthy support system around you so they can step in when you’re out of ideas on what to do next.
Tip three when trying to calm a crying baby: Get some fresh air
This is not only good for the crying baby but great for mum to refresh as well. The outside world can be a great way to soothe your baby. After a long period of crying, your little one probably feels stuffy and claustrophobic. The breeze, sun and fresh air are all soothing elements that can help calm your baby down. It can also be used as a distraction tool to calm you both down. Sometimes, simply opening the front or back door and stepping outside with your baby stops the crying instantly. If it works, savour the moment: Look around, look up at the sky, talk to your baby about the world around your home – whether it’s a quiet cul-de-sac or a busy city street.
Tip four when trying to calm a crying baby: Bath Time
A warm bath can relax and calm your baby. A dim-lit bath can encourage sleepiness, and the sound of the rushing water can work wonders for a stressed out little one. The warmth of the water on their skin can help calm your baby down, as well as the skin to skin contact with mum/dad and baby.
For a change of scenery from a bath, try holding your baby in your arms under a gently running shower. Don’t push it if your baby doesn’t like the noise or splashing water, but some babies do seem to take to it. Just make sure your shower is slip-proof.
Tip five when trying to calm a crying baby: Alternative feeding positions
Some babies cry during or after feeds. If you’re breastfeeding, you may find that improving the way your baby latches on helps her to feed calmly, without crying. Ask your maternal child-care nurse or breastfeeding counsellor to check your positioning. If your breastfed or bottle-fed baby seems to have painful winds during feeds still, they may prefer to feed in a more upright position.
Tip six when trying to calm a crying baby: Distractions
Hand gestures, toys, scenery, people are all great ways to distract your baby for the time being. Introduce new toys to shift your baby’s attention to something else besides crying. Include family members or pets to make your baby forget why he was so upset in the first place.
Tip seven when trying to calm a crying baby: Keep your Cool
Although you might be frustrated, babies can pick up on it, which might only increase your baby’s crying.
- Give yourself a break
- Take deep breaths
- Remind yourself that your baby is ok and healthy crying is a natural release.
- Put your baby in a safe space where you can see them while you clear your head.
- While you shouldn’t let infants under three months cry it out, it’s okay to let them fuss for five minutes or so. This will give your baby the opportunity to try and start figuring out how to soothe themselves (and it may give you a chance to regroup, too).
It’s important to keep your cool during this time and never to shake your baby in the hopes of them calming down. Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when a baby is shaken and usually happens when parents or caregivers become frustrated or angry when they are not able to stop the baby from crying. During this time, the blood vessels in a baby’s head cannot tolerate the impact of shaking and can potentially break.
Tip eight when trying to calm a crying baby: Play some music/sound
Luckily, your baby shouldn’t be too picky when it comes to their taste in music. Any sounds can act as tools to soothe your little one. While your baby was still in your womb, they could hear the sound of your heartbeat. If you’re all out of music, try holding your baby close to your chest, letting the beat of your heart calm them down. Other noises that mimic steady rhythm, all have a calming effect on your baby. Try playing soft music and see how your baby reacts. This activity might intrigue them and lighten the mood for mum as well.
Tip nine when trying to calm a crying baby: Have a chat
The familiar sound of Mum’s voice is often one of the best calming techniques. Speak in a soft and quiet tone to not overwhelm your baby. Talk to them, ask them why they’re crying, tell them about your day. Although your baby won’t answer you just yet, your voice intrigues them and calms them down. It’s also a great way for mum to take her mind off all the crying.
Tip ten when trying to calm a crying baby: Take a drive
You could also try taking them for a ride in your car or a walk in their pram. Take a drive. Driving around the block combines steady motion and white noise. If driving isn’t convenient, try a vibrating bouncy seat or swing, which also have the white-noise/movement combo.
Tip eleven when trying to calm a crying baby: Stick with what you know
Over time you will start to recognise which techniques work for your baby and which don’t. Try to stay consistent with what you know. You might overwhelm your baby when trying everything and anything to stop the crying. You know your little one, and based on the scenario, trust your instinct as to what you think will be best for you and your baby at that time.
Tip twelve when trying to calm a crying baby: Motion
The movement involved in being carried in your arms or a carrier may be enough. Other ways to get your baby in motion include a rocking chair, swing, or bouncy seat.
Being a first-time mother can be daunting, and understandably so. During this time of learning and growing, try your best to be patient with yourself and your new baby. After a few months of getting to know each other, we’re sure that both you and your baby will find a groove that works for both of you.