By Catherine Griffin
You knew going into this parenthood thing that your baby was going to cry. But what you may not have counted on is your reaction to those tears. As their parent, you’re going to want to do anything you can to stop them as soon as possible.
But pinpointing the reason your baby is crying isn’t so easy sometimes. We’ll give you all the reasons your baby may be crying so you can get back to those precious smiles as soon as possible.
Time For a Feeding
You know that uncomfortable feeling you get in your stomach when you’re hungry? Your baby gets that same sensation. But the big difference is they can’t walk to the refrigerator and grab a snack like you can.
So how can you tell if your baby is crying because of hunger or for another reason on this list? Look for other visual cues that they need to eat.
They may lick their lips, suck their hand, turn their head toward the chest of the person holding them, open and close their mouth repeatedly, and become fussy.
You can also watch the clock to figure out if a feeding should be coming up. With newborns, babies who take formula generally need to eat every two to three hours. Breastfed babies will eat more frequently than that, even as often as every one-and-a-half hours. Reference: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/formulafeed-often.html
Needing a Diaper Change
Wet or dirty diapers can make your baby feel so uncomfortable that they have no choice but to cry. But all babies aren’t the same. Some can seem perfectly content to sit in a wet or dirty diaper for quite some time, while others will let you know right away.
You’ll want to stay on top of the diaper situation because if you let them sit in soiled or wet diapers too long, they have a better chance of getting diaper rash. And bad diaper rash can lead to even more crying.
Your baby needs to sleep often, and if that doesn’t happen, be prepared for a lot of crankiness and crying, possibly on both your parts. When a baby gets overtired from staying up too long without a nap, it can be hard to get them to go to sleep.
How much sleep is enough? For the first month, expect your baby will need anywhere from 15 to 18 hours per day. From there, that number drops to 14 to 15 hours per day until they reach four months old. Reference: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children#1
After that, some babies do well until their first birthday with 12 hours of sleep per day, while some will still need up to 15 hours. You’ll get to know your baby quickly and figure out how much sleep they need each day to be happy and healthy.
For having such little tummies, babies sure produce a lot of gas. And that gas is enough to set them off – one gas attack can leave them crying for quite some time.
If you’re looking for a culprit for all that gas, you can blame it on their tendency to swallow air. Whether they breastfeed or bottle feed, babies suck in a lot of air. They also swallow air when they cry or even when they use a pacifier.
If you’re not sure your baby is crying because of gas pain, look for some telltale signs that point to gas. Those signs can include burping, a hard feeling stomach, crying and fussiness, squirming, and even pulling up their legs toward their belly. Reference: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/features/infant-gas#1
If you suspect your baby is gassy and that’s causing the crying, there are some things you can do to help.
• Try different positions: Put your baby on its belly on a blanket on the floor. As your baby changes its position for the tummy time, the gas may be released. You could also put your baby on its back and move its legs around as if it was riding an imaginary bicycle. Those motions can encourage the gas to come out.
• Distract: Playing peek-a-boo might not cut it with a crying, gassy baby, but a warm bath might do the trick. The temperature and feel of the water may be soothing to an uncomfortable baby.
• Examine your diet: If you’re breastfeeding, be aware that you may be eating foods that aggravate their gas situation. Some common culprits include cabbage, beans, and broccoli.
• Talk to your pediatrician about using gas drop: Some parents don’t think gas drops help their babies much, while others swear by them. But if your baby is suffering from gas regularly, it’s an option that may help. Look for a formula that contains simethicone. Reference: https://www.parents.com/baby/care/gas/signs-newborn-has-gas/
• Don’t forget the burping sessions: Make sure you’re taking breaks while your baby eats to attempt to burp them.
Your baby loves you more than any other person in the world. They depend on you for all their needs, and that includes their emotional needs too. Sometimes, they cry just because they want your attention. They want you to hold them, talk to them, sing to them, or rock them.
That may not always be convenient for you. You might have to make bill payments, cook dinner, or do some cleaning. But just remember – in a few short years, you’ll miss these days when you were the most important person in your baby’s world. So cherish these moments, they go so quickly.
Dealing With an Uncomfortable Temperature
It’s easy for a baby to get too hot or too cold. When your baby is sleeping, a good temperature for their nursery is anywhere from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can swaddle them as normal in one blanket with this temperature or have them sleep in a sleep sack.
A good rule of thumb is if you find the temperature of a room comfortable, your baby will too if they have one extra light layer on.
How can you tell if your baby is too cold? Watch for these signs:
• Their stomach or chest feels cold, even under their clothes.
• Hands or feet that feel cold.
• Being too still while awake – that can point to hypothermia.
• Being lethargic.
If your house has a fireplace that you use during the winter, make sure the room doesn’t get too warm for your baby. And in the summer months, keep an eye on how your baby is doing in the heat. Signs your baby is overheating include:
• A sweaty head or neck.
• A rash on the face or a red face.
• Rapid breathing.
Some children seem to sail through colds and minor illnesses with a smile on their face, while others are hit a bit harder. If you notice your baby is uncharacteristically crying a lot and you’ve checked all the obvious reasons, you might have a sick baby on your hands.
If you suspect your baby is sick, look for other indications of illness, including:
• Lack of appetite.
• A runny nose.
• Vomiting, which is different than ordinary spit up.
• Any kind of rash on their body.
If you suspect any type of illness, especially in a newborn, make an appointment with your pediatrician to be on the safe side.
The Urge To Burp
Not all babies cry because they need to burp. Some babies can have that extra air in their bellies after gulping down a bottle and they seem just fine. Other babies don’t handle it as well, crying and squirming until that air is finally released through a burp. After every ounce or two, you should attempt to burp your baby. That may help get that extra air out before it turns into painful gas attacks.
Your baby may never cry during teething, or they can carry on as if their world is ending. That first tooth generally appears between the ages of four to seven months old. It can happen a little sooner than that, or even several months later.
If your baby has swollen gums, a lot of drool, and suddenly has the urge to treat everything he grabs as his own personal chew toy, you can safely suspect teething as the reason for his crying.
To help with the discomfort, let him chew on a refrigerated teething ring or toy, or the edge of a clean, wet washcloth you’ve chilled in the refrigerator in a plastic storage bag. Teething crackers or biscuits can also help take the edge off the pain.
A Hair Around a Toe or Finger
If your baby is crying and you’ve exhausted all the possibilities, check his fingers or toes to ensure that a hair hasn’t wrapped itself around one of them. That can act as a tourniquet and cut off their circulation, which can turn into a serious situation quickly. If there is a hair wrapped around a finger or toe, carefully remove it.
Sometimes there’s just too much noise and activity around your baby, and they can’t handle that much stimulation. You may be in a room that’s too loud, or at a family gathering where there are too many people, especially when your baby is being passed around from person to person.
If you think your baby may be overstimulated, go to a quiet, dark room for a little one-on-one time. That should help calm your baby within a few minutes.
Colic can be the trickiest reason to deal with when it comes to your baby’s crying. By definition, colic is when your baby cries for over three hours per day, at least three days a week, for at least three weeks or more.
Colic can be maddening for parents to deal with, and because the causes aren’t well known, there is no universal solution to it. The best way to deal with colic is to enlist the help of your partner, friends, and family. You’ll need a break sometimes because colic is a stressful situation. And although it may seem like it will never end, it typically goes away by the time your baby is four months old.
To learn more about colic, check out our in-depth article on the causes and tips you can try to alleviate it.
As a parent, all you can do is try to understand your baby as best as you can. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to tell the difference between a fussy cry and a cry of pain.
With every passing day, it will become easier for you to decode that cry and figure out exactly what your baby needs.