Babies make lots of different noises, from giggles to grunts to baby babble. Most of the time, they’re happily engrossed in their new world. When a need arises, however, they have to let you know. The best way to do that is through crying, as it gets your attention every time!
New parents can find it challenging to understand what each crying sound means. You’ll be relieved to know that babies have their language and, interestingly, it’s the same no matter where your baby was born. It’s a universal baby language, and the good news is that you can quickly learn it. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.
Babies cry to tell you their needs. They usually call for 2-3 hours a day. Sometimes, a bawling baby can be distressing to the anxious parents. Babies may wail for no apparent reason. However, sometimes, the baby cries when they are trying to convey their problem to you.
Why Do Newborns Cry?
Incessant baby crying can induce panic in new parents, especially if you don’t know the reason behind the tears. It’s a myth that you can tell what’s wrong by the sound of the cry. Babies are like smoke alarms: You don’t know if you burnt the toast or if the whole house is burning down.
Indeed, many experts believe crying is a state of being for a newborn, much like sleeping or napping. Calling is a type of normal behaviour in infants,” states Marc Weissbluth, M.D., a renowned pediatrician in Chicago and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. He even has a little “nursery rhyme” that explains this behaviour: “Babies cry as birds fly: It’s part of being the creature we are.”
So how can you stop the waterworks? You might turn to context cues to take your best guess. Here’s everything you need to know about decoding your newborn’s crying.
Baby’s Different Types of Cries
Babies tend to have different cries to express different needs or emotions. While you might be a natural at cracking the code on some types of crying, most new parents benefit from a bit of guidance. Here are some “crib” notes to help clue you into what your baby may be saying (or screaming):
Newborns during their first three months of life need to be fed every couple of hours. When they get hungry, the baby makes short, low-pitched cries.
A low-pitched, rhythmic, repetitive cry, combined with other signals such as rooting for the breast, a sucking motion with her tongue, lip-smacking, or putting her fingers into her mouth.
Your baby was breastfed anywhere from one-and-a-half to three hours ago, or she had a bottle two to four hours earlier. She roots around with her mouth, wiggles, or starts acting frantic.
Respond to hunger cries quickly so that the baby doesn’t get too worked up. If she’s upset and begins gulping air with her milk, she may trap gas or spit up, which will probably result in more crying.
When in doubt, assume your baby is crying because he’s hungry and offer him the breast or a bottle. But don’t feed bottle-fed babies too soon after their last meal: If he hasn’t had at least two hours to digest the formula, giving him more may cause him to be unhappy and uncomfortable.
Sleepy / Tired Cries
If your baby is six months old, your child should be able to fall asleep on their own. However, they may need their parents in bed. Even after they get into a sleep schedule, they may face trouble falling asleep when they are sick or any changes in their routine.
A whiny, nasal, continuous cry that builds in intensity is usually the baby’s signal that she’s had enough (as in, “Nap, please!” — usually accompanied by yawns, eye-rubs or ear-tugs) or is otherwise uncomfortable (“I need a clean diaper” or “I can’t get comfortable in this car seat”).
Check for a dirty diaper, and help your baby get as much sleep as she needs (remember that newborns often sleep more than 16 hours a day).
Breathy, helpless. This cry can be intermittent and is more easily soothed than others.
Your baby’s eyes are closed, but she’s restless. Or her eyes may be open and glassy, with redness or puffiness underneath them. The baby may also rub her eyes.
Try swaddling your baby to help her sleep better at night. Doula Andersen-Tennant has found that nine out of 10 babies are comforted by wrapping. (She recommends waffle-weave blankets to all her clients.)
Also, if you are pretty convinced your baby is tired yet seems restless in your arms, put him down. “An overtired baby sometimes wants to be put down and allowed to sleep.
Cries from Boredom or Overstimulation
Usually not as loud as other cries, and often staccato. Boredom can easily transition to laughter; overstimulation can escalate to shrieking.
An overstimulated baby might turn his head away from you or other stimuli. He may angrily bat at an object.
In the case of a bored baby, delay your response by a few seconds or a minute. In the first several weeks of life, he says, your child needs lots of attention—” but that doesn’t mean you must respond promptly to every sound he makes.” Remind yourself you’re not cruel or unsympathetic by ignoring boredom-induced newborn baby cries; you’re simply laying the foundation for self-soothing.
If your baby is overstimulated, try calming him with comforting noises, such as a white noise machine, vacuum cleaner, or whirring fan.
Cries from Annoyance or Discomfort
Forced and whiny; has a pattern of short repetitions, like “uh-UH, uh-UH.”
He may bat with his hands or scrunch up his face.
Look for causes, whether it’s a scratchy hat or irritating noise, and remedy the situation. Also, consider that your infant might be cold, even if she’s indoors. Your best defence is to dress her in layers. If her head or face doesn’t feel warm, then put a hat on your baby.
Cries from Pain
Piercing and grating.
She may arch her back or thrash. With gas pain, an infant brings her knees up to her chest or grunts.
The sucking reflex calms a baby, so consider giving her a pacifier or letting her breastfeed. Andersen-Tennant swears that pacifiers help babies pass gas through their systems, but she notes that bottle-fed babies take to them better. If you’re going to be in a situation you know will cause your baby pain—such as getting a vaccine or a heel-prick—then give the pacifier during the procedure. Do concerned your baby’s cries indicate something more serious? Ultimately, go with your gut, and visit a doctor if you think it’s necessary.
Colic is a term that defines extended periods of crying that lasts for three or more hours for at least three nights of the week. About 20 per cent of babies suffer from colic, which usually starts around 2-3 weeks of life and peaks around 6-8 weeks. Parents who have never had a colicky baby can’t realize how it can ruin you. It’s very, very tough.
During the first month after birth, about 1 in 5 newborns may cry because of colic pain. This condition is marked by more than 3 hours of calling three times a week. This cry is like sudden jags, and they are loud and high-pitched. The baby’s face may become red, the belly may bulge, and the legs may be bunched up. This could be due to gaseous distension or heartburn, common in bottle-fed babies due to swallowed air. However, assure the cause of this discomfort/pain.
High-pitched, screechy, and inconsolable.
Intense wails or screams, accompanied by fidgeting movements. Colic often occurs in the late afternoon or evening, and the episodes can last for hours. It typically peaks around six weeks after birth and goes away when the baby is 3 to 4 months old.
While it’s difficult to calm a colicky baby, you can try comforting positions (laying her on her tummy on your forearm or across your knees, supporting her head and rubbing her back). You can also try putting her down on her back and pushing her knees up to her stomach for 10 seconds, then releasing and repeating, in hopes of getting the gas (thought to be a cause of colic) out of her.
There’s no known cause of colic, so it’s challenging to devise a treatment plan. But Dr Karp outlines a calming method in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block. It’s called the Five S’s:
- Swaddle: Swaddle your infant in a blanket to provide a sense of security.
- Side/Stomach: Many babies aren’t happy on their back, so hold your infant on her side or tummy down.
- Shushing: Dr Karp believes shushing a baby calms her by reminding her of being in the womb. Shush vigorously in your baby’s ear—” as loudly as your baby is crying,” he says.
- Swinging: Supporting your baby’s head, swing her in your arms or a mechanized device.
- Sucking: Once your baby is calm, offer him your finger, breast, or a pacifier to suck. It’s “icing on the cake of soothing,” says Dr Karp.
Soft whimpers that are weak and nasal-sounding, with a lower pitch than the “pain” or “overtired” cry — as if the baby doesn’t have the energy to pump up the volume. If you suspect your baby is sick, be on the lookout for additional symptoms that warrant a call to the doctor, such as fever, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, rashes and anything else that seems out-of-the-ordinary for your baby—no sadder cry tugs harder at parental heartstrings than this one.
Babies get sick sometimes, and often it’s nothing to worry about. Still, it’s essential to trust your instincts. If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your baby’s doctor. Keep in mind that your baby may also cry if she’s too hot or cold, if she’s lonely, if she needs a change of scenery and wants to move around, or if she needs to “let it all out.”
When You Can’t Find a Reason for Crying
Some newborn crying seems entirely unrelated to basic needs. 80 to 90 per cent of all babies have crying sessions of 15 minutes to an hour that are not easily explained or decoded. My Baby Nursery has the best baby nursery products to help create your dream baby room.
Most of these crying sessions happen in the evening. It may be that this is the most hectic and stressful time of day in the home: Everyone’s tired, everyone’s hungry (and Mom’s milk supply may be at its lowest level of the day), everyone’s done, done, done, and that goes for babies too. Or it may be that after a busy day of taking in and processing all the sights, sounds and other stimuli in her environment, the baby needs to unwind with a good cry. Crying for a few minutes may even help her nod off to sleep.
Learning to Understand Baby’s Cries
It may feel like a lot to figure out. Still, as your baby becomes a more effective communicator and as you become more proficient at understanding her, she will cry less often, for shorter periods. She will be more easily comforted when she does cry. You’ll also learn to identify what her cries mean more quickly. So hang in there!
Meanwhile, having a repetitive routine can help. If your baby’s day falls into a pattern of feeding, a period of alert play, and then a period of sleep, knowing where you are in the cycle can help you determine quickly what your little one needs. If she has a full belly and an empty diaper, she may be ready for a nap or need a cuddle.
How to Handle a Crying Baby?
The baby’s cry can be frustrating, upsetting, and overwhelming. After some investigation and common sense, you may be able to figure out how to handle your crying baby. No one knows the baby better than the parents. It may take some time to calm down the baby. Place your baby in a safe place or hold your baby for a while. The following tips might help:
- If your baby is hungry, then breastfeed or bottle-feed them and see whether it helps. Sometimes, infants need to suck on something to comfort themselves even though they are not hungry. A pacifier or something for your baby to suck on their own may help to calm them.
- If the baby is too tired, they may turn fussy instead of drifting off to sleep. Encourage the baby to slumber by swaddling your baby. Wrap your baby in a blanket gently. This mimics the mother’s womb. A change of scenery may also help sometimes. Place the baby in a stroller and go for a walk, or a lulling vibrating seat may also soothe the baby’s fatigue. Movement can sometimes be soothing for a crying baby.
- Sometimes, the baby may get allergies that are passed down from their mother through breast milk. It may upset a baby’s tummy. If it happens constantly, your infant may be allergic or sensitive to certain food products, such as dairy, nuts, or food containing gluten (such as wheat). If your pediatrician suspects any food allergy, a breastfeeding mother should stop eating food products containing the allergen for a week or switch the infant formula if you are using infant formula.
- If your baby vomits out milk, take a break during meals and help your baby to burp often. Feed the baby while they are sitting. You can try special bottles to prevent swallowing too much air. Talk to your pediatrician if this doesn’t work. Most of the time, this mild reflux gets better eventually. It could get better after using thickened formula (for formula-fed babies) or avoiding cigarette smoke at home.
- If your baby is crying to sleep, let them call for some time. A study states that slowly letting the child cry out for longer stretches before checking on them helps them learn to go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Reduce the stimulation around the baby while sleeping. Sit with your baby in a quiet, dimmed room. Swaddle and wrap the baby to help them to feel secure. Hum some gentle lullaby to calm the baby.
- If the baby is crying due to some colic, then:
- Rock or walk your baby.
- Offer extracts of the fennel, chamomile, or other herbal remedies after consulting your pediatrician.
- Consult a pediatrician when the crying doesn’t stop on its own by 3-4 months.
- Always trust your instinct and talk to your pediatrician when you feel something is off.
Surviving Crying Spells
There may be times when your baby seems inconsolable, especially if she has colic. Though it can be safely said that even hours of daily crying doesn’t seem to hurt a baby, it certainly does leave its mark on Mom and Dad. Listening to a baby’s wails can be upsetting and anxiety-provoking, even when you love that baby with all your heart. Scientific studies show that it’s linked to a rise in blood pressure, a speeding up of heartbeat and changes in blood flow to the skin — in other words, it can take a physical and emotional toll. Here are a few strategies that may help you cope with the crying spells:
- Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that the wailing won’t last forever. If it’s colic, it should typically resolve on its own by about three months.
- Give yourself a break. Enlist the help of your partner, a trusted family member, or friend, or get some hired help to pitch in so you can take a timeout to collect yourself. When you do get a break, try de-stressing with relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga, or take a warm bath or shower.
- Keep yourself healthy. Make sure you’re eating healthily, exercising and getting enough quality sleep. Taking good care of yourself will help you take better care of your baby.
- Know your limits. If your baby’s crying is getting to you and you’re worried that you might lose control, set your baby down in a safe place, such as a crib, and move into another room so you can calm yourself down and gather your thoughts. If you need extra help or just someone to listen, don’t hesitate to reach out for additional support from your doctor, a therapist, a support group, or a crisis intervention service.
Better for You and Your Baby
If you take a moment to listen to the different sounds your baby makes before they cry, you will soon be able to decipher them. When you come to understand and respond to what your baby is trying to tell you, it will foster a strong bond and give your little one a more profound sense of comfort. My Baby Nursery is your one-stop baby product store.