By Miles Ogden
Even the happiest of babies will cry for up to three hours per day. As they are unable to do anything for themselves they rely on you to provide them with all the food, warmth and comfort they need. Crying is the only way they have of communicating those needs. With experience you will learn to interpret what your baby is trying to tell you but, initially this crying can be upsetting. Don’t worry, you will soon learn to recognize your baby’s different crying patterns and will be able to anticipate their needs.
Also as your baby grows they will learn to communicate with you in other ways which will reduce the need for crying. They will learn to make eye contact, smile or make other noises which, thankfully, all reduce the need for crying. The most common reasons babies cry are listed below. If you are finding your baby difficult to soothe, try working through the list. By doing this, you will at least re-assure your self that you have done all you can to meet their needs.
Hunger is the most common reason that new babies cry. The younger the baby is, the more likely that they are crying because they are hungry. The exception to this being the first day or two after birth when some babies feed very little. Young babies stomachs are very small so they will initially take very small amounts very frequently. If your baby is crying because they are hungry they will settle when their stomach starts to fill.
I’m not comfortable!
Babies will protest if they have a soiled nappy or their clothes are too tight and you’re not addressing the problem. Some babies don’t seem to mind if their nappy is full, it’s warm and comforting, but others will cry to be changed immediately, especially if they have a skin irritation. If your baby is crying, checking the nappy should be close to the top of the list of things you should be doing. Check that the other clothing isn’t too tight or, for any reason uncomfortable at the same time.
I’m too hot! (or cold)
Make sure that your baby is dressed according to the conditions they are in. They don’t want to be too hot or too cold. A simple rule to follow is that your baby probably needs to wear one more layer of clothing than you do to be comfortable.
When they are sleeping. Try to use sheets and blankets rather than a duvet. It’s easier to add and remove layers to get the temperature right. The room temp should be about 18 degrees C or 64 degrees F. Put them down on their back so that their feet are near the bottom of the cot. That way they won’t wriggle further down under the blankets and get too hot.
I need a cuddle
Some babies need a lot of cuddling and reassurance. Whilst older babies may feel settled by just hearing your voice or seeing you in the room new babies often need close physical contact. If your baby has already been fed and you’ve checked the nappy it might just be that they now crave a cuddle. Don’t worry that you will “spoil” your baby by holding them for too long during the first few months of their life.
I need a sleep
We always assume that babies fall asleep whenever they need too, simply because many of them always appear to be sleeping. However, if your baby has been getting a lot of attention, maybe you’ve had lots of visitors, your baby may have been unable to rest to the degree that is required. Newborns find it difficult to cope with too much stimulation and, it may unsettle them and make it difficult for them to rest. Many parents find that their baby cries more than normal when relatives come to stay, or visit. If there seems to be no other reason for your baby to cry then, the crying may just be their way of telling you that they have had enough. If that’s the case, take them somewhere quite and withdraw them from the stimulating environment. They may continue to cry for a while but will eventually settle.
If you’ve tried everything else and your baby continues to cry you may start to wonder if they are ill or in pain. New parents can find it difficult to tell if their baby is crying because they are finding it difficult to adjust to being in the outside world or whether there is something genuinely wrong. An ill baby often cries with a different tone to their usual cry. It might appear to be more urgent or high pitched. (Also, if your baby usually cries often and they suddenly seem to stop. This may also be a sign that something is wrong.) If you think something is wrong with your baby seek help from a health professional immediately. Remember, nobody knows your baby as well as you do.
Colic is uncontrollable crying in a baby for prolonged periods. It’s not known what causes it and there is not much you can do about it. It is usually a short-term issue which your baby will probably grow out of over the next three months or so. The most difficult part of colic is the stress and anxiety it can cause parents. Try not to let it get on top of you and take a break if someone offers to help.
What can I do when my baby cries?
If you have attended to your babies needs and they are still crying there are things you can do to try and comfort them. They don’t all work for all babies so you need to try them and find what works for you.
Wrap them up and hold them tight
Newborns definitely have a preference for feeling snug and secure so you might try wrapping you baby firmly in a blanket to see if they like it. They also often seem to respond well to being held, especially if they can feel/hear your heartbeat. Other babies may find this too restrictive and may respond better to being rocked or sung too.
Find a predictable rhythm
In the womb babies can hear your heartbeat. It’s probably why they like to be held as newborns. However, any repetitive noise can have the same effect. Try playing gentle music. Some parents even find that the steady rhythm of the washing machine can have a calming effect. Don’t put your baby on top of the machine but, consider letting them being near to it.
Most babies love to be gently rocked. You can do this yourself or consider investing in a rocking chair.
Consider giving your baby a gentle massage. Gently rubbing their back and stomach can have a calming effect. If your baby seems to have a problem with wind try holing them in an upright position against your shoulder and gently rubbing their back. Babies who appear to have colic often respond well to having their stomach massaged.
Let them suck on something
In some newborns the need to suck on something is very strong. Sucking a dummy or a finger or thumb can be very relaxing. It can steady a baby’s heart rate, relax their stomach and help the settle.
A baby that cries often will not do themselves any lasting harm but will cause much distress for the parents. If you are doing everything you can to meet your baby’s needs don’t blame yourself if they continue to cry. Its time to start looking after yourself to make sure you don’t become overwhelmed by the situation. Make sure you get a rest and take some time out to relax yourself every now and again. If a friend or relative offers to help, let them, and make sure you are fighting fit to continue looking after your baby when the time comes.
About the Author
Miles is the father of two boys aged 15 and 10. The eldest child has learning difficulties and Aspergers Syndrome. http://www.thebabyshoecompany.co.uk