A straight answer as to why your baby cries is that it is absolutely normal. Asking that is akin to asking why cows moo–they just do. As moms, we are the primary caretakers of our little ones and the feeling of guilt and personal accountability that comes with the crying can be tough. Developmentally, crying is the first and only way your newborn can communicate a multitude of needs or emotions. So how are you supposed to know exactly what your baby is trying to tell you? Here are nine of the most common reasons why babies are fussy and what you can do about them.
Something they don’t tell you before being a mom is that crying is actually a late indicator of hunger. The younger your baby is, the more likely it is that she’s hungry, as a baby’s stomach is small and can’t hold very much. It doesn’t take long before she needs another feed especially for breastfed babies as breastmilk is 88% water. To stop a baby fussing over hunger before it even begins, watch out for lip smacking, rooting (a newborn reflex that makes babies turn their head toward your hand when you stroke their cheek), and putting their hands to their mouth. Follow your baby’s cue. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. If you’re formula feeding or bottle-feeding though, be careful not to overfeed your baby as the discomfort will also result in crying and bigger problems down the line.
You would be surprised at how often babies “go”. Soiled diapers are a sure source of discomfort, so check every once in a while, even if your baby doesn’t smell like they need a fresh one.
Not to be confused with a hunger cry, this kind of crying tends to be accompanied by rubbing of the eyes, and starts out slowly and low then builds in intensity and tone. For younger babies, the signs can be more subtle like staring blankly into space or being quiet before crying over the slightest thing. Babies need a lot of sleep but only in short segments. Keep in mind though that every baby may have different sleep patterns. It’s best to recognize your little one’s sleep cues to avoid the full meltdown that being tired can bring.
If you’re a new parent and your baby only seems happy when held, don’t be surprised. This is known as the 4th trimester, a period described by expert Dr. Harvey Karp as the first three months of a baby’s life–a time when a newborn is adjusting to life outside of the womb. Your baby is likely to cry more during the fourth trimester than at any other time in his or her life, so your body–the only home your baby’s ever known–is what can calm everything down. Even older babies need to be held, heck even adults need at least eight hugs a day. Baby wearing has been a life-saver for me and my daughter.
Colic is the term used when your otherwise healthy baby cries excessively and can’t be soothed. Some experts think that babies persistently cry because their tiny digestive systems are still maturing, making indigestion and wind more of an issue. This cry is characterized by high intensity, rhythmic patterns, and usually lasts until the gas is passed. Body movements include raising of the legs to the tummy, arching of the back, and fidgeting. Burp your baby after every feed and massage his tummy gently with clockwise movements. If your baby is crying excessively and nothing seems to be calming him down, take him to see your doctor. Try to keep note of his bouts of crying and any other symptoms, and his feeds.
Authors Megan Faure and Ann Richardson in their international best-seller, Baby Sense say “In a young baby an overstimulated cry is accompanied by pulling up of legs, blueness around the mouth, and bringing his hands towards his face and mouth as he attempts to self-soothe. In an older baby, fractious niggling accompanied by tugging his ears and pushing away toys or food may indicate that he is overstimulated.” If your baby has been in a crowded environment, remove him and find a quiet, dimly-lit room so that his nervous system can have a chance to calm down. A trick my lactation consultant showed me is holding the baby close to my body, and swaying side to side while making a gentle shhh-ing noise–she says it feels and sounds similar to the noise and movements my baby felt while in the womb.
Temperatures can change quickly, especially as we move between indoors and outdoors. If you’re comfortable with what you’re wearing, compare it to what your baby has on. The general rule of thumb is your baby should be wearing, at most, one more layer of clothing than what you have on. The easiest way to tell if your baby is too hot or too cold is by feeling the nape of the neck to see if it’s sweaty or cold to the touch. When babies are too warm, they may have flushed cheeks and look like they’re sweating.
A change in behavior is often a sign of illness in babies. If your baby is ill, they may cry more or have a change in activity level. A baby who is continuously fretful and fussy, or cries for long periods, may be unwell or hurting. Examine your baby carefully to make sure that he or she doesn’t have a physical problem, such as clothing or a diaper pin pinching the baby. There may be a thread or even a hair tightly wound on a finger or toe. Look at the baby’s abdomen for signs of swelling. Consult your baby’s pediatrician if your baby is crying for longer than usual or has other signs of illness.
35 years of studying interactions between mothers and babies, Dutch Pediatricians Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij observed consistent stages that mothers identified as ‘difficult’. The fussy periods became known as The Three Cs, Clinginess, Crankiness, and Crying, and are a key part of understanding the Wonder Weeks–a period of crucial development in the baby’s brain and central nervous system. A friend introduced me to the book and the app that is available, and they have been super helpful in at least understanding what my little one is growing through. You are your baby’s home. Offer comfort and love as much as you can but when you find yourself feeling like it’s too much, walk away. Let someone else that you trust hold the baby for a while. Stepping away from your baby, of course, will always do less harm than losing your temper and “snapping.” Remember, as frustrating as a crying baby may be, This too, shall pass.