When it comes to the stressful challenges of early parenthood, coping with a crying baby is right up there with extreme sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, in the absence of language, this is your little one’s only form of communication so learning to decipher your baby’s cries and soothe them appropriately is an essential part of managing their wellbeing – not to mention your own sanity!
Why are they crying?
When your baby cries it’s because she’s trying to tell you something. Your job is to figure out what that is. This might sound daunting but it usually boils down to one of a few basic needs. All you need to do is work your way through the list until you strike gold.
I’m hungry! One of the most common reasons for a baby crying is hunger. A newborn’s stomach is very small so they will need to feed frequently in those early weeks. All babies’ appetites are different and some days they will be hungrier than others so even if your little one fed quite recently, offer her some milk and let her be the judge.
I’m uncomfortable! A soiled or wet nappy can feel very unpleasant so check that they’re clean and dry. Also, check they’re not too hot or cold and adjust their layers accordingly. If they’re lying in the Moses basket, cot or pram, try adjusting their position and make sure there are no bunched up sheets, toys or scratchy labels irritating them.
I’m lonely! After all that time spent snuggled up in the womb, the world can feel like a very big and daunting place so sometimes your little bundle will just need a cuddle from mummy. Hold them close and gently rock back and forth to help soothe them.
I’m tired! Babies often cry when they’re tired so if you think your little one could be in need of a nap, give them the opportunity to sleep and do what you can to help them drift off. Put them down in the Moses basket or cot, if that’s where they like to sleep, or put them in the pram and take them out for a walk. Some parents prefer to rock their baby to sleep in their arms – but be warned that this could soon become something your baby relies on.
I’m bored! Babies love to explore the world with their senses and a lack of stimulation can make them cranky. Think of it as a pre-cursor to the “I’m bored!” years. Give them a new toy to play with, have a sing-song or take them out for a walk, and get that curious little mind whirring again.
It’s all too much! Conversely, too much stimulation can make your baby grouchy, too, so if they’ve been very active, at a mother and baby class or around visitors, for instance, take them somewhere quiet to relax and wind down. Not all babies like silence so you could try a white noise app. This is thought to mimic the sound of the womb and can help to calm down over-stimulated babies.
I’m windy! Trapped wind is very common in babies and not something to worry about. However, as you’ll know if you’ve suffered it as an adult, it can be extremely painful. Holding your baby upright during feeding, burping them after feeds and gently massaging their tummy can help with trapped wind.
I can’t keep my milk down! If your baby becomes fussy during or after feeds, they could be suffering from reflux. This occurs when their milk and stomach acid come back up into the food pipe or mouth, which happens because the food pipe hasn’t yet fully developed. It will usually improve naturally over time but if it occurs frequently and causes pain, visit your GP, who may be able to prescribe medication.
I need to suck! Sucking is a natural reflex in babies and helps to soothe them when they’re in distress. If you don’t want to introduce them to a dummy (it can be a hard habit to break once you start), offer them a clean finger or thumb!
I’m poorly! When a baby is ill, their cry often sounds different – usually more urgent and high pitched. If that’s the case, check their temperature. Calpol will help to bring down their temperature if they have a fever. If they have difficulty breathing while crying or it’s accompanied with vomiting or diarrhoea, take them to the GP.
Seeing your baby in distress can be upsetting and exhausting, and when it happens frequently and nothing you do seems to help, it can lead to feelings of guilt and hopelessness. While calming your baby might be your first priority, it’s essential to look after your own wellbeing, too. A happy mum is a happy baby, and all that. And that means seeking out support when you need it. Talk to other parents and ask family members and close friends to help out so you can take the occasional break. If you’re still struggling to cope, seek professional support from your health visitor or GP.
Also, remember that it is completely normal for babies to cry a lot in the first few months. It is not your fault and it will get easier as they gradually learn to self-soothe.
When the crying won’t stop
If, however, the crying is persistent even when you’ve tried everything, it could be your baby is suffering from colic. This is the blanket term for excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy. It’s a common problem that affects up to one in five babies. It tends to begin when a baby is a few weeks old and normally stops between four and six months.
The causes of colic are unknown but theories include indigestion, trapped wind, or a temporary gut sensitivity to certain proteins and sugars found in breast milk and formula.
Although it is not a serious health issue and the problem will pass, it can be vey distressing to look after an inconsolable baby day after day. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel as though they must be doing something wrong, or that their baby is rejecting them – but rest assured, it is not your fault.
Again, seek support from friends and family so you can get breaks and time to rest. Remember, you’re not alone: Cry-sis is a support group for parents dealing with babies that cry excessively (helpline 0845 122 8669). It’s also worth speaking to your GP as they will be able to give you advice and run tests to eliminate other potential causes for their crying, such as eczema or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.