Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a first-time newbie, every parent can feel frustrated or even helpless when it comes to decoding your baby's cries. And any parent would probably be relieved if they could just figure out the signs their baby is in pain, not just fussy. Especially because no parents wants to find out that their child was actually in pain and they ignored it because they thought it was just a cranky phase.
When I first became a mother, I was convinced that every whimper and cry from my newborn son was and indication that something was wrong. Though my own mom told me that all parents go through this stage of paranoia with their first child, it's rarely cause for alarm. Many trips to the (annoyed) pediatrician later, I still couldn't get rid of the nagging fear that my baby could be in real pain.
Though it's always recommended to trust your instincts and take the "better safe than sorry" approach, there are some legit ways to identify if your infant is actually hurting. So if you want to calm your fears or just pick up some interesting info, check out these signs that your baby is in pain and not just being fussy.
1. Their Cry Is More Intense
This may seem obvious, but some people brush off a more intense cry as a sign that their child is just really grumpy. But according to Michigan University's Health Department, intense crying can indicate pain in infants, noting that a baby's cry may be "more insistent, higher pitched, and may last longer than usual." Conversely, if they suddenly are reduced to a whimper, that could indicate that they are too ill to cry loudly.
2. They Scrunch Up
Though colic and gas pains can be normal and short-lived, it's good to know how to tell if it's something more. Dr. Katherine O’Connor, a pediatric hospitalist, told The Bump that a sign your baby is having stomach pains is if "your baby might pull up his or her legs, clench his or her fists or squirm around like he or she’s uncomfortable."
3. They're Either Too Rigid or Too Limp
Diane Kohnle, a healthcare industry expert, told Healthy Day News that a sign your infant is ill is, "stiffness throughout the body, or flailing and squirming—though very sick or premature babies may appear limp."
4. They Aren't Hungry
The way we knew something was legitimately wrong with our son was when he had no appetite. Our pediatrician confirmed he had a stomach bug and that a sudden loss of appetite or an inability to keep food down is a sign that your baby is experiencing pain or discomfort in their digestive system.
5. Their Sleep Pattern Is Off
According to the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota's Patient & Family Education journal, "infants in pain are often fussier and sleep less. Some infants may get listless and only seem to be asleep."
6. Their Soft Spot Looks Different
According to About Kid's Health, a publication from the University of Toronto's research-intensive hospital, a warning sign your baby is in pain is, "their fontanelle, the soft spot at the top of his head, begins to swell." What might just seem like a little bump and cry could be more.
7. They're Unusually Expressive
According to Michigan University's Health Department, "your baby may be in pain if they grimace, open their mouth, wrinkle their brow, have deep lines around their nose and squeeze their eyes shut."
8. Their Fidgeting Looks More Like Shaking
We had a close call when our son was only a few months old. He had been coughing and sneezing a lot, but our pediatrician assured us that all newborns do that and perhaps seasonal allergies were to blame. Our son had some pretty violent coughing spasms, but one day I noticed it seemed more intense and lasted longer. After rushing him to the ER, we discovered that he had likely gotten something stuck in his airway (like phlegm or mucus) and that caused a seizure. Though not every time your infant shakes does that mean they're having a seizure, it's good to know what to look out for when your child is unable to speak yet.
9. They're Sensitive About Their Ears
Dr. Max M. April, chair of the committee on pediatric otolaryngology, told Parents that some of the signs your baby is in pain due to an ear infection are,"if your baby becomes more upset when she's lying down, has a fever above 102 degrees, tugs at her ears, or doesn't respond to sounds around her as she normally would."