Why Babies Cry, According To Experts
From the moment they're born, babies start interacting with the world. Unfortunately, for tired parents everywhere, the only tool they have to communicate in the midst of all that interaction, is crying. As a result, there are about a million reasons why babies cry, which can make life as a new parent pretty nerve-wracking. On the the bright side, you'll eventually learn which cry coordinated with which specific need, and before you know it you can help keep the crying to a minimum.
It just, you know, takes time.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies cry for a variety of reasons. So when a baby is hungry, tired, angry, or uncomfortable, they'll cry. To find out why your baby is probably crying, and for some expert advice on how to soothe those baby tears, Romper spoke with Sarah Norris, a UK-based maternity nurse, baby care consultant, and author of The Baby Detective, and Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a pediatrician and writer at Bag of Pediatricks.
In Norris' experience, there are four main reasons your baby is probably crying. "I tell my clients that babies cry for one or more of the following: they are hungry, tired or over-tired, in pain (usually from gas), or feel insecure," she tells Romper. And according to Dr. Cecchini, with time and experience, you’ll learn to interpret your baby’s crying and what the different types of cries may mean at various times throughout the day. "Spending time with your baby will help you learn these different cues and clues," she says.
For more on these and other reasons your baby is crying, read on:
The main culprit behind your baby's cries is usually hunger, according to Norris. "If a new baby (in the first two weeks) is crying a lot, I tell parents to feed baby, any way they can, as much as possible within one hour, then wind (the British word for burping) really thoroughly, swaddle firmly, and cuddle," she says. "I find this works like a ‘miracle cure’ for a great many babies."
While many new parents think it's normal for newborns to cry often in their first days of life, the Fed is Best Foundation website notes that insatiable hunger and inconsolable crying after nursing can actually be a warning sign that they aren't getting enough to eat, which should not be ignored. If your baby is crying frequently despite being fed regularly, it's best to consult your health care provider immediately.
According to Dr. Cecchini, your baby might be crying because they're uncomfortable (from a dirty diaper) or there's something else bothering them that you just might be able to fix. "Environmental factors, such as a room that is too cool or too warm, may also lead to crying," she explains.
They Have Gas
After hunger, Norris tells Romper that gas is often to blame for your baby's bad mood. This is why she recommends that you burp your baby right after they eat or if they are crying for no discernible reason. As she writes in her book The Baby Detective, "Efficient winding can make a huge difference to a baby’s health and happiness, allowing routines to be implemented, sleep problems to be addressed, play times to be contented and relaxed, and is a vital factor in managing a baby with colic or reflux."
They're Tired Or Over-Stimulated
Norris notes that babies often cry when they are tired and/or overstimulated. "If baby is overtired and in meltdown mode, I suggest you swaddle firmly and take baby somewhere cool and quiet with low lighting," she says. "Use a pacifier, but don’t try to feed, until they are calm."
"If a baby isn’t feeling well, he or she may also cry, and this is important to keep in mind if you are having trouble consoling your infant," Dr. Cecchini says. "If you have tried addressing the common reasons they might be crying (hunger, dirty diaper, environment) without any improvement for over an hour, it might be a sign that something concerning is happening."
Dr. Cecchini adds that you should definitely call the doctor if their crying is accompanied by other warning signs. "If a baby is increasingly sleepy and unarousable, this is very concerning," she says. "If your baby is breathing faster than usual, not feeding regularly, making fewer wet diapers than expected or repeatedly vomiting you should seek medical attention immediately."
They're In Pain
The AAP notes that cries of pain may sound different from other cries. For example, a cry that comes on suddenly, and is a loud, high-pitched shriek, followed by a long pause, then followed by a wail, is a sign your baby is potentially hurt.
"One less common reason that may lead to crying is a hair tourniquet or a small piece of hair wrapped tightly around a finger or a toe that is causing pain," Dr. Cecchini says.
If you suspect pain from teething is causing your baby to be fussy, especially at bedtime, the Mayo Clinic recommends cold wash cloths, teethers, or over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (as always, check with your doctor before giving your child any medication).
They Feel Insecure
As Norris told Romper, it's typical for babies to cry when they want attention or to be held. She recommends snuggling your baby close, but says that "if your efforts to soothe them by cuddling is not working, try walking around with them facing outwards, away from you, as this is less stimulation for an already over-stimulated baby or bounce gently on a yoga ball."
No Reason At All
Sometimes, Dr. Cecchini notes, no matter what you try or what you do or how many diapers you have changed, your baby will cry. "It is true that sometimes babies cry simply for no reason at all," she says. "Typically, consolation or distraction are useful tools in this case."
However, if your baby cries for more than three hours a day, it might be worth making a trip to the doctor. "Colic is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other causes of excessive crying need to be ruled out first," Dr. Cecchini tells Romper. "Babies with colic should have no concerning findings on physical exam and should be growing at an expected rate."
Dr. Cecchini adds that if your baby cries all the time, you might need — and should take! — a break from the stress of it all. "If your baby is diagnosed with colic, be sure to reach out to a family member or friend who might be able to help, so that you have time away from the baby if you’re feeling anxious or tense during crying episodes."