Why Babies Cry

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

OCTOBER 09, 2019

Mother carrying her crying baby son at home.

All babies cry. Some cry more than others, and some babies cry only when they need to be fed, changed or held. Crying is one aspect of a baby’s temperament, and not a means of manipulation. Parents who respond to their baby’s cries are not spoiling their baby, but responding to their baby’s need.

Infant crying usually begins to increase at around two weeks of age, and peaks around two months, gradually decreasing from there. Bouts of a half-hour or more, totaling 2-3 hours per day can occur, and while this may be considered normal, it can be quite distressing to parents. Start with the following checklist:

  • Does baby need to be fed? Newborns, especially those who are breastfed don’t follow a set schedule of feeds, and instead feed on demand.
  • Does a diaper need to be changed?
  • Does baby seem too warm or too cold to the touch?
  • Does baby seem ill, and if so call your pediatrician’s office. Pediatricians expect to hear from parents of newborns, especially if crying seems inconsolable.

Sometimes babies cry just because they need to be held. Remember, they’ve been in the womb for 9 months, it takes a little time to adjust to life on the outside!

  • Carry your baby frequently and in an upright position throughout the day.
  • Hold your baby’s bare skin against your own. “Skin-to-skin” is very soothing to babies.
  • Respond to your baby promptly when he cries. You are not creating bad habits or spoiling. In fact, babies who are responded to tend to cry less.

Many parents find the following soothing tips, outlined by Dr. Harvey Karp, in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block to be helpful.

  • Swaddling: Wrap your fussy baby with arms down in a light, snuggly blanket. Be careful not to overheat your baby or put him to sleep with loose blankets that can wrap around his face.
  • Side or stomach position: Fussy babies can sometimes find it comforting to be held across your forearm or lap on their stomachs. For sleep, make sure to place baby on her back.
  • Shushing: Create your own white noise by making a shushing sound. The sound of the vacuum cleaner works too!
  • Swinging: Babies love the gentle motion of rocking chairs or going for walks. Hold your baby close and gently sway from side to side.
  • Sucking: Babies suck to self sooth. Offer your crying baby your breast, a pacifier, or a clean finger to suck on.

Sometimes nothing seems to work and baby’s cries can wear your patience thin. If you fin the crying getting to you, gently place baby in a safe place, leave the room, and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Check on baby every few minutes, but don’t pick baby back up until you are calm. Call or friend or family member to give you a break or come by and keep you company.

Remember, as difficult as this may feel, newborn crying is a time limited and temporary stage. You will get through it.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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