Why Babies Cry And What You Can Do

Crying is the main way babies express themselves

Newborns routinely cry a total of 1-4 hours a day. Crying spells often peak at about 6-8 weeks and then gradually decrease.

Reasons babies cry:

  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Need a diaper change
  • Want to be held
  • Too cold/too warm
  • Overtired/overstimulated
  • Sick
  • Helps them de-stress
  • Sometimes they don’t know why they cry

As you get to know your baby, you’ll be able to tell what the different cries mean

Heather Magnan, MD, FAAP

A hungry cry is usually low-pitched and short, whereas a sick cry can be a loud, sudden, high-pitched shriek. When babies are mad, the cry is more unsettled. If you have tried everything and your baby seems inconsolable, he/she may be sick and you should call your pediatrician.

Is it colic?

Colic usually follows the rules of 3s:

  • starts around 3 weeks of age and lasts until 3 months of age
  • crying 3 or more hours a day, 3 or more days a week, for 3 or more weeks, in an otherwise healthy infant

The crying associated with colic often seems like your baby is in pain, and occurs for no apparent reason. The timing might be predictable, with episodes often happening at night. We’ve written a blog explaining how to deal with colic, which you can read here.

Hildred Machuca, DO, FAAP

Should you let your baby cry?

Sometimes as parents, we’re afraid that if we respond to our babies every time they cry, we will spoil them. This is not true—babies need the reassurance and will cry less overall in the future.

What we don’t want to do is feed our baby every time he/she cries, because then we can overfeed them and get them used to the idea that with every cry, they get fed. As well as potentially leading to weight issues, this can become an unhealthy pattern in the future.

Sometimes we forget that babies are babies and we expect too much from them

Babies come from a very protected environment inside their mother’s womb where it’s warm and snug. They feel cuddled, and they continually hear sounds from their mom’s circulation and heart. Although they hear sounds from the outside world, this doesn’t compare to being up close to all that stimulation. If we were to put ourselves in their shoes, how would we feel?

When they cry, babies are probably scared and need a lot of reassurance from their loved ones. So how can we provide that? It may be as easy as picking up your baby. When we as adults are in distress, a familiar touch feels reassuring, right? This works for babies, too.

Other ways to sooth a crying baby

  • Skin to skin contact
  • Singing /dancing
  • Talking to your baby
  • Rocking
  • Swaddling
  • Shushing /white noise
  • Playing music
  • Burping your baby, as he/she may have gas
  • Vibration
  • Riding in a car

When you can’t get your baby to calm down, it can be overwhelming

These are the times that if you have support, it’s good to use it. Hand over the baby to a loved one or trusted person.

Sometimes we feel guilty if we cannot console our baby, but part of being a good parent is being aware of your limits. So if there is no one readily available to help you, put the baby down in a safe place—like a crib or car seat—and go call someone, drink some water, and just breathe for a few minutes. The baby will be fine.

When you return, he/she may still be crying, may not be crying, or may have fallen asleep, but you are refreshed and ready to deal with your baby. It’s important to remember that babies can feel when we are agitated and they cry more in response, so try to remain as relaxed as possible.

Babies are like sponges

They absorb the energy of their surroundings, so when we have had a bad day, or when we are mad or sad, we may see that our babies are more cranky and cry more. They are wondering what is going on and they cry in response. On those days, your baby may need more reassurance.

Being a parent is not easy

Therefore, it is important to realize that you are not perfect. Give yourself daily credit for trying your best. Your relationship with your baby is for the rest of your life and at this stage, you are each getting to know each other.

Especially with a newborn, self-care is absolutely crucial as a parent. Eat healthy, nutritious meals and try to get enough sleep (we know this is hard with a new baby, especially a crying one). Pamper yourself if possible. It really is true: the better care you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your baby.

EVEN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE AT THE END OF YOUR ROPE, NEVER SHAKE YOUR BABY

No matter how frustrated or angry you become because of colic or any other issue, a baby should never be shaken. This can cause blindness, brain damage and even death. If your baby won’t stop crying, do what we suggested above: place him/her in a safe place, go in another room for a few minutes, take deep breaths, count to 10, maybe get something to eat.

A crying baby can be very, very draining but trust us, it will eventually get better. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, please get help from a counseling center or mental health professional. In addition, we’ve found this website to be helpful for parents: Fussy Baby Site.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

Whatever the age of your child, count on the pediatricians of Westchester Health and Northwell Physician Partners for vital information to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Whether you have newborns, toddlers, adolescents or teenagers, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re here to help you with yours. Please call us at (914) 232-1919.

Want some help with your child’s crying? Please come see us.

If you’re having a hard time with your baby’s crying and are wondering if it’s a signal of an underlying problem, or simply want some advice and guidance, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We’ll examine your child to see if there is indeed an underlying issue, and if so, determine what the next steps should be. Most of all, we want to help you raise a healthy child and feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Heather Magnan, MD, FAAP and Hildred Machuca, DO, FAAP, Pediatric Physicians with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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