There are few things more distressing to new parents than to hear the plaintive crying of their infant. Besides being deeply upsetting, constant worrying over the cause of the crying itself can make a stressful situation even worse. If you are a new parent, it is understandable that you’ll want to find out why your baby is crying right away and to soothe the baby as soon as possible.
Crying is how babies communicate their urgent feelings – their hunger, sleepiness, fear, the need to be held and more. As you learn to interpret their cries, you can become more confident in your ability to manage your baby’s needs. And as your baby gets older, he or she will actually become better able to “self-soothe,” and much of the crying will stop.
There are several reasons that babies cry, including:
- Wet or dirty diaper
- Wants to be held
- Teething pains
- Gas pains
- Too cold or too hot
- Too much noise in environment
As you get to know your baby better, in time you’ll be able to differentiate between “normal” crying and cries that indicate something more problematic. And you’ll want to learn the difference between normal crying and colicky crying.
When you hear the term colicky baby, it generally refers to an infant who cries for two hours a day and at least two days a week. Approximately 20 percent of all babies will have colic, though its causes are not well understood.
“Colic crying is recognizable by its high-pitched sound, emotional intensity, and seeming inability to be comforted, says Venessa Ferragamo Gutierrez, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. “A baby with colic will start crying suddenly, for no apparent reason, and resist all attempts to soothe it. He or she may appear angry or in pain.”
Colic classically begins at four to six weeks old and then starts to taper off by the time the baby is three or four months old. The crying spells may not taper off at all but just end suddenly. While extremely stressful for baby and parents, remember that colic will end – and you can still try to offer comfort as well as you can.
How to calm a crying baby
If your baby seems to be crying for “no reason,” Dr. Gutierrez says you can actually activate a baby’s calming reflex by creating an environment that reminds the infant of being in the womb. “Think of the sounds and sensations the baby is accustomed to experiencing before birth, and replicate them using your voice, gentle pressure, warmth, motion and rhythmic noises. These are easy to do and help the infant transition calmly to the outside world.” Here are some of Dr. Gutierrez’s other recommendations for calming your baby:
- Sucking. Offer the baby a pacifier or your finger to suck on. The sucking movement is deeply relaxing to his tummy, arms and legs, and steadies his heart rate.
- Shushing. Create some "white noise" that blocks out other sounds, and is reminiscent of the whooshing sounds they heard in the womb. Try running water, an electric fan, a clothes dryer or even the hum of a vacuum cleaner.
- Singing. Try singing a lullaby, playing soft music and gently dancing around the room.
- Moving. Sometimes simply being carried around can be enough to calm your baby. Other time-honored techniques include using a rocking chair, rocking cradle, stroller, swing or bouncy seat. And a lot of babies fall asleep immediately if taken for a drive.
- Massage. Slow, gentle massage is something most babies enjoy, so don’t overlook the power of a simple caress for soothing your baby.
When should you seek help with a crying baby?
A crying baby who can't be calmed can be terribly stressful for the family, and even the most experienced moms and dads don’t always know the reasons for crying. We have already discussed different ways to soothe your baby; when nothing you’ve tried seems to be working, it may be time to call in reinforcements. You should get help when:
- You feel overwhelmed. Friends, family and neighbors can be a wonderful source of advice and just plain assistance. Remember, you need to take care of yourself as well as your baby. Let someone take over for a while, even if it’s just a short break. Lie down, take deep calming breaths, play soft music. Remind yourself that your baby may just need the release of crying, and will outgrow this phase.
- You’ve tried everything, and your baby won’t stop crying. Contact your pediatrician if your baby is crying longer than three hours, or seemingly non-stop. Your doctor is probably in a better position to evaluate the situation than you are after you’ve spent the day stressed and worried.
- You feel something is truly wrong. Trust your gut. Contact your pediatrician or go to urgent care if your instinct tells you there is something serious going on, or even if you are simply unsure what to do. Don’t let concerns about seeming “silly” stop you from seeking the advice you need. If it is a small matter, your doctor will ease your fears; if there is a real cause for concern, you’ll be that much closer to a solution.
- If the baby has a fever or is not eating well.These are always signs that something is wrong and you should seek medical attention immediately for your baby.
And always remember, NEVER SHAKE YOUR BABY!
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.