Why is baby crying?

Created: May 14, 2003. - Reviewed: January 29, 2017.

As a loving parent, its uspetting to hear your precious baby cry.  Your natural response will be to try to placate her cries.  However, if you finding it difficult to identify the cause of her distress, this makes the task of soothing her so much more difficult. This article describes common reasons why physically well babies cry. 

Why is baby crying?
Rowena Bennett

Rowena Bennett

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Specialise in infant sleeping problems, feeding aversion and tube weaning.

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Is crying normal?

 

As distressing as it is for you to hear your baby cry, it's normal for all babies to cry.  Crying doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong and it certainly doesn't mean you're a bad parent.  Some babies simply cry more than other babies.

 

Crying is one of the ways your baby communicates with you.  As part of her survival instinct, crying ensures her basic needs for food and comfort are met.  Crying may also be your baby's way of letting of steam.  For babies that are overtired and overstimulted crying is a way they unwind and release tension.

 

Babies don't know how others feel at the sound of their crying.  They don't cry because they're spoiled and they don't cry to annoy you.  They're simply trying to communicate that they want or need something.

How much crying is normal?

 

During the first few weeks of life your baby will sleep a lot, but when awake she'll cry loud and often, usually without tears.  On average newborn babies cry for about 1 1/2 hours a day.

 

By 6 weeks, the amount of time your healthy baby spends crying can have increased to 3 hours a day.  This is normal!  At this age, there will also be some wakeful periods without crying.  As your baby gets older, she'll learn other ways of communicating and the amount of crying will generally slowly reduce.

 

By 6 months, your baby may spend around 3 hours a day playing and gurgling without crying.  However, it's still common for a baby of this age to cry for 1 or 2 hours each day.

 

All babies are different, even perfectly healthy babies can cry more or less than these figures.  The amount of time your baby spends crying each day can often feel much longer than it actually is - even 1/2 an hour can feel like an eternity when you're tired.

Common reasons why babies cry

 

1.  Hunger or thirst

Working out whether your baby is hungry or not is not always as simple as it appears!  If you find you have a very hungry baby, who is feeding more often than you feel she should, you may be misinterpreting her cues.

 

Breast fed babies don't need additional water until they start eating solid foods.  Breast feed your baby whether you think she's hungry or thirsty.

 

Formula fed babies don't necessarily need additional water until they commence on solid foods.  However, in warmer climates (or possibly heated homes) small amounts of additional water may be helpful, provided baby is thriving and drinking good amounts of formula for age and weight. (Water should not replace milk feeds.)  Offer 1 oz of cooled boiled water if she's less than 3 months old, or 1 - 2 oz if she's over 3 months, once or twice a day, in addition to regular formula feeds if you think she's thirsty.

 

2.  Over-tiredness

If your baby was tired she would fall asleep right?  Not necessarily!  Some babies will sleep anywhere, anytime.  Others need to be provided with the opportunity to sleep in a low stimulating environment.

 

If your baby needs you to provide her with opportunities to sleep and you miss her cues (signs that indicate she's tired), there's a risk she'll become over-tired.  Once overtired she can experience great difficulty "switching off" and eventually she can get to the stage of screaming from sheer exhaustion.

 

Babies show signs of tiredness quite differently than we expect.  Tired signs for a young baby include clenched fists, waving arm and leg movements, facial grimaces, fussing, whining and grumbling followed by crying.  Often these signs are misinterpreted as boredom or hunger.


Also your baby's learned sleep associations
 will have a strong influence on whether she falls sleep readily or not, and how long she naps for. So it really pays to know what her sleep associations are, and how these affect her sleep. 

 

3.  Over-stimulation

Newborn babies in particular are susceptible to becoming distressed due to overstimulation. Every baby is very different and each family unique.  Although some babies will not be bothered by any amount of noise or activity around them, others are more sensitive.  Some babies can become very distressed by the stimulation from day to day activities that parents take for granted. It can take time for a young baby to adjust to their new world.

 

4.  Tummy discomfort/pain

Newborn babies are also susceptible to experiencing tummy discomfort due to lactose overload. 

 

5.  Other types of discomfort

As parents, we tend to over-dress our babies. This can make a baby feel overheated.  Your baby needs to wear similar layers of clothing as you are wearing.  While she's sleeping, she may need to be covered with a sheet and/or blanket/s. Don't cover her head with a hat while she's sleeping. Alternatively, she could be feeling chilled. Think about how you would feel if you were dressed or covered the same as her.  

 

Your baby could be sensitive to the feel of her clothing. Some clothing fibers can feel scratchy or uncomfortable.  The seams of clothing could bother her by rubbing against her skin or her clothes could be too tight. Where possible, dress her in loose fitting clothing made from pure cotton.

 

Wet or dirty diapers (nappies) can be uncomfortable for your baby, particularly if she has a diaper rash.

 

Babies have a very good sense of smell.  Some odors that may be familiar to you, could be distressing for your baby, for example the smell of cigarettes (or nicotine on your hands) or strong perfumes or colognes.

 

6.  Temperament

Temperament, personality, disposition or nature, whatever you like to call it, we're all different and so are babies.  Each baby may respond differently to what's happening around them.  The temperament of some babies makes them more likely to cry for longer periods and more difficult to settle into a predictable routine. 

 

7.  Boredom

A baby certainly needs loving interaction (talking, signing and playful stimulation) from parents or caregivers.  But it is far more common for babies to cry from over-stimulation  than it is from boredom.  Boredom is rarely a problem for newborn babies, except in incidences of neglect.

 

Although she's learning all the time, your baby doesn't need to be amused every waking moment.  Just as she needs your loving interaction, she also needs some quiet time to listen and learn from the sights and sounds around her.  To discover how she can control the muscles in her limbs and body is a task in itself.

 

8.  Loneliness

Sometimes your baby will cry because she's wants to feel the security of your loving arms.  If your baby stops crying as soon as she's picked up, the reason may be that she simply wants to be held.

 

Where your baby regularly falls asleep while being cuddled, she could also want to be held because she's learned that "this is the way I go to sleep".  In which case, she may also want to be picked up when she's tired and wants to sleep.

 

9. Separation anxiety

'Separation anxiety' begins around the age of 6 months, peaks at around 9 months and continues until approx 2 - 3 years.  When your child experiences separation anxiety she will cry as soon as her main caregiver leaves her sight.  As frustrating as this can feel for parents, this is normal behavior and is a healthy sign of a attachment to her main caregiver.

 

10. Teething

The first took generally appears around the age of 6 months.  But babies can be born with teeth or for some the first tooth may not appear until 15 months.  While teething, your baby's gum may become swollen and sore at the spot where the tooth is breaking through the gum.  Teething discomfort usually last for no longer than a few days.

 

11. Stress

We live in stressful times!  Babies can feel stress, especially when parents or caregivers are stressed.  If there's a lot of tension, arguments or raised voices around her, your baby can be affected by this.

 

12.  Illness

When your baby cries for excessively long periods of time for an unknown reason it's understandable that you would start to worry that she could be unwell or have a physical problem, that's causing her crying. Rather than worry have her seen by a doctor.

 

Written by Rowena Bennett.

© Copyright www.babycareadvice.com 2004. All rights reserved. Permission from author must be obtained to copy or reproduce any part of this article. 

How we can help!

 

Through a consultation at Baby Care Advice, we can assist you to better understand your baby's needs, and in doing so learn to confidently interpret her cries and behaviors.

 

We can explain ways in which you can encourage her to sleep; how you can establish a little pattern to her day (where you will be able to accurately anticipate her needs); and how you can confidently read her cues to provide the right balance of sleep, food and loving attention.

 

If you would like more information about our consultation service click here.

  

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