Why does your newborn baby cry?

Your newborn baby is fully dependent on you. You provide her with the food, warmth, security, and comfort that she requires. When she cries, it’s her way of communicating those needs and asking you for attention and care. When you respond quickly to comfort your crying baby, she will cry less often overall. It’s perfectly fine to pick up your baby when she cries. It tells her that she’s safe because you’re a caring, responsive parent who loves her.

You can’t spoil a newborn. If your newborn is crying, it’s because he needs your help. If you respond calmly and consistently, it helps your baby learn that the world is a safe and predictable place.

As a parent, we are also programmed to respond to a baby’s cry. It’s a sound that can spur you into action, even when you’re asleep. If you’re a breastfeeding mum, it can trigger your let-down reflex. However, it’s sometimes hard to work out what exactly your baby wants you to take care of. Is it food, a change of nappy, a cuddle? As your baby grows, she’ll learn other ways of communicating with you and you will be better at identifying her different cries.

In the meantime, here are some reasons why your baby may cry, and what you can try to soothe her.

Is baby hungry? The most common reason babies cry is because they are hungry. In fact, the younger baby is, the more likely that hunger is the reason why she is crying. Once you start feeding, they will stop crying and will be much more settled by the end of the feed. Some babies take a little while to build up to crying when they are hungry, and you will observe the other hunger cues that occur before crying. Other babies realise they are hungry very quickly and can skip the hunger cues and go straight to crying!

Is baby tired? The second most common reason babies cry is that they need sleep. Your baby may find it hard to get to sleep, particularly if she’s over-tired. The younger your baby is, the more subtle her sleep cues are, so it may take a few weeks for you to recognise the signs.

Has baby had too much to eat? Some babies cry because of a bloated stomach from overfeeding. Unlike gas, too much milk can cause discomfort that lasts a short time.

Have you had too much coffee? Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause increased crying and trouble falling asleep. You’d never have a coffee yourself before bed-time would you? Breastfeeding mothers need to limit their caffeine intake so that their baby isn’t overstimulated by it. After all, you’ll be the one paying the price if baby won’t sleep.

Are they uncomfortable?  Being too hot or too cold can make a baby cry. You can check whether your baby is too hot or too cold by feeling her tummy or the back of her neck. Don’t be guided by the temperature of your baby’s hands or feet. It’s normal for them to feel colder than the rest of her body. Keep the temperature of the room your baby sleeps in between 16 degrees C and 20 degrees C. Use a room thermometer to keep track of the temperature. Place baby to sleep on her back with her feet at the foot of her cot. That way she can’t wriggle down under the blankets and become too hot. Use cotton sheets and cellular blankets as bedding in your baby’s cot or Moses basket. If her tummy feels too hot, remove a blanket or layer, and if it feels cold, simply add one.

Do they need a change of their nappy? A wet or dirty nappy can be very irritating to the skin. Some babies don’t seem to mind it, others find it extremely uncomfortable. You’ll soon develop a parent’s ability to sniff a wet or dirty nappy from a distance.

Have they got tummy pains?  “Colic” is said to be the main cause of recurrent crying during the early months. All babies have some normal fussy crying every day, we all remember the witching hour. When this occurs over 3 hours per day, it’s often called colic. But colic is an umbrella term to describe all manner of digestive issues a baby may have. See COLIC Fact Vs Fiction for more information. It’s important to get medical advice so that you can get to the cause of the problem.

Have they pain? A baby in pain or discomfort will cry to let you know they need your help. Wind, gas, nappy rash or reflux are all reasons a baby may be in pain. If however you have looked for all the usual reasons a baby will cry and you cannot find a solution, it may be worth a visit to your Doctor to have baby checked over. Trust your instinct on this.

Is baby over-stimulated? Lots of attention and handling from doting visitors may over-stimulate your baby and make it hard for her to sleep, as can too much rocking and singing. Try taking her to a quiet room after a feed and before bed to help her calm down. Use white noise to sooth baby and avoid any eye contact as even this may be sufficient stimulation to keep baby awake.

Does baby need a cuddle? Your baby needs lots of cuddles, physical contact and reassurance so her crying may mean that she just wants to be held. Swaying and singing to her while you hold her close, will help to distract and comfort her. That familiar voice and smell will give then the feeling of security they may need.

Nobody knows your baby as well as you do. If you feel that something’s not right, trust your instincts and call your GP.

Very often babies just naturally cry a lot in the early weeks. Crying tends to peak at around two months, and usually starts to ease off after that. But in the meantime, it’s likely to make you and your partner feel very anxious at times. Whatever the cause, living with a baby who regularly cries inconsolably can be incredibly stressful. It’s important to look after yourself too, so that you have the patience and energy to soothe your little one. And remember, it ok not to be ok. Ask for help if you need it. Your baby needs you to be well.