Mother and Baby

Get Your Head Around Why Your Baby’s Crying Right Now

Screams and tears – the worst sounds of new parenthood. But learn to understand why your baby cries and peace could be yours again

Discovered there’s nothing more distressing than listening to your baby cry? That’s because it’s designed to have exactly that effect on you. Great!

‘Crying is nature’s equivalent to a car alarm,’ says health visitor Caroline Bough. ‘It’s designed to get an immediate response from you so your baby gets all his needs met.’ That’s fine, providing you know just which have to be met. But in those first weeks it seems to take FOREVER to work out. “Ok, it was wind!” Or, more frustratingly, nothing at all.

All babies cry

From the second your baby enters the world, his first scream is a sign he’s healthy. ‘Mostly, he’ll cry for bursts of less than five minutes until a feed is offered or he falls asleep,’ says sleep expert Dee Booth. ‘But some babies can cry for longer, particularly in the evenings.’

For some, this may be down to colic. Colic drops can help while gently massaging his tummy in a clockwise direction helps move trapped wind.

Even if your baby doesn’t have colic, he could be unsettled late in the afternoon because he’s overstimulated after the day’s activities and struggling to wind down. Get to grips with baby massage – it’s your baby’s equivalent of a trip to the spa.

Don’t blame yourself

Just because your baby cries a lot, it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a mum. ‘Your baby will cry because he’s hungry, tired or uncomfortable,’ says Alison Scott-Wright, author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan (£12.99, Bantam). ‘It’ll take you a while to get used to his signals, but you will – it’s all part of the experience.’

You may have to face up to simply having a baby who does cry more – sometimes for no real reason. ‘Rule out any health problems, such as acid reflux, which happens during or after feeds,’ says Caroline. If your GP’s happy your baby’s healthy, you may need to wait (and hope) for him to get out of this phase.

Crying for a reason

As adults we tend to associate tears with emotional or physical pain, which is why a wailing baby is so distressing. But try to work out whether something really is that wrong. If your baby is unwell or in pain, these cries are very different from the normal cranky ones. ‘An unwell baby will usually give out a high-pitched, distressed wail,’ says Dee. ‘And there’ll be less of a break between cries. You’ll recognise it right away because it won’t sound like his normal cry.’ 

It won’t last forever

We promise. Most babies cry a lot less frequently after 12 weeks. ‘By this time your little one will probably be less sensitive, feeding more efficiently and generally be more robust,’ says Caroline. ‘By about six months, he’ll be better at self-soothing, too, so you won’t need to jump in with each grumble.’ Don’t worry, soon he’ll learn to talk and you’ll be able to tell just what he wants.

Prediction for the future?

Just because your two month old bawls more than the other babies at playgroup, it doesn’t mean he’ll always be cranky. ‘Frequency of crying is no indication of temperament,’ says Alison. ‘Grumpy babies can grow up to become happy, contented toddlers – and vice versa.’ Yep, so you could soon be proud/smug mum to the polite, mild mannered kid in playgroup!

Different cries 

The first few weeks of motherhood can be overwhelming for both of you, but you’ll soon learn to work out what his different cries mean {LINK}. ‘Most babies start to fall into a natural routine quickly and become predictable,’ says Alison. ‘Timing feeds can help. If he’s crying and you know he’s due a feed, it’s a no-brainer.’

Random crying

There will be times when you rule out every possible cause and nothing seems to work. In which case, just give your baby a cuddle and look for signs of illness.

And let’s be honest, sometimes all any of us needs is a bit of a cuddle. ‘Skin-to-skin contact can be soothing as it triggers the release of oxytocin – the bonding hormone – which is naturally calming,’ says Caroline.


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