Understanding your baby’s cry and why

It’s hard listening to your baby cry and as parents it pulls at your “heart strings”. So if your baby is tired why don’t they just close their eyes and go to sleep? Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy!

Traditionally, crying was sometimes ignored. Have you ever heard an older relative say “just leave them to cry, that’s what we used to do”? Yes all babies do cry and to think that they will not, is not realistic. Crying is to be expected and most of the time it is normal, as this is the main way babies communicate and inform you how they are feeling.  Sometimes they can cry for a long time, so how do we determine what they are trying to tell us and why are they crying?

Babies cry if they are:

    • Tired/Overtired
    • Too hot/cold
    • Hungry
    • Needing a cuddle/comfort
    • In pain/unwell
    • Frightened/Feeling insecure
    • Overstimulated
    • Blowing off steam and sometimes just because!

Babies can cry for varying periods of time (approx  2-4hrs) and this may also be for continuous periods. I call this “Witching Hour” as they can be unsettled and want to feed frequently, cry a lot and sometimes won’t sleep. This is all normal behaviour. Sometimes it is hard to know which of the above it is, so a process of elimination and settling can be helpful:

  • Check nappy
  • Give lots of cuddles
  • Feed every 3-4hours unless still demand feeding
  • Remember to not overfeed as this will cause discomfort
  • Give a warm deep bath/relaxation bath
  • Reduce stimulation and passing baby from relative to relative
  • Try soft white noise or relaxing music
  • Try some gentle settling techniques

Allowing your baby to have a grizzle/cry  is normal and safe as it is how they put themselves to sleep. Some may not know this but babies are born with the natural ability to self-soothe. So who do you think may hinder the process and prevent babies from doing this for themselves? Yes it’s true!  We do! As we struggle to hear them cry we want to attend and sometimes over attend to them. Not allowing them to grizzle or have a low level cry does not give them the opportunity to learn to do it for themselves. What we want to do is assist them but not do it for them.

Some families report to me that they don’t know when to attend to their baby as crying all sounds the same. My suggestion is, if it is a continual cry with no breaks or pauses and is getting worse then you need to assist them. You can leave babies for short periods of time but make sure you always listen to the cry and respond accordingly to what you are hearing.

I know parents do not like to hear their baby cry and neither did I as a mother and some may even feel guilty that they are not comforting their baby. This is not the case! Try to remember that babies are doing what they are supposed to do and that is winding down to sleep or just communicating.  The key is gaining confidence in what you are hearing and knowing what sort of cry it is and knowing when to attend and when to give them  space and opportunity to do it for themselves, that empowers them. I have successfully assisted many families with this challenge, so feel free to call and organise a time to discuss and learn more about how to manage this and feel more confident around this process.

If your baby is crying for extended periods of time or is very unsettled despite trying some of the suggested techniques and nothing appears to be working, then please seek medical advice. Sometimes babies are unsettled for other reasons and are diagnosed with e.g GOR (Gastro Esophageal Reflux) or Colic and this may need to be ruled out before you can sustain settling.

Remember you are not alone!