Babies cry. It is normal. It is also very hard for parents to ignore and can be very distressing. In this post, I aim to share some of the information and advice I give my clients who ask “why is my baby crying?”
Studies have estimated that “normal” newborn babies cry for about 2 hours a day in the first 6 weeks of life. It does vary widely though. In the first few days many babies are very quiet, they are gradually realising that they are here! Once they are more awake and alert to the massive change in their world, many then start to cry. By 12 weeks the amount of crying has usually reduced, but this depends on many factors. The majority of babies will be particularly fussy in the late afternoon/evening period. No-one really knows why.
Checklist for a crying baby
- Does baby want a feed? Look for feeding cues . Crying comes after the baby has been giving other cues. The better you are at spotting these, the less your baby will cry. It is much easier to get a baby to settle to feed if you catch them before they are crying. In the early weeks, I advise offering a baby the opportunity to feed whenever they are unsettled, even if they are not displaying classic feeding cues. Even if they have recently fed, offer again. Haven’t you ever fancied one more little bit?!
- Is baby tired? They don’t always find it easy to “let go” and fall asleep.
- Is baby overstimulated? This is commonly linked to the baby being tired and our attempts to soothe them. Reduce any stimuli such as light and sound. Keep movements very small. Gentle swaying or rocking, particularly when they can heart your heartbeat and ,in a fairly dark environment, replicates their pre-birth experience and so can feel safe and familiar.
- Does baby need a clean or dry nappy?
- Is baby too hot or too cold? A quick and easy check is to put the back of your hand onto the skin of baby’s tummy.
- Are baby’s clothes comfortable? Are there any uncomfortable seams or zips or is baby restricted in some way that is uncomfortable? Check new clothes carefully. I once found a dressmakers pin in a seam. My poor daughter had not been very happy that morning! Check for loose threads – they can get caught around fingers or toes which is very painful.
- Does baby need to be held? Your baby needs you! Adjusting to living in the big wide world is hard and can be scary. When you put a baby down in a cot and walk away, as far as they are concerned you have disappeared and they are immediately vulnerable to predators and starvation. Most babies want to be held most of the time for the first 6-12 weeks.
- Would your baby like to be swaddled? Having been in a confined space before birth, some babies find it very unnerving to have lots of space around them. Swaddling (wrapping them like a baby burrito) can help by making them feel more contained.
- Is it wind? Some babies seem to benefit from “winding”. Others will burp whenever they need to, whatever position they are in.
- Is it colic? “Colic” is a description used when a baby cries an unusual amount. It isn’t a diagnosis about why that is happening. Most commonly I suspect it is that babies are getting used to the feelings associated with their gut learning to work in a co-ordinated way.
- Is baby bored? As they grow they want to see things and to explore the world. Pictures, books and mobiles are interesting to babies as soon as they start to become alert. Simple pictures with high colour definition are best. Human faces are the most interesting thing of all.
- Is you baby unwell or hurting for some reason? Undress your baby completely and check the whole of the skin surface at least once a day. Check for any sore places, hairs wrapped around toes etc. I always show parents how to complete a daily check of their baby and what signs to look out for that can suggest illness. The baby check app can be really helpful.
Help and support
Some babies cry a great deal, whatever you do. If you have checked all the points above and are still wondering “why is my baby crying” it can be very upsetting. You may find the concept of purple crying useful. The NCT have produced a useful video. Cry-sis is an organisation specifically designed to support parents whose baby is crying excessively. The fact it exists tells you how many people struggle with crying. You are not alone- please do ask for help. Their helpline is open 7 days a week.
If you are worried about your baby’s crying and feel it is linked to a feeding or health issue, contact your midwife, health visitor, GP, NHS 111 or your nearest childrens’ A&E department. More information about NHS services and what to do if your baby is unwell is here.
If you are reading this whilst preparing for your baby, you may like to book a one-off session with me to help you prepare for life with your baby. If baby is here and you could use some extra help with these or any other issues, just give me a ring to discuss how I might be able to help you.