Avoiding a Crysis: Why Do Babies Cry? What Should I Do?

Why Do Babies Cry? What Should I Do?

A crying baby who cannot be comforted can be extremely difficult for a parent to cope with. Parents may begin to feel frustrated and useless. They may even feel angry. Parents often forget that baby’s usually only cry for a reason or from need. The view therefore that a baby will not stop crying is a misunderstanding.

In most cases a baby cannot stop crying until parents understand his/ her need and respond appropriately. When a baby cries he needs something. If you can find out what he needs and provide it, the crying will stop. Approaching crying from a problem solving or need identification approach makes a parent feel much more useful than when the focus is on the crying as a problem and try to control their infants’ behaviour.

Most crying is because a baby wishes to communicate simple needs like hunger, thirst of discomfort. Below is a list of the most common reasons why babies cry with a list of remedies which parents can try. If crying is persistent and has no obvious cause parents should ask if crying is the result of some tension or anxiety in the parents. Babies can be hugely affected by the way they are handled and parent’s voices and facial expressions. Over anxiety about crying itself may contribute to the problem.

  • Hunger: It may seem obvious but hunger is the most common reason for crying. Milk going into an infant’s stomach is the necessary response. 
  • Pain: Minor knocks and bumps may go unnoticed in the early weeks but few infants appreciate being pricked with a safety pin or being placed in a bath or given a bottle of even a few degrees too warm. Wind may cause stomach ache but lifting a crying child may also distend the stomach and make a crying child pass wind. Careful handling and safe environments are a crucial need for small infants. 
  • Over-Stimulation (Shock & Fear): Excessive stimulation of any kind will cause crying such stimulation might include loud noises, sudden movements, bright lights, too much hugging, tickling, laughter and too many visitors. All of these experiences may overload a baby. Minor accidents may not result in pain or injury but may cause great shock for a baby. Consistent gentle movements, actions and routines which allow the parent and baby to develop good interaction without dramatic over-stimulation are what a baby needs. 
  • Poor-Timing: The level or kind of stimulation needed by, or which is appropriate, for, a baby will differ according to the babies’ mood and state. Games or play which a baby thrives on when they are sociable and active need to be converted to cuddles when a baby is tired and sad. A really hungry baby will have little interest in other activity. Bathing or changing a baby who is still hungry will cause crying. It may delay a necessary feed. Merely handling a baby when hungry may irritate them. Bathing a baby immediately after feeding is not a good idea. Choose a wakeful period for baths or wake a baby to bathe him/ her before they wake from hunger. It can be difficult for a tired sleepy baby to get in to sound sleep. Don’t change a baby’s surroundings or circumstances while they are dropping off, but not yet soundly asleep. 
  • Undressing: Parents often assume that babies cry because they are clumsy in undressing their child. Many babies cry, however, simply from the loss of their clothes. Babies often get increasingly more fretful as the layers of clothing are removed. This crying usually stops when the child is dressed again. Usually a baby will stop crying and calm down if you wholly or partially cover their chest or stomach with a textured fabric (towel, cover) while they are naked. 
  • Cold: Babies who are cold or experiencing cold for the first time often cry. Crying may actually help the baby to warm up in a cold environment but babies do not like being cold and will stop crying when returned to a warm environment. 
  • Jerks and Twitches: New born babies jerk and twitch when they are drowsy and nearly asleep. They often wake themselves with their own twitching. Wrapping a baby up properly will avoid this kind of crying. Babies need overall physical contact with a soft warm surface. Wrapping a baby keeps them warmer than ordinary bed clothes. Wrapping a baby also makes them feel securely held when they are being carried around. Such wrapping should not be too tight. 
  • Lack of Physical Contact: Babies who cry until they are picked up and who stop crying when they are picked up and held and then cry again when they are put down are usually crying because they need “contact comfort”. Parents sometimes feel that the baby is crying because he/she wants you to pick them up and that you will teach them bad habits if you “give in” and do so. In reality the opposite is true. It is more likely that the baby is crying because you put him/her down in the first place and they now lack necessary physical contact. Babies are instinctively happy when held by another person. In many cultures babies are virtually constantly held by parents or siblings. If a baby cries from a lack of contact comfort, picking him/her up will stop the crying. This may need to be supplemented by holding him/her against your shoulders and “walking” them. Given the pressures on parents in Western societies, holding or walking a baby is not possible all the time. Babies need and benefit from physical contact. 
  • Colic: Many first time parents think colic is a defined illness. Colic is a form of regular crying not caused by any of the previously discussed reasons. Parents whose children cry persistently should seek medical advice or talk to the Public Health Nurse, to rule out an underlying medical problem. If there is nothing medically wrong with the child and the normal causes and remedies have been explored, a baby may have colic. Colic is not an illness; it is a distressing pattern of crying in new born infants. Colic has no known cause, no treatment and it has no ill effects on baby, whatever about parents’ nerves.

Colic is a pattern of crying which is repeated every day at the same time, crying which is never seen at other times. The baby cannot settle after late afternoon feeds, screams as soon as they are finished or if they fall to sleep they soon wake up screaming. The baby does not just cry; they draw their legs up to their belly and roar. Everything you do helps for a minute but the crying quickly resumes. When you do manage to interrupt the screaming the baby still sobs and shakes. The whole episode goes on for at least an hour, maybe three or four hours.

Colic is distinct from prolonged hard crying, which does not have a regular pattern and lasts less than half an hour. Many children cry hard but can be comforted and stay comforted when they have their needs meet. If your baby has colic, you should not worry that you are doing something wrong or fret over why the child is crying. Take consolation from the fact that the problem will last no more than twelve weeks and you can take comfort from knowing colic will not do your baby any harm. Always remember that most crying is for a reason. Seek a healthcare practitioner’s advice if you are concerned for your baby.

Some General Suggestions to Help with Crying

If crying persists when you have tried to identify and respond to your baby’s needs by feeding him/her, picking them up etc., three helpful techniques include using rhythm, sucking and extra warmth. 

Rhythm: Constant rhythmical stimuli often help babies to relax by diverting them from other internal or external discomforts. Rhythm will not work if the baby is trying to communicate a more basic need such as hunger. Soft rhythmical sounds work well in stopping crying and sending baby to sleep. The sound must be present until the baby is in a deep sleep. The burring sound of fan heaters and even car engines are excellent for sending babies to sleep. Many parents are amazed that a child who will sleep nowhere else can sleep on car journeys.

Rocking a baby or rhythmical movements are the oldest universally understood methods of calming or soothing a crying baby. Research has shown that the most effective rocking is at a rate of 60 rocks per minute through a travel of about three inches. The easiest way to achieve this level of rocking is not by hand or rocking cradle, but by walking the baby. 

Sucking: A hungry baby will not stop crying if they suck. Their need is for food. Sucking will, however, soothe babies who are not hungry. Babies naturally suck their thumbs and fingers. Some even do so in the womb. It is far better to help a baby discover its fingers and thumbs than to introduce them to a dummy. Dummies are a bad idea – a short cut for impatient parents. Firstly, because adults make the decision when to use the dummy, and this may obstruct a baby in communicating a need through crying. Thumbs and fingers leave the baby with the choice of when to suck and when to cry. Secondly, dummies often fall un-hygienically and are put back in to babies’ mouths unwashed. Thirdly, children can become over attached to dummies right through early childhood, often causing eating, speech and dental disorders. 

Extra Warmth: A baby who is often miserable and difficult to comfort will be more peaceful if you take the trouble to maintain an appropriately warm temperature in their environment in the early months. If your baby will not stop crying, make sure they are lightly dressed and increase the room temperature to as near 24c (75f) as possible. Wrap children carefully when taking them out of doors and avoid lower temperatures. Warmth will not cure whatever discomfort is making a baby cry. They will, however, react less to other discomforts if the temperature is right.

Provided by “ISPCC” Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children www.ispcc.ie