Main Reasons Babies Cry and How to Comfort Them

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It’s hard to imagine anything more attention-grabbing than a new baby’s wails. Especially right now: My second baby is 3 months old, so I’m very much in the throes of “witching hour” fussiness and nights spend shushing a baby back to sleep.

Anyone will tell you babies cry. Let’s take a moment together to figure out some options to make it stop.

Hungry

New babies typically eat 8-12 times per 24-hour period. Even if it feels like you just nursed or bottle-fed your baby, it’s entirely possible she’s hungry again. Babies’ stomach capacities are small, and they need to do a lot of growing.

Soothing tip: Offer food! “Cluster feeding,” when babies suckle almost constantly for a few hours, is normal behavior. What’s not normal is if your baby isn’t gaining well and has few wet diapers. Talk to a pediatrician or lactation consultant if you suspect you’re having trouble feeding your baby enough.

Wet

Producing about 5-6 wet diapers per day is generally a good indicator that your baby is getting enough milk. Some babies are more sensitive than others to discomfort when they’re wet. Even if your baby is easy-tempered, keeping their little bottoms clean and dry is smart practice to avoid diaper rash or irritation.

Soothing tip: Check diapers regularly. Use a thick barrier diaper cream to treat rash, or call your pediatrician if a rash doesn’t clear up in a couple days.

Tired

Sleepy cues can be tough to spot. Crying is a last resort for an overtired baby who may (ironically) now have a harder time falling asleep. Even lots of eye rubbing and yawning can be later cues than ideal.

Soothing tip: If your baby is crying and fighting naps, it can help to start naptime 30 minutes or so earlier. You can even try going by a timer, rather than looking for obvious signs of tiredness, until you’re a pro at picking up on subtler signs. Bring baby to a dark, peaceful setting for naps to avoid overstimulation.

Gassy

Gas pain remedies are like hiccup cures: Everyone seems to have a method they swear by, and it takes experimentation to find what works for your baby. Here are a few to try:

  • Burp the baby between sides when you’re nursing and after each feeding
  • Consider changing your diet if you suspect that dairy, wheat, or cruciferous foods are affecting your breast milk
  • Lay your baby on his back and “bicycle” his legs to help work the wind out
  • Use a commercially available tool to help your baby relieve some gas
  • Apply a warm (not hot) washcloth or even your hand to your baby’s belly (sometimes gentle heat can be comforting)

Colicky

“Colic” is one of the scariest words for a new parent to hear! Some babies are especially challenging, even when their basic needs are met.

I’ll admit both of my babies have been on the easy side of the spectrum, so I don’t have firsthand experience to share. What I do know is a colicky baby isn’t a “bad” baby or a sign that you’re doing something wrong, and the crying phase isn’t forever. Try these strategies to ride it out:

  • Switch off with your partner: If you’ve got someone at home, take shifts to hold or bounce the baby, so you get a break from listening to crying.
  • Take breaks: Even if you’re alone, it’s okay to put the baby down in the crib and step into another room or even just outside if you’re getting overwhelmed. Five minutes crying alone won’t hurt your baby. Five seconds of hard shaking because you lose control could cause irreparable damage.
  • Call the doctor: Some cases of colic might really be due to acid reflux or other painful troubles that aren’t immediately apparent. Your pediatrician may be able to offer some ideas for relief.
  • Check baby’s toes: A hair tourniquet is caused by a strand of hair wrapping around fingers or toes and cutting off circulation. A single hair is easy to miss, but it can be dangerous. Especially if your baby isn’t usually fussy, hard crying can be a sign that something’s going on.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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