It’s tough to be a new parent. Everyone knows that babies cry. But when you bring home your newborn for the first time, you might be surprised at how much your baby is crying… but why?
When my daughter C arrived, I was sooo happy. I had wanted her fiercely. But that desire and happiness was quickly replaced by frustration and overwhelm. Can anyone relate?
Your baby expresses himself by crying. His cries likely correspond to needs that haven’t been met. And sometimes, your baby will cry for a reason unknown to anyone else… for 2 to 3 hours per day! (Source: Allo Parents – Bébé)
What should you do if your baby starts crying? In this article, I am going to give you some easy strategies to take some of the guesswork out!
Since you’re here with a crying baby, you probably need a coffee. So go grab one and let’s get started.
What to do if your baby starts crying
I know it’s almost impossible, nigh unthinkable, because you just want it to STOP. Right now!
But do your best to wait at first. You don’t need to wait long—start with small increments. If your instinct is to jump up and take your baby in your arms right away, then just pause for a breath.
Then, once you get good at that, you can add a few seconds more. Keep increasing the time you wait in tiny increments.
But why should you wait? Here are some benefits:
Taking a pause gives you a chance to collect yourself.
It allows you time to observe your baby (see below).
And your baby will be less likely to cry simply for your attention. It’s cute when they’re newborns, but trust me, it becomes an annoying habit when they’re older!
I was really bad at this when I became a mama. I was convinced that C needed me, so I would immediately pick her up and usually put her to the breast. It was definitely a mistake. I should have waited first!
I know what you’re thinking: AGAIN, Jessica?
Yes. My number one tip in this entire blog is for you to observe your baby. I don’t need to keep rehashing the benefits of this, but suffice it to say that you will learn so much about your baby from simply observing him objectively. You will quickly learn to respond rather than to react.
But for the purposes of this article, you are specifically looking for reasons why your baby is crying. Below are some observations you can make. With enough observation, you’ll find you know the signs and the reasons behind them.
Reasons your baby could be crying
Here follows a list of your baby’s 8 most common needs. If these needs aren’t met, your baby is going to start crying!
1. “I’m hungry.”
The number one reason babies cry is from hunger! If hunger is the cause, you’ll notice the cries rapidly getting louder. Then, your baby will stop crying immediately when you put a nipple in his mouth (whether you are nursing or bottle feeding). If your baby cries again immediately after, he’s still hungry!
I’m no expert yet on bottle feeding, because I exclusively breastfed C. I can say that sometimes she just sort of held on there, without actually drawing milk out. Every baby is different.
But with nursing, your baby will take as much as he needs. With bottle feeding, you should be careful to adapt the amount your baby is taking in.
This is because babies don’t have to “work” as much to get milk out of a bottle, compared to the breast, so they pull and pull, and because it’s very easy, they can sometimes wind up drinking a little too much! Just something to look out for.
2. “I need to burp.”
Sometimes it comes out right after a feed. Sometimes it comes out an hour later!
It helps to keep your baby upright for some time after each feeding.
If you think your baby needs to burp, help him by putting him against your shoulder. You can also rub his back or pat gently.
What worked a treat with C was actually holding her to my chest and rocking her forward, almost flat, and back up again.
3. “I want something to suck on.”
Some babies keep crying after a feeding, even when they’re full. The sucking reflex is stronger in some babies than others.
You can calm your baby’s need to suck by:
putting him back to your breast
offering a binky
or putting your finger against his mouth.
(If you are breastfeeding, be careful to avoid nipple confusion when offering a binky.)
4. “My diaper needs changing.”
You’ll be surprised at how often babies eliminate!
While conventional disposable diapers mask the wet feeling by turning waste into gel, it’s always best to change your baby’s soiled diaper sooner rather than later.
If you’re using cloth diapers, you’ll want to change them even more often. Just the feeling of being clean and dry could calm your baby enough to make him stop crying.
5. “I’m sleepy.”
Why don’t babies just sleep if they’re tired? Because they gotta cry about it first!
Even when they are very tired, babies can have trouble falling asleep (hey, it’s true for adults, too). This effect is even greater when your baby is overstimulated. The ideal sleeping conditions for your baby are:
A firm, flat surface
On his back
With the room temperature at 18-19°C (64-66°F).
6. “I’m too hot or too cold.”
Newborns do have more trouble than older babies to keep their body temperature up. Generally, your newborn should have one extra layer of clothes than you are wearing. This is a great rule of thumb to remember and to avoid over- or under-dressing your baby.
If your baby seems unusually warm, especially when wearing few clothes, take his temperature. If it’s over 38°C/100.4°F, your baby has a fever. Contact your doctor or pediatrician.
7. “I want to be held.”
Humans have a need for ventro-ventral contact (stomach to stomach or chest to chest).
Some babies need this contact more than others. But what’s a greater feeling than holding your baby?
Physical contact is great to soothe a crying baby. Take him in your arms and put him against your chest. You can try rubbing his back or singing soothing songs, too.
8. “Ouch, something hurts…”
Something might be hurting your baby. Check for the following:
Is he in an uncomfortable position?
Has he been in the same position for too long?
Are his eyes red?
Is his nose runny?
Are there red or white spots on his tongue?
Is there a tooth coming in?
Does he have diaper rash?
A common reason babies cry during the first 3 months is what we call colic. Lots of people think it’s a myth or a catch-all term we use when we really don’t know why our baby is crying.
If your baby has colic, he will likely move in a twisty, agitated way. If you suspect your baby has colic, you can soothe him by holding him or massaging his stomach by bending his knees and gently pushing his legs up toward his abdomen.
What to do when your baby won’t stop crying
Sometimes, even when you’ve done everything you can to make sure that the above 8 needs are met for your baby, he just won’t stop crying.
If you feel impatient, exasperated, or angry—you’re human. If you feel you can’t stand your baby’s cries anymore, it’s okay to leave your baby to collect yourself. Remove yourself from the situation so that you can calm down. Here’s what to do:
Put your baby on his back in his bed or playpen (or a flat surface where he will be safe on his own).
Leave the room.
If possible, ask someone else to take over for you.
Do not give in to the sometimes overwhelming reflex to shake your baby.
It can be hard to let your baby “cry it out,” but don’t get yourself worked up or feel too guilty about it. Letting your baby cry for a bit on his own in the next room is always better than losing control. We’ve all felt helpless and alone in those times when our babies just cried uncontrollably.
Quick story time. I will always remember one day when C just wouldn’t stop crying. It was the end of my own mama’s trip to France to meet her granddaughter. Papa had left to drive her to the airport. I was left alone with C from about 4pm to midnight.
And C cried the.entire.time. In fact, she had started before my mama left. I suspect colic, but I’ll never really know for sure. I didn’t know what to do, so I held her for the better part of 9 hours. I’ll never know how I managed to do all the normal things you do in a day (cook dinner, eat said dinner, brush your teeth, get ready for bed, etc. etc.).
I wasn’t particularly worried about the reason, because I knew that sometimes it would be impossible to know. And there didn’t seem to be anything very wrong with her. I met all her needs and I stayed by her side. As hard as it was to listen to, she did eventually stop!
If you’re in France, feel free to call the hotline for overwhelmed parents by the association Allo Parents – Bébé:
I wasn’t able to find one for the US. If anyone knows of a hotline to support parents of young babies, please let me know in the comments so I can update the article with the info! Thanks!
Babies gonna cry
The most important thing is to be able to recognize your baby’s needs. Over time you will get good enough that you will be able to respond before your baby even starts crying!
If your baby is crying, in his mind, there is always a reason. Unfortunately, to anyone but him, that reason isn’t always apparent.
Let yourself off the hook once in a while. If all your baby’s needs are met, then you can simply let him carry on crying, while remaining physically and emotionally available.
If you need more advice about newborns, check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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