I remember being a young mom with a colicky baby and reaching my wit’s end. There was so much I didn’t know about why my baby cried so much! Thankfully, I was living with my mom at the time and she and I could tag team, even driving over to my grandma’s at times so she could spell us both. I remember my grandpa calmly walking out to the car to read the paper while the three generations of women worked together to soothe one tiny human!
Our baby’s cries can make us feel a range of emotions, and in fact, is designed to do just that. We feel empathy, compassion, and instinctual urge to nurture. We feel a sense of urgency to meet our baby’s needs. We may also feel frustrated and frazzled. At times, our baby crying can make us cry!
Babies cry an average of 1-2 hours per day, with some babies crying as much as 3 hours a day. Factoring in feeding, sleeping, diaper changes and bathing, this accounts for a significant portion of your time with your baby.
Decoding the language of crying
Your baby’s only way of making his needs heard is crying. Tuning into your baby’s cries can help you interpret what your baby is trying to communicate. We tend to think that if baby is crying, he is hungry, but actually crying is a late sign of hunger as he will usually be giving hunger cues before he starts all out crying. He will be rooting, lip smacking and putting his hands to his mouth.
When your baby is crying later in the day (usually right around the time we need to start dinner!), you could be dealing with what is commonly known as “the witching hour.” By this time of day, baby may be overstimulated or overly tired. The only way baby can release the pent up tension is by crying. We can review the day and ask ourselves if baby had adequate naps, or were his wake windows possibly too long.
And sometimes crying is just a necessary evil in your baby’s life. For example, some babies hate being in a car seat. We don’t get anxious when we know that this is for his good and rather than being damaged for life because he is crying, it is for his greater good that we accept this type of crying.
What’s a mother to do?
As a mom, you will do a lot of sleuthing over the years, and this is where it all begins. Evaluating your baby’s cries will help you best meet his needs.
Ask: when was the last time he ate? This seems obvious, but let’s face it, 2-3 hours can fly by and we may not realize how close he really is to his next feeding. I definitely do not advocate for strict scheduled feedings. Your baby is the expert on when he needs to be fed. That being said, if it has been an hour or an hour and half since your baby’s last full feeding, consider other factors for why he is crying. Rushing to put a boob or bottle in his mouth may not be getting to the real root of his crying.
Is he too hot? Too cold? Check toes for hair wrapped around them, or tags in his clothes causing irritation.
Next try the 5 S’s: Swaddle baby; put him in a Side/Stomach position hold; Shush in baby’s ear, while Swinging; and give him a pacifier or breast to Suck.
Try taking a walk. So often a change of scenery, fresh air and a soothing stroller ride is just what the baby ordered!
Wear your baby! The human touch is powerful, soothing, and oxytocin releasing. Baby’s love to be close to mommy and daddy, and baby-wearing with a sling or other baby carrier can be doable and pleasurable for both parties.
Another tool is the bath. Baby may be calmed by a warm bath with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Follow the bath with a baby massage and you may have a drowsy, serene little sweetie on your hands!
When baby’s cries signal trouble
When should you be concerned about your baby’s crying? If your baby is lethargic, not eating, has a fever, has blue lips, is projectile vomiting (not spitting up, which can sometimes look similar) or just does not seem right to you, listen to your gut and call your provider, or 911 if appropriate. As my paramedic husband says, often a call for a crying baby is a best case scenario. It’s when your baby is too quiet, listless and unresponsive that things are really dangerous.
Become a student of your baby and tune into him. Over time, you will know what cry means what, knowing exactly what your baby is trying to communicate.
And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help and/or walk away for a few minutes. At times, due to sleep deprivation, hormones and the non-stop caregiving nature of parenthood, our baby’s cries are frustrating and frazzling to us. This is when we need to take a step away from our baby and the situation, take some deep breaths and let our emotions calm before we can come back to rationally and lovingly care for him. If you are alone, know that leaving your baby for a few minutes safely in his crib crying while you take a breather will do him more good than anything at the moment.
As a Sleep Consultant, I provide support when you know that your baby is crying because they are tired and need a better routine. Whether it’s in an Ask Me Anything call, or a full two weeks of support, you don’t have to figure out the sleep piece alone.
The good news is that the infant stage of crying is over before you know it. And you will be on the other side of it a better parent for having learned to tune into your baby!