A Baby Sleep Consultant's Guide To Why Your Baby Cries

Learn the difference between a protest and emotional cry. The answer will surprise you.

baby crying
Crying is a normal and healthy way for our babies to express their emotions and communicate. They usually do so to let you know what’s on their mind. Picking up and cuddling or nursing your baby, on the contrary, will not start bad habits or spoil them. We had to ask our baby expert Chantal Murphy gave us a full proof guide to navigating your baby’s reason for crying, how to calm them, and figure out what they want to say to you. Keep reading below for more!

Some Reasons Your Baby Will Cry:

The Ever Powerful Hunger

It’s one of the most common reasons why your baby will cry, especially if you have a newborn. The younger your baby is, the more likely it is that he’s hungry. Your baby’s stomach is small and can’t hold very much.

Tiredness May Have Taken Over

Your baby may find it hard to get to sleep, particularly if she’s over-tired. The younger your baby is, the more subtle her sleep cues are, so it may take a few weeks for you to recognize the signs. Fussing and crying at the slightest thing, staring blankly into space, and being quiet and still are just some of the ways in which your baby tells you she needs some shut eye.
Temperature May Be An Issue
Temperature: You can check whether your baby is too hot or too cold by feeling her tummy or the back of her neck. Don’t be guided by the temperature of your baby’s hands or feet. It’s normal for them to feel colder than the rest of her body. Try not to overdress your baby, or she may become overheated. As a general rule, she needs to wear one more layer of clothing than you to be comfortable.

Change That Diaper ASAP

Your baby may protest if she has a wet or soiled nappy. Some babies don’t seem to mind unless their skin feels irritated.
A Cough Or Sore Gums
If your baby’s unwell, he’ll probably cry in a different tone from the one you’re used to. It may be weaker, more urgent, continuous, or high-pitched. If he usually cries a lot but has become unusually quiet, this may also be a sign that she’s not well. Teething may also cause your baby to be more upset than usual. Babies are often irritable and restless in the week before a new tooth comes through. Nobody knows your baby as well as you do. If you feel that something’s not right, trust your instincts.

baby crying
Image: Janko Ferlic

Tips To Help Soothe Your Baby:

  • Skin-to-skin contact: For young babies skin to skin contact is a great option. This could help your baby to calm down. Undress your baby to the nappy and place him directly on your bare chest. You could tuck him into your t-shirt or place a blanket over him to keep warm. Skin-to- skin contact triggers the release of oxytocin, allowing your baby to calm down. It can also help to control stress hormones, heart rate and temperature, all allowing your baby to relax.
  • Offer A Feed: Babies have very small tummies and this means they need to feed frequently. They also go through growth spurts from time to time which increases how many feeds they regularly need. If you find yourself thinking he can’t possibly be hungry?? I only just fed him, chances are he’s probably going through a growth spurt. Cluster feeding is also a normal part of your baby’s development.
  • Movement: Even after birth, babies still find motion relaxing and many are soothed by movement. Try gently rocking your baby in a rocking chair, gently swinging your baby in your arms, dancing from side to side with your baby in your arms, or taking your baby out for a walk in a pram, carrier or even for a drive in the car.
  • Offer A Dummy: The motion of sucking is comforting to babies, and this is why many babies feed for comfort. If your baby refuses the breast, try offering a dummy or even a clean finger to suck.
  • Run A Bath: A bath may help to soothe your baby. A warm bath may help your baby to calm down. Check the water temperature before placing her in the bath. It should be about 37 degrees C to 38 degrees C.
  • Massage Your Baby: Touch is one of your baby’s senses. A massage can also help to calm your baby down. A tummy massage & moving legs back & forth can also help with digestion.
  • White Noise: In your womb, your baby could hear the beat of your heart. White noise can help to soothe your baby, Other noises mimic the sounds he’ll have heard in your womb. The repetitive noise of a vacuum cleaner, washing machine or hairdryer may help to lull your baby to sleep.

The Two Types Of Crying:

  • A Protest Cry: The first 5 minutes of putting your baby down and leaving are classic protest cries. They can be very intense. The child is angry that he’s not getting his way. This typically lasts no more than 10mins. Most babies start calming down after letting out steam, some conk out straight away. Typically there’s 2 – 3 of these cries during the 1st few nights of sleep training.
  • An Emotional Cry: Is when your child is in some what distress because they are either unwell, in some discomfort, genuinely hungry or something is not quite right. This is when you will need to attend to your baby in order to rule out what may be the underlaying cause.

While you’re here, check out Chantal’s guide to putting your newborn to sleep. 

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