"Why is my baby crying?" "How can I soothe my baby?" "I feel so stressed and overwhelmed..." "What can I do?"
Why do babies cry? Until about the age of one year old, your baby has not yet developed the vocabulary skills to communicate his needs and depends entirely on you. Crying is the most effective way to attract your attention, to communicate with you, and to express themselves.
Crying is a good thing! We want babies to communicate their needs!
Crying may be a signal that your baby needs to be comforted, needs you to provide them food, or needs warmth from you. At first, it may feel difficult to recognize, interpret, and handle your baby’s crying. It can be helpful to keep in mind that crying may occur simultaneously with certain behaviors or facial expressions. Below are some common reasons why your baby might be crying as well as some strategies on how you could calm down your little one.
Hunger - When your baby is crying and performing sucking motions and noises, this may indicate that she is hungry. You can check whether she sucks her pacifier stronger and track the time between your baby’s last meal, which will help you to better determine if she is hungry.
Try bringing your chest or milk bottle to your baby's mouth. If your baby is hungry, she will start sucking vigorously and actively. When your baby is full, she will stop crying naturally.
If your baby keeps crying; you can try burping your child and then provide a pacifier to provide additional comfort. To try and prevent hunger crying, you can observe and recognize earlier behaviors that your baby displays when she feels hungry before she begins hungry crying such as sucking fingers, lip-smacking, and turning the head to look for the breast.
Uncomfortable - Babies cry when they feel uncomfortable. For example, having a wet diaper or feeling too hot or too cold. Every baby feels differently about diapers and clothing. Some babies have more sensitive skin than others; for some babies, a slightly damp diaper might cause them to cry, while for others, it may not. Check if their diaper is wet and change their diaper more often if needed to decrease discomfort.
Check to see if your child may be too hot or too cold. If he is wearing too much and is feeling hot, he may look red and begin to sweat. Keep a few changes of clothes with you and add or take off clothes to accommodate temperature changes.
Most babies will develop teeth around 6-12 months. Some babies will show discomfort during this time period. You may notice increased saliva and chewing on hands or other objects. Caregivers can help ease teething pain by massaging their baby's gums with clean fingers, offering solid teething rings, or a clean frozen or wet washcloth. Contact your pediatrician for any other questions regarding teething solutions.
Illness is another possible cause of crying. If your baby cries increasingly and becomes less energetic, you should check if he has a fever and note if he has a poor appetite, is hard to soothe, pale or flushed, coughing, vomiting, or bloated. If you notice any of these symptoms or have additional concerns, contact your child’s physician immediately.
Fear - When your baby is fearful or shocked, he might shake suddenly and cry loudly & rhythmically. Fearful crying happens when your baby hears a sudden loud noise or is frightened by a situation such as when he hears the sound of slamming doors, when he is hugged by a stranger, or when he sees a scary face.
You will begin to recognize certain situations that might trigger fearful crying. Try to change the surrounding environment or take your baby away from the location. You also can try to pat your baby's body gently and attempt to hold him. This will help your baby receive a familiar smell and sound which can stabilize his uneasiness and fear. Noise-canceling headphones can be helpful for parents who recognize loud places cause fearful crying.
Fatigue - The characteristics of fatigue crying are slow, intensified, with a lower tone, and sometimes with screaming. Look for additional cues like eye rubbing or yawning from your little one, these might indicate that her or she is tired. Try to soothe her in a dimly lit and quiet room for 10-15 minutes, or as long as needed, using comforting methods like holding your baby, walking around slowly, and patting your baby's back gently. White noise, or nature sounds, from a sound machine or downloadable phone app can be used to help soothe your child.
Anger - Babies cannot express anger in the way adults do, so they use crying to express unhappiness. The typical trigger of angry crying is frustration. For example, your baby may use crying to express his frustration when he cannot get a toy or a hug he wants, when you leave your baby’s view for a few seconds, or when expressing his needs and adults do not respond. When babies are angry, they may throw toys, physically struggle or demonstrate resistance, and scream. When your baby is upset, you can use new things to divert his attention and eliminate unpleasant emotions.
• Labeling your baby’s feelings will help facilitate more expressive language as they grow up. Ex: “Baby is angry that you cannot reach this toy and you’re not getting help. You do not like that. I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. Let me help you.”
• Responding to your baby's needs by playing soothing music can also help calm your baby down.
• Providing a change of scenery can be calming and serve as a reset. Try taking your baby to another room with different things to look at, a window, or even outside to help baby co-regulate.
Avoid overstimulation (the pitch of baby’s cry will increase, may reject toy by pushing away, or turning head away from the source of overstimulation) like loud toys or moving items in their face. When your child is angry, they are already overstimulated and need help calming down. Baby’s have to learn to co-regulate with a calm adult first and foremost. Keep in mind that your baby might sense your frustration and stress. If you become overwhelmed, it is ok to place your child in a safe place, like their crib, and walk away to take a moment and deescalate yourself.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
Never shake a baby. never shake your baby.
Shaking a baby can cause permanent brain damage or even be fatal. Babies’ brains are very soft and could be damaged easily by shaking. Shaken Baby Syndrome can cause problems such as learning disabilities or vision issues, breathing problems, lethargy, seizures, and even death.
The Period of PURPLE Crying
Some babies cry a lot, for many hours a day. Sometimes soothing your baby can be very difficult, even you have tried several different calming techniques. When your child is inconsolable it is not uncommon to have a lot of questions. “Is my baby unhealthy or sick?” “Is it normal for a baby to cry for so long with this intensity?” “Is my baby hurt?” But do not panic! This is a normal phase called PURPLE Crying.
PURPLE Crying occurs during a time of transition for your baby in the first weeks and months of their life. According to Dr. Ronald, the period of PURPLE crying starts about two weeks after your baby is born, and the crying may get more intense for weeks to come. Fortunately, PURPLE Crying should improve by the time your baby reaches 3 to 4 months of age. PURPLE stands for the six features of crying during this period.
P – Peak of crying (the crying peak happens around two months of age)
U – Unexpected (the persistent crying is unexpected and unpredictable)
R – Resists soothing (Even after repeated efforts to comfort your baby, crying may not stop)
P – Pain-like face (Your baby’s expression may look like he is in pain, even when he is not)
L – Long-lasting (The episodes of crying can last anywhere from 30 minutes to hours)
E – Evening (Crying peaks or lasts longest in the late afternoon and evening hours - This is also known as the “Witching Hours”)
The period of PURPLE Crying helps you understand why your baby cries with high, long-lasting intensity. If you are still concerned about how intensely your baby cries, talk with your baby’s health care provider, and see whether your baby needs further intervention.
Soothing yourself is also important
Although the period of PURPLE Crying is normal in a healthy baby, it is indeed a very frustrating and overwhelming transition stage for you and your partner. It is okay to put your baby down in a safe place and take a break for a few minutes, taking deep, slow breaths, which can help you relax and control your feelings. To avoid feeling isolated in your home, you could also go outdoors and talk with others who care about your baby such as family or a support group. Talking with others and sharing your frustration can help ensure that your mental and emotional health stays balanced. Your physical health is equally as important. Exercising, eating healthy food, and maintaining your own physical health is crucial. The most important thing is to remind yourself that you love your baby, and your baby loves you too. You and your baby will overcome this difficult time together!!
What can I do when my baby is crying?
Is there any other way to comfort and soothe my baby?
-Spend some skin-to-skin time with your child and allow them to feel your warmth and breath in your scent.
-Provide white noise or nature sounds.
-Rock gently and regularly.
-Dr. Harvey has promoted 5s, which are tips that may help you to comfort your baby. The 5s are Swaddling, Side/stomach position, Shushing, Swinging, and Sucking.
Who can I talk to when I feel overwhelmed?
Why does my baby cry before sleeping?
How much crying is normal for babies?
What is different between the PURPLE Crying and colic?
- Purple crying
- Importance of crying in infancy
- The change of crying in different age stages – Ages and Stages: what crying means
- Never shake a baby (shaken baby syndrome)
- Information of Shaken baby syndrome & stress reduction and relaxation techniques
- How to calm yourself
- How to soothe a baby crying in their sleep
- Colic & Crying
- How to Stay Calm When Baby Won’t Stop Crying
To build a strong attachment with your child is to create an environment where parents establish trust with their child through the practice of sensitive caregiving. Greeting your child with a warm smile, using gentle tones when talking with your child, maintaining eye contact when engaging and using reassuring touches during moments of distress helps to foster strong attachments. This is helpful for them to regulate their emotions and calm down easily, and it also helps you to more easily understand different crying.
-Learn to understand your baby’s unique cues
-Eating, sleeping, and opportunities for secure attachment
-Talk, laugh, and play with your baby
-Secure attachment doesn’t require you to be the “perfect” parent
Creating a schedule for baby’s daily life
Using a simple 24-hour blank chart to help you understand when your child is crying and when your baby does other activities. When your baby cries, you draw a line on the form to record the time. Different colored lines can represent various daily activities, for example, blue is crying, yellow is eating, black is feeding time, and red is sleeping time.
Listen, see, and touch
When you hear your baby cry, the first thing you should do is try to find the reason why they might be crying. Priscilla Dunstan, who created Dunstan Baby Language, identified five basic sounds your baby makes before crying and what they mean. Click this link for an article that describes the different sounds.
-Listen: Listen to your baby’s crying and observe if the crying sound is different from usual. If your baby cries intensely, you may need to pay more attention.
-If the diaper needs to be changed
-Baby’s facial expression and physical characteristics
-If your baby has been bitten from a mosquito
-Is your baby too hot or too cold?
-Touch: Feel the body temperature of your baby