It is natural for infants to cry, as it is the only way they can call for help. Babies usually cry when they are feeling hungry, uncomfortable or overwhelmed. They also cry if there is any other pressing issue like colic or need for a diaper change. Crying serves several useful purposes. It sends a signal to parents that the baby requires their attention, and also helps the baby feel safe.
However, a crying baby can leave parents feeling confused and overwhelmed, unless they know what makes a baby cry. To help parents decode and understand why their baby may be crying, let’s look at some of the facts and the common reasons behind a baby’s cry.
Facts about crying:
- Babies cry to communicate their needs.
- Newborns cry without any apparent cause. The amount of time they spend crying every day can vary between one and four hours.
- Crying follows a developmental pattern. It begins to increase by 3–4 weeks of age and peaks when babies are around 6–8 weeks old. Then, it gradually begins to decline.
- During the first few months, babies’ cries may sound the same and not make much sense. But, gradually, parents begin to differentiate between the ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘I’m tired’ cries.
Why do babies cry and how you can calm them down:
1. Feel hungry: Hunger is one of the primary reason for crying among babies. Babies usually cry in hunger a few hours after feeding, after waking up or after they poo. Feeding at regular intervals will help them remain content and calm.
2. Experience discomfort: Babies cry when they experience any physical discomfort. Several things can make them feel uncomfortable such as being pricked by any sharp edges in the crib, uncomfortably high or low temperatures, or soiled diapers. Sometimes, it could just be something as trivial as a hair sticking to their neck or in the fold of a joint. All you need to do is find the source of their discomfort and set things right to make them feel better.
3. Feel overwhelmed: Situations like being in a noisy room, when there are too many people in the room, or when several people take turns to hold them can overwhelm babies and make them cry. In these circumstances, taking them to a quiet corner and giving touch therapy helps.
4. Get angry: Yes, babies can get angry, even when they are 5–6 months old. When they find that they’re unable to do certain things, such as hold a ball, fit something in their mouth, reach for a rattle or put their hand in their mouth, they can get frustrated and start crying. Helping them with their intended activity can soothe their nerves.
5. Miss parents: Once babies learn to recognise their parents’ faces, they also develop the ability to feel their absence, especially when parents are away for long hours. This is a common among babies of working mothers who leave home in the morning only to return by evening. Making babies warm up to family members who will spend time with them in the mother’s absence can help.
6. Feel colic: Colic can make babies cry inconsolably for long periods of time. Colicky cries are usually high pitched and frantic. Colic causes babies to stiffen their bodies and their stomach feels hard to touch. Although colic does not cause any harm and tapers off on its own, it can be extremely overwhelming for babies. Parents can help ease the pain by being prepared in advance.
Here are a few things to do when babies cry incessantly due to colic.
- Making them burp is one of the most important rituals after feeding. This releases the excess gas and makes them feel better.
- Swaddling in a blanket is one of the best method to ease babies out of colic.
- Any motion, either on a swing, sling, rocking chair, pram or in a car can comfort babies during an episode of colic.
- Massaging the back also helps. Try a rhythmic pat on their back or bottoms.
- Playing some soothing music can also calm them down.
Now that you know why babies cry, be prepared the next time you hear that wail.
Deepa Garwa is an educationist, disability rights activist, writer, and a mother of two. She writes about her experiences on raising her daughter with Down's syndrome at www.twominuteparenting.com