Let’s first discuss the most common reasons babies cry. Also let’s talk about how to effectively comfort your baby so you and your newborn can get more sleep.
It’s the middle of the night and you’ve tried everything to soothe your baby. But still, your newborn doesn’t stop and you’re starting to get worried.
Many new mums experience this and feel like they have no clue at all about their babies’ crying. Is the baby hungry? Does he/she have a tummy trouble? Dirty nappy? Is it too cold or too warm? Is your baby uncomfortable and you’re not aware of his/her pain?
It could be because of a dozen different reasons. You’ve already tried everything including breastfeeding, holding him/her, checking the nappy and inspecting his/her room, clothes and bed but still nothing. If your baby could only tell you what he/she wants, being a mum would be a lot easier.
It’s because of this: Your baby needs or wants your attention.
He/she needs your attention probably because your baby tells you the following:
On the other hand, your baby wants your attention because he/she wants to tell you the following:
It’s also possible that your baby needs or wants a different kind of attention. Perhaps it’s time to slow down because your baby is already tired and overwhelmed. Or, he/she craves for swaddling to feel safe again (swaddling imitates the security of the womb). On the opposite end, your baby might want more stimulation (eager to play and explore the world).
Often babies cry because of hunger or dirty nappy. Other reasons mentioned above are also easy to rule out. Within a few minutes you can check if your baby’s hungry, has a dirty nappy, uncomfortable, feeling too hot or too cold, something’s hurting him/her and if he/she wants your attention.
However, it’s entirely different if your baby has colic. This is the persistent and excessive crying of a healthy and well-fed baby. The crying may total three hours a day and occurs at least once a week. The intense crying usually happens in the late afternoon or evening. It’s actually a very common case because colic affects one in five babies.
Although it’s a very common case, colic is still poorly understood. Even with frequent crying outbursts, babies still remain healthy (they still grow and gain weight normally). Also, there’s no clear evidence yet whether colic has long-term effects to the baby’s health.
Babies will remain fine even with crying outbursts. But comforting a baby with colic is hard work because you have to stay up for a couple more hours. New mums feel helpless when persistent crying episodes occur. They feel that they’re doing something wrong. Some mums even also cry because of that feeling.
Thankfully, this phase will eventually pass. Although the causes are still unclear (whether it’s a boy or a girl, breastfed or bottle-fed, it doesn’t matter), it’s very likely that the colic will be over by the time your baby's about four months old.
After you ruled out all the most obvious causes (baby’s hungry, in pain, uncomfortable or has a dirty nappy), what can you do to somehow comfort your baby during a crying outburst (that seems to happen for no reason)?
First, it’s not your fault. Persistent crying episodes can be normal or common. Most likely it has nothing to do with what you did. As mentioned earlier, the causes for colic are still unclear. There are many theories, but none of them has any solid evidence yet.
Second, it’s about trying different methods and seeing which one works for your baby. Babies respond to different methods. It’s also possible that what works today won’t work tomorrow. That’s why it’s good to remain patient in trying approaches such as:
Some mums have found success on playing a soft music, using white noise (e.g. noise from the fan or running tap), allowing more fresh air (perhaps go outside for a bit with your baby) and offering a pacifier.
On the other end, some mums allow their babies to cry for a while (let babies vent for some time). However, how long should you allow this? Should you be worried about the potential long-term health and cognitive effects of prolonged crying?
We mentioned earlier that crying outbursts are normal and may take hours before your baby calms down. And colic doesn’t indicate any underlying medical condition or it doesn’t result to long-term effects to the baby’s health.
Crying signals that the baby experiences distress, discomfort or pain. In itself it’s actually good because babies can somehow communicate their needs. What’s harmful is if they’re not receiving any attention or care whenever they’re crying.
That’s because during the first weeks and months (up to 3 months old), babies are always overwhelmed and scared of what happens in this outside world. They’re still coping with the different stimulations and sensations they’re receiving all around them. After all, they spent months inside the dark and snug womb.
It’s the reason newborns want constant attention from their mums. They need the reassurance that everything’s safe and sound. As the mum, you’re the person he/she is most familiar with. In fact, notice there are times when just by your mere presence your baby seems to calm down immediately.
During those initial weeks and months, try to be quick when attending to your baby when he/she cries. Remain gentle and relaxed when calming your newborn because your mood (which shows how you hold him/her and how you talk to your baby) has a huge effect on how he/she responds. Keep it slow and steady. If you feel like you’re in a rush, remember that trying to rush it often makes it longer and more difficult. But if you keep it slow and steady, you can actually get faster results.
Many new parents realise there comes a time when they should let their babies calm and return to sleep themselves. This is crucial to teach babies to fall asleep (or get back to sleep) on themselves and not rely on you too much. This is good for the babies themselves (as they establish some independence) and you get a good night’s rest as well.
It takes some time before the baby’s sleep pattern gets established. In the early weeks and months, stick to a routine (when and where your baby should fall asleep). This way you provide some structure and predictability to your baby’s life. It won’t be perfect but this is far better than a totally unpredictable sleep cycle. This makes it easier for them to get back to sleep after some crying.
Before offering some comfort, it’s good to let babies cry for a while. It’s recommended to start this when your baby is between 4 and 6 months old (your baby has somehow already coped with you and the environment). How long should you leave your child alone? Take note that this is called “baby sleep training.” Start small and build up as you go along.
At the first night of training, when your baby cries, leave him/her for 3 minutes. If he/she wakes up again (the second time), make it 5 minutes. Third time you can make it 8-10 minutes. At the second night of training, you start with 5 minutes (instead of 3 minutes) and perhaps make it 10 minutes if your child’s sleep gets interrupted for the second time.
On the subsequent nights you make the intervals a bit longer. The goal here is to train your child day by day to get back to sleep on his or her own after some crying. You can set the time intervals on your own. Also, remember that sometimes this won’t work and you’ll be back to zero. Wait a few weeks and try again or modify your approach.
Baby sleep training requires some upfront work from you, which is why it’s good to ask for some help so you can catch up on some sleep for yourself. If you’re always in a good condition, you’ll always be in the best position to care for and comfort your baby when crying episodes occur.
The approaches mentioned above will work most of the time. Just remember that whenever your baby cries, he/she needs or wants your attention. You can quickly rule out the most common causes (hunger, dirty nappy, discomfort, pain) in a few minutes. During persistent and excessive crying episodes (colic), perhaps the best thing you can do is to keep comforting your baby. Try different approaches (e.g. swaddling, singing, using white noise, going outside for a bit) and see if it works. Also, take note that it might not be colic at all. It’s normal for most babies to cry for a total of 2 to 3 hours per day.
Although crying in babies is normal (it’s how they communicate), there are some cases when you should call a doctor immediately. Watch out if your baby shows any of the following signs:
There are other alarming signs which you can quickly pick up if you’re alert and you regularly check on your baby. That’s why it’s always recommended to stay healthy and catch up on some nap or sleep as much as possible. This way you’ll stay alert and focused about your baby’s needs and health.
Now we’ve covered the most common reasons babies cry (and in a few cases, it’s impossible to figure out why they cry). We’ve also covered the most effective approaches on how to comfort them.
Well, it’s normal for new mums to feel helpless and clueless whenever their newborns cry. As a new mum, you won’t have the time to catch up because your baby will grow fast. By the time you think you’ve figured it all out, your baby will already have entirely different routines and needs. It’s almost impossible to catch up (and believe me this will go on until their toddler and preschool years).
It’s all temporary. When your baby turns 4 months old and beyond, your child will start to stick to a more predictable pattern and routine. Life becomes easier (?) as you can focus more on playtime rather than the unpredictable crying episodes.
To make it a wonderful experience, ask help from someone to take care of some of the chores in your home. You can also ask someone to watch your baby while you’re getting some nap. It’s impossible for you to catch up on sleep if you’re doing it all yourself. This way, you’ll always be in a good condition (and mood) to care for your baby. It’s an emotional time especially during the first 3 months. But it’s all temporary and one day you’ll look back and get proud of yourself.