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Why babies cry - and how to soothe them

07 SEPTEMBER 2012

All babies cry. Unable to fend for themselves, they are completely dependent on someone else to provide them with food, warmth and comfort, and the only way they can communicate those needs is by crying.

As you get to know your baby, you will soon be able to distinguish between the different types of cries, but for new parents it can be difficult to work out what it is your baby is trying to tell you.

Below is a list of the most common causes of those tears, and ways you can soothe your baby.

 

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I am hungry
Hunger is probably the most common trigger for newborn babies' tears. Often babies will feed very little in the first day or two after birth, but then food is at the forefront of their minds. If your baby cries, try offering some milk – remember a baby's stomach cannot hold much, so let them keep feeding as they want to.

I am uncomfortable
Understandably babies will complain if a dirty nappy is causing them discomfort. Checking and changing your baby's nappy is always worth trying if your little one is distressed. And it gives you the opportunity to check that tender skin hasn't been irritated, a nappy tab hasn't been pulled too tightly and that their clothing isn't making them uncomfortable.

I am too hot/cold
Babies can't regulate their own temperature so it is up to you to make sure they are not too hot or cold. The best way to do this is to feel their stomach; don't use hands or feet as a guide as it's normal for these to feel cooler. It's important to to over or under dress your baby – a good guide is to make sure they wear one more layer of clothing than you do to be comfortable. When it comes to bedtime, use cotton sheets and cellular blankets that can be added and removed as necessary and keep your baby's room at around 18 ºC.

I want a cuddle
If your baby has been fed and changed, it may well be they simply want a cuddle. Babies need close physical contact for comfort, and snuggling up will help to reassure and soothe them. Some parents are concerned about 'spoiling' their baby by holding them all the time, but that is not something to worry about in the first few months of a child's life. While some babies won't seem to need that much contact, others will like to be held almost all the time. If that is the case, you might like to invest in a baby sling to keep your baby close while leaving your hands free.

I am tired
If your baby has become overstimulated, perhaps by hordes of excited visitors, they might find it difficult to switch off and fall asleep. Newborns in particular can find it hard to cope with the world around them – the lights, the noise, the different faces – and quickly become overwhelmed. You may well find that your baby cries more if you have had visitors, or towards the end of the day. Retreat to a quiet and calm room, withdrawing stimulation. After a while, your baby will settle down and may well fall asleep.

I am poorly
A baby who is ill will often cry in a different pitch to their normal cry; it may well be higher or more urgent. Equally, for a baby who cries frequently, unusual quietness may also signal that something is not right. Remember no-one knows your baby better than you do, so go with your instincts. If you think there is something wrong, call your doctor/midwife

I don't know what's wrong either!
There will be times when you just can't figure out what's wrong. Don't worry! Most newborns will go through periods of distress when they are not easily comforted lasting anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. Inconsolable crying in a healthy baby that lasts for at least three hours a day, three days a week is defined as colic – and there is no magic cure. But rest assured that your baby will grow out of it; it is usually all over by the four month mark. Talk you your midwife or doctor who can offer you support and practical suggestions on coping with colic.

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