Listening to a crying baby is tough — especially when it occurs at 3am and you have no idea why. This is obviously very stressful for the parent but your stress can rub off on your already inconsolable infant and make the situation a whole lot worse. Remember to compose yourself and calmly work your way down the list of possible causes for the crying. After all, your crying baby is merely trying to tell you something.
Even while babies have no words to describe what they want and how they feel, babies are actually always communicating through their cries.
Of all baby’s capabilities, crying is considered one of the most important innate abilities he possesses. This is an excellent indicator of baby’s needs and once you are able to recognise what the cry is communicating, you are better equipped to respond accordingly. This is rewarding for first time moms and gets rid of the frustration and helplessness you are most likely to feel in the beginning. So why is he crying?
Different types of cries
Experienced moms and baby experts will tell you, babies don’t usually cry for no reason at all. Rhythmic patterns, variations and pitch of baby’s cries can go a long way in helping to identify what the cry is trying to communicate. Perhaps baby is in pain, needs to be held, is bored, hungry, uncomfortable, tired, over-stimulated or something is really wrong. Listening to your crying baby over time will eventually help you identify what your little one is trying to say.
Pain: Pain is a new sensation for baby, and like adults, babies are not very good at coping with it. This cry is characterised by a sudden loud shriek without initial moaning. The cry is followed by a breathing period before the cry resumes again at the same high pitch.
Needs to be held: Baby’s thrive on attention and being held. Stimulating baby with cuddles, attention and touch works wonders. This often calms baby down and makes him feel safe. During the first few months of baby’s life make sure you cuddle as much as possible. This cry is often accompanied by whining and baby reaching out in your direction.
Bored: If your baby has been lying in the same position for a long time he may just need to be turned around to face a more appealing view, or engaged in a game of tickling or funny face making. This bored cry often sounds “fake” and quickly ends when baby’s attention is captivated by something new.
Hungry: When breastfeeding, it is often difficult to tell just how much milk your baby is actually drinking. Breastfeeding moms are often advised to feed on demand and this could be after every 20 minutes. Bear in mind that as baby grows so does his appetite. This cry is often low pitched and rises and falls with a rhythm. Another thing to look out for here is baby sucking on his hands and continuous crying until he is fed.
Uncomfortable: Discomfort in babies may be for a number of reasons. Perhaps baby’s nappy needs changing, he is cold, hot, has gas or maybe the blanket is just too tight. Check to see what could be making your baby uncomfortable before moving on to the next possible reason for his crying. This cry sounds similar to a “fake” cry but doesn’t stop when baby is picked up or stimulated.
Tired: Babies need to learn how to fall asleep on their own. This takes time and some practice. The feeling of sleepiness may be uncomfortable for your baby, and making the transition as comfortable as possible by rocking him to sleep or softly singing him a lullaby can make all the difference. This is a soft rhythmic cry which often includes eye rubbing, yawning and drowsy-looking eyes.
Over-stimulated: Taking baby out into large crowds or having a bright light shinning in baby’s room may result in him being over-stimulated. If this is the case, you will notice that baby looks disturbed or irritable. He breathes irregularly while crying and there is a sudden colour change. Either flushing or paleness. To reduce stimulation dim the lights, clear the room, reduce noise and prepare for some quiet time. Sometimes a warm bath can do the trick.
Something is really wrong: Of course there may be an even more serious reason for baby’s crying. If baby is crying loudly, for long stretches at a time and you’ve tried everything else but he is still inconsolable then its best to check with the doctor to rule out any illness. Especially if the crying is accompanied by a high temperature, vomiting and/or diarrhoea. You know your baby best and if this appears out of the ordinary then it may need some looking into. But be warned, sometimes baby is feeling more teary than usual and there actually is nothing seriously wrong.
So next time, while your baby is shrieking at the top of his lungs, listen closely and think about what he would say if he could talk. Maybe he’d be asking for a diaper change, a sip of water or a simple hug.