For new parents, the cry of a child is ranked as one of the most stressful sounds that you can hear. Studies show the sound invokes feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, and panic—and humans are hardwired to quickly respond to it. But things can get pretty troublesome for a parent when they can’t console their child because they can’t figure out what’s wrong.
Crying is a baby’s most effective means of communicating, and a cry can mean different things. Babies often cry when they're sad, when they’re frightened, or when they’re bored. For the most part, babies have only one type of cry, and it becomes up to the parent to figure out, by trial and error, what’s wrong and how to help them.
Need some help determining what may be upsetting your baby? Here are some reasons why your little peanut may be crying—and what you can do about it.
They have gas.
Why they’re crying: Belly troubles associated with gas seem to be the issue that causes the most crying. Some babies have no trouble passing gas, and others can have a bit of a problem.
Signs that your baby is crying because she has tummy troubles are fussing and crying right after eating and squirming and pulling up her legs. If your baby fusses then passes gas and calms down, then you know for the future that she may have a little trouble in this area.
Check with your doctor about which she may prescribe. Also try putting her on her back, holding her feet, and pushing her knees to her chest in and out gently (or try a bicycle-type motion). This may break up gas bubbles and move them out.
Why they’re crying: Feeling hungry is another common reason why babies cry. Wouldn't you, if you couldn't get food on your own?
Some signs that your newborn may be hungry are opening and closing of her mouth; rooting (a reflex that makes babies turn their heads toward a touch); sucking on her lips, hands, or clothing; moving her head frantically from side to side; and fidgeting.
What to do about it: This is an easy one...feed her! But in the future, you may want to take note of the telltale signs of hunger before she gets famished, because often things can get out of hand. When babies are really hungry they’re panicked and distressed, and feeding time can become stressful.
Be careful that she doesn’t try to eat too fast or feverishly. Eating too quickly can cause frustration, extra air bubbles to be taken in (causing gas later), and possibly choking. If she gets panicked, try to calm her as she feeds by caressing her arm or rubbing her head to relax her eating pattern.
Something’s hurting them.
Why they’re crying: Studies show that because their nervous systems are still developing, babies aren’t particularly good at making a cry of pain sound different from another one. Sometimes the thing causing them discomfort is not readily apparent.
It could be scratchy clothing, a tag poking them, or even (common and scary) a hair wrapped around a finger or toe—this is called a “hair tourniquet” and can be quite painful.
What to do about it: Experts say that sometimes a cry from pain may be more intermittent and a little more high pitched than the other cries. The best thing to do is a once-over of your baby.
Lay him on his back and check his entire body (especially fingers and toes) carefully. Look for redness or tenderness to the touch. Check your baby’s head and back for scratches or bumps or if a certain position causes him to cry even more.
They need less stimulation.
Why they’re crying: Babies typically love stimulation, but with the lights, the noises, and the new faces, sometimes they get a bit of sensory overload. Additionally, a newborn’s nervous system isn’t yet mature, and this can mean that his body has a tough time managing his nervous system's response to the stimulation.
It can take months for that nervous system to mature, and during this time (and sometimes for a little while after after) babies often cry to let you know that they need fewer “bells and whistles” and more quiet and comfort.
What to do about it: The best way to comfort a newborn when they’re feeling overwhelmed is to make them feel more secure. Swaddling is comforting to them because being tightly wrapped mimics the security of the womb.
It often does the job of settling a baby's unsettled soul. You can also try going to a darker, quieter spot and caressing him until he settles down.
They need more stimulation.
Why they’re crying: Under-stimulation can happen when your baby is bored with her environment and feels intellectually undernourished. An active baby may be excited and eager to see and experience the world around her, and she wants to tell you so.
Since you’re her activities director, when she cries and fusses you know she’s telling you that she needs more!
What to do about it: The number one thing that you can do for an inquisitive baby is to wear your baby carrier facing outward—this way she can see all of the wonderful things that go on around her. In order to not completely exhaust yourself entertaining your child, try to plan activities with other parents and babies or with family members.
Kid-friendly places are also great because nothing spells nonstop entertainment to a baby like other kids. Think local playground, park, children’s museum, zoo, or even a bookstore.
Why they’re crying: Typically the first baby tooth comes through at about 4 to 7 months, and it can be pretty painful while it pushes through young gums. Some babies are particularly sensitive to it, and others are relatively unaffected.
If your baby is about this age, try feeling her gums with your finger to see if you notice any small teeth popping through. Other signs of teething are red and swollen gums, heavy drooling, rubbing the ear on the same side as the erupting tooth, and not feeding as well.
What to do about it: Try to give your baby something to chew on. A teething ring or a cold washcloth usually works well.
You can also try rubbing your finger over your baby’s sore gums to help ease the pain. Eating cold (like applesauce or yogurt) or hard foods (like baby biscuits) may also help.
They're just not feeling well.
Why they’re crying: When you’ve checked everything else and can’t figure out what’s troubling your baby, it may be that he’s just not feeling well. Listen closely to your baby—and to your instincts—to see if something may be wrong with his health.
Check for these behavioral changes: lethargy, irregular stools or urination, trouble eating (or lack of appetite), spitting up more than usual, inattentiveness or sleeping longer than usual, or inability to sleep.
What to do about it: The most recognizable sign that your baby isn’t feeling well is the presence of a fever. This can indicate that your baby may have a cold, croup, ear infection, stomach virus, urinary infection, or another type of infection.
Medical professionals recommend calling your doctor if your 3- to 6-month-old has a temperature of over 101 degrees. If your child is older than a year, seek medical attention if the symptoms last longer than 24 to 48 hours.