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Understand why your baby is crying

Everyone loves a newborn, right? They are soft, sweet and cuddly, and they just smell so, so good. Newborns are like fairy dust. They instantly lift your spirits and make you believe in miracles. Or at least, that’s what you’re supposed to say, right?

The truth is, newborns can absolutely be all those things – and at various points in time, they absolutely will be. But they will also be hard work. And a little bit exhausting. And sometimes, they will cry for hours on end and you’ll be left feeling frazzled and tired and totally unsure of whether or not you are even kind of qualified to handle this whole parenting gig.

"Because your baby can't tell you what he needs, he has no choice but to draw attention to himself with a whole range of whimpers to tears to loud screams."

Newborns don’t do much, besides eat, poop, sleep and cry. And when you only have a handful of things you’re good at, they each tend to get a fair amount of play. Which means that for as many sweet cuddles as you get, there will also be plenty of tears to work through.

But why? And how can you help your little one to work through those bouts of crying, when you’re feeling pretty close to tears yourself?

Why do babies cry?

Imagine that you had no way to communicate with those around you. You were in a new world, surrounded by people who seemed to love and care for you, but who didn’t speak your language and couldn’t always understand what you were thinking or feeling. Then imagine that you were completely reliant upon those people to fulfill your every need – incapable of feeding yourself, or doing much else for that matter. What would you do to express yourself whenever you had needs that weren’t being met? Well, you would probably cry, of course.

Your baby may be crying because he:

  • Is hungry
  • Wants to be held
  • Is feeling tired or over-stimulated
  • Is bored
  • Has a wet diaper
  • Got too hot or too cold
  • Just wants a cuddle

For each of those potential sources of tears, there is something you and/or your partner can do. And as you become more comfortable in your role as a parent, you will also get better about distinguishing the real reason for that crying. You’ll learn to pay attention to your schedule and to know that if a certain number of hours have passed since your little one last ate – hunger is probably the source of those tears. Similarly, you’ll learn to check the diaper first when crying begins. You’ll pick up on those cues, and before you know it, your baby will be using those tears to communicate with you. To let you know that he needs something.

Sometimes babies just cry.

Of course, there are also tears that have no explanation at all. Particularly in the first 4 months of life, there will occasionally be periods of crying that don’t seem to have a solution. That’s because, they don’t. Sometimes babies just cry. Just like you sometimes have bad days, your baby may experience times of increased sensitivity or sadness. He might also be gassy, or teething, or just plain not feeling well. And other times, they may just want to cry.

So know that even if you can’t identify a specific reason your baby is crying, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. Sometimes… babies just cry.

However, if your baby is crying more than usual, or if his cry is high-pitched, contact your doctor. You know your baby's pattern better than anyone else, so if you notice anything unusual like a weak cry or moan, a different pattern of crying, or if it looks as if your baby is in pain, don't hesitate to contact your doctor. A sudden shrill cry followed by a brief silence and then more crying may also indicate pain.

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