Crying is your baby’s way of communicating.  Their cry tells you “I need you”. Your baby will not be ‘spoilt’ if you attend to its cry, rather your baby will develop a secure bond and attachment. Many studies have shown that babies whose cries are attended to promptly and consistently cry less.

Babies don’t cry for ‘no reason’, they are hardwired to cry so that their needs are met. Sometimes finding out what your baby is trying to tell you through their crying is a challenge, especially in those early months so here are some common reasons as to why your baby might be crying.

1. Hunger

Is your baby hungry? When I was breastfeeding sometimes my little one would cry and would not settle down to sleep. At first I would think, “she can’t be hungry, I have just feed her,” and then I would spend thirty minutes trying anything and everything to settle her. I then gave up on my settling ideas and offered her another feed, a ‘top up’ so to speak. She would feed and then happily go off to sleep.

Try not to be too rigid on times and amounts to feed as babies needs change from day to day. One day they may need more milk than the day before to feel satisfied. If it is hunger that is making your baby cry, other solutions, such as cuddling may help for a minute or so but the baby will begin to cry again.

2. Tired

While as parents and caregivers we may relish the idea of an afternoon nap, infants need sleep and can get further past this point the longer left awake (and over stimulated). Look for early cues of tiredness such as a first yawn, a glazed stare, jerky movements with their hands and legs or facial grimaces.

By noticing these early signs of tiredness and putting your baby to sleep promptly then you may avoid an overtired wailing cry. If your precious one wakes early from a nap and still seems tired give them a rhythmic pat on their back to see if they will go back for a more substantial sleep.

The “ssshhh” sound people instinctively make to settle a crying baby is said to mimic some of the sounds of inside the womb. It actually needs to be quite a loud and repetitive shush to be effective.

3. Too hot or too cold

Young infants are still developing the ability to regulate their own temperature. Check their cot is not in direct hot sun or in a drafty spot. Often in summer a cotton blanket may be all that is needed along with a well-ventilated room.

Is your baby red faced or sweaty? Place your hand on their back for a more accurate indication of their temperature than the forehead.

Too cold? A Plunket nurse once gave me the advice that normally one more layer than you are wearing should be enough for your baby. So if you have a t-shirt and light sweatshirt your baby may need a bodysuit, top and jacket.

4. Nappy check

Some babies are very sensitive to a wet feeling or dirty nappy and a change of this may be all they need. Young babies love ‘no nappy’ time, so try some cloth nappies or a towel on the floor and some time to kick and play au natural!

5. Lonely/needing reassurance

Sometimes your baby just needs YOU for a while. A big cuddle may be the magic solution. Some babies like to be in a front pack or sling close to you and this can be a solution if getting the housework done is a priority for you. Swaddling is another way to calm an unsettled infant. Wrap securely, but not too tightly, keeping hands and face free. Combined with rocking in your arms, this can be an effective way to calm your baby.

Remember the three S’s ‘Swaddle, sshhh and sway’.

6. Bored

Especially as your baby gets older they can get bored or restless. A change of environment such as going for a walk in the pram or even going to sit together in the back yard may be all it takes.

Hold your baby so they can see you and sing some songs. Simple everyday experiences like feeling the gentle wind on your face or lying out on the grass with feet and hands free for exploring are interesting for baby. Use distraction such as stopping to pet the cat, or look at a bird up in the tree.

You may feel calmer too with a change of environment which your baby will pick up on and will help them to settle too. Babies are very intuitive to our feelings.

7. Teething

It often seems that with any upset baby teething is deemed the culprit. Of course it may well be teething, but it is important to also eliminate any other potential causes. Signs of illness are often missed and put down to teething which can be a real risk to your baby. While teething may cause discomfort it shouldn’t cause fever, diarrhea or pain that causes your child to wake or cry ‘for hours’.

My own family doctor said that many things such as painful ear infections are missed at first as it is put down by caregivers or parents as ‘just teething’. Trust your instincts; if you feel it is more than teething seek medical advice. If it is teething try a specific teething ring which you can cool in the fridge.

What about amber teething necklaces for teething?  These seem to be everywhere lately. Whether you believe amber has a healing property or not, safety must be a first priority for babies:

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs can’t state whether the therapeutic claims for these types of teething necklaces are true. Parents and carers of teething babies who use these teething necklaces need to consider that there is a risk of strangulation and choking. Amber necklaces should be removed from a baby while unattended, even if only unattended for a short period of time. Amber necklaces should not be worn at all while sleeping.

8. Unwell

Being unwell is bound to mean extra crying. Babies cant’ tell us their symptoms so seek medical help quickly if you feel your child is unwell and don’t be afraid to take them back to the doctor if they get worse.

It can be really exhausting both physically and mentally when you have had no sleep and you have a crying baby. Take any help offered. Share the load at night if you have a partner or family member to give you a break, and nap in the day when your child does to catch up if you can.

Nothing is working!

  • On a serious note a baby’s cry can naturally bring out feelings of stress in people. If you ever feel yourself getting angry, stop, put your baby in a safe place, such as their cot and take a breather in another room for a few minutes.
  • Phone someone for help such as a friend, relative or an agency such as Plunketline for help 0800 933 922
  • See – the Power to Protect helpline is available 24/7 on 0800 300 026

Some useful new baby articles and resources

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Are you feeling a little blue, find out more about the Baby Blues and what you can do.

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Jacqueline Taylor, mum of two, worked for 25 years in ECE and currently works as an early intervention teacher. As a qualified ECE teacher, she is especially interested in working with under 3s to understand and help them develop a strong foundation for the future.

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