Our baby cries and cries - we try everything but nothing helps for long. What can we do?
Listening to your baby crying breaks your heart and can cause you enormous anxiety and agitation - especially if you add to that your being sleep-deprived, particularly if it’s the early stages of your baby’s life.
The first thing to realise is that a baby cries because it’s the only way of communicating to you their needs. We feel frustrated when we feel that we don’t know what our baby is trying to tell us. It can often be desperate, exhausting attempts at trying one thing after another to see what works. But as we get to know our baby, we will begin to realise some of their cues and be able to respond to them, so be gentle on yourself and realise that it takes time.
The main reasons why babies cry:
- Hunger - remember that some babies (especially newborns) need to be feed more frequently than others. Some babies get themselves so worked up when they are hungry, by the time they are fed they have gulped in a lot of air and then have problems with wind. The best thing to do is to respond early to signs of their being hungry, don’t wait. If your baby is in a routine, keep your feeding routine - don’t try and delay things if something else has cropped up. Feeding your baby is your priority and other things will simply need to wait! A baby doesn’t understand that you have other things to do in your day - and you may well pay for it if you delay your baby’s feed. And remember that babies do go through growth spurts, which may mean that they demand more at certain times than at others - so allow for this if you have your baby in a routine. Cues: If it’s been 3-4hrs since you last fed your baby, if he/she’s just woken up, or if you’ve just changed a very full nappy - chances are your baby is hungry. Remember that ‘rooting reflex’ your baby has early on - searching for mum’s breast, too as a sign that your baby wants to be fed.
- Wind - having trapped wind in a baby’s belly can be uncomfortable and painful. Some babies are better at bringing up wind than others, and often newborns are particularly unpractised! It is also thought that breastfed babies have less wind than bottle-fed babies. To help your baby, always ‘wind’ him/her after a feed and between each side. Your baby may well wake up half an hour into their sleep, crying, because they still have trapped wind, so make sure that you spend the time doing this. Please see our previous articles on ‘Reflux’ and ‘Colic’ for more information on problems with feeding/wind. Cues: Your baby may bring his knees up to his chest or become restless - these are signs he might have some trapped wind.
- Wet/soiled Nappy - some babies find having a wet/soiled nappy intolerable. If your baby is crying, regularly check and change your baby’s nappy to see whether he/she becomes more settled - and certainly let it be one of the things you consider if your baby is crying. Cues: Your baby might squirm or arch his/her back if uncomfortable.
- Tired - there is nothing like an overtired baby. Once your baby has established a bit of a routine of how often they’d like to go to sleep, you do need to pick up on cues that your baby is getting tired. Your baby might yawn or just become fussy. Your baby may need a lot more sleep than you realise, particularly as newborn babies. Cues: Losing interest in toys, decreased activity, yawning, rubbing eyes, looking glazed.
If your baby is crying, have the above checklist in your mind and tick them off. If none of them seem to be what your baby is trying to tell you, then consider the following:
- Overstimulation: If the room is noisy, there are lots of people around, there is music or banging or people trying to entertain your baby with rattles and other toys, it might all be becoming too much for your baby, particularly if baby is turning his/her head away from the noise. Try taking your baby out of the room and to somewhere peaceful where he/she can enjoy some gentle cuddles from you.
- Frustration: Your baby may express his/her frustration at not being able to reach a toy or grasp/play with it in the way he/she wants to by crying. Your baby may just need a little help!
- Loneliness: If your baby hasn’t seen you in a while because he/she has been lying on the floor playing happily while you’ve been hanging out the washing or cooking the dinner, he/she may start crying for you. A little time and some cuddles should resolve the problem! Remember, too, to try and put your baby down awake when it’s time for bed, rather than feeding off to sleep. The reason is that the last thing baby remembers is your face and when baby wakes up and you’re not there, he/she becomes distraught!
- Boredom: Your baby has been stuck in a pushchair for a while with you shopping or catching up for a coffee with a friend. Baby’s crying might be loud and whiny, demanding your attention and simply wants a change of scene or to get out of the pushchair (or car seat or move to a different part of the house!)
- Worry/Fear: Your baby may become uncomfortable in the arms of someone they don’t know, particularly if they’re not sure where you are. If his/her previous happy gurgles become unsettled cries, someone more familiar needs to take baby - especially you! Remember it takes time for babies to become accustomed to new people and new faces.
- Too hot/too cold: Put a hand down your baby’s back and check his/her temperature. Your baby might be trying to say he/she’s too hot or too cold. The general rule is that baby has one more layer on than we do - we dress to the weather conditions and temperatures and so we need to adjust our baby’s clothes accordingly. Particularly if we have gone from a warm house to a cold hall (for playgroup or something) or outside in a cold wind.
- Pain/Sickness: A painful cry might be shrill and followed by a pause (while your baby catches his/her breath) just like an adult cries when they are hurt. Check your baby from head to toe to see if you can find the source. Alternatively, your baby may not like the taste of your milk! If you are breastfeeding and have eaten something you don’t normally eat, and baby is fussy on the breast, consider what you have been eating that might have upset baby’s tummy. On the other extreme, your baby’s cry might be very weak - this may show signs of illness. Check your baby for a temperature and other signs that might indicate sickness.
And just a few more tips you could try if you’ve tried everything else:
- Hold your baby (try arms, slings, front packs)
- Provide motion (rhythmic swinging, rocking or jiggling)
- Turn on some white noise: vacuum cleaner, fan heater or fan
- Swaddle your baby nice firmly so baby feels secure
- Baby massage - stroking your baby gently, or try patting on baby’s back or bottom
- Let your baby have something to suck on: might be your breast, a pacifier, daddy’s finger or a teething toy
- Distracting baby: just a change of scenery such as walking outside to look at the trees and the birds can calm a baby quickly
Take Care of Yourself
If you have tried everything you can think of to soothe your baby, don’t feel like a failure or incompetent as a parent. It is a common problem for babies - don’t add to your load by heaping guilt on yourself! Remember you are doing the best you can. Once you have taken care of baby the best that you can, take care of yourself:
- When you feel yourself becoming agitated and worked up, put baby down in his/her bassinet or cot for ten minutes out of your hearing while you calm yourself. Baby will not be harmed by his/her own crying and sometimes you need that short breather in order to be able to manage. Take some deep breaths, put on some relaxing music.
- Support one another as parents - give one another some time out (take turns if you need to) and some encouraging words. Don’t turn your frustration on each other - remember you are in this together and be kind to one another.
- Get help: talk to Plunket or your Doctor if you are worried. You can call Healthline on 0800-611-116 to speak to a ‘Well Child Nurse’ for advice. Call a friend/relative for support - have someone take care of the baby while you get some rest or some time away.
- When you are taking a break from your baby, remember to truly have some self-care: have a long warm bath, put on some relaxing music, go out for coffee with a friend, read a magazine, get some sleep. Take care of yourself - don’t use the time to do housework or run an errand!
- Don’t demand too much of yourself. Lower some of your other expectations such as getting all the housework done or going out to playgroup activities for example. You need to be realistic about what you can cope with. Figure out what helps you and what makes things worse (you and the baby more tired). Ask for help with some of the things you need to do - such as housework, grocery shopping or errands you need to run.
- Above all, remember that it will not harm your baby to cry. It is a source of communication, and usually a phase that will pass. It’s helpful to remember that it won’t last forever, and it may just be that you have more of a “crying baby” than other babies. Accepting this can help you to get through it. Find strategies that give you the strength to be able to cope with it.