why do babies cry

Why do babies cry and what does it mean?

All babies cry. A lot. That is a fact. Some babies cry more than others and sometimes it’s easy to tell what they want or need but sometimes it can be incredibly difficult, upsetting, and stressful to work out why your baby is crying, not to mention exhausting.

One important thing to remember is that every parent will have gone through this, and it is perfectly natural. Just because you struggle to work out why your baby is crying sometimes, it does not make you a bad parent.

Why do babies cry?

First, let’s start with some good news. Your baby will not cry forever.

Babies cry the most within the first three months, an average of around 2-3 hours a day, and it is perfectly normal for them to be inconsolable at times. There have been studies that have shown that around 20% of infants cry for no apparent reason for long periods of time. This can happen most during the first four months of a baby’s life.

If you think your baby is crying more than what would be considered ‘normal’ amounts of crying, it doesn’t necessarily signify health concerns – although if you are worried that your baby is crying more than normal, we recommend talking to a medical professional such as your health visitor.

If your baby is crying a lot, they could be experiencing something called PURPLE crying, often described as Colic by doctors, which is a developmental stage that all babies go through and is perfectly normal. It doesn’t refer to the colour purple, but it is representative of: Peak of crying; Unexpected; Resists soothing; Pain-like face; Long-lasting; and Evening. Interestingly, scientists have discovered that practically all breast-fed animals have a similar developmental stage within the first months – just like humans. PURPLE crying was introduced as a way to better explain this normal, developmental stage in babies and alleviate some of the concern experienced by parents when they are told that their baby “has colic”.

Another important thing to remember about your crying baby is that, aside from PURPLE crying or Colic, your baby has not yet learnt to communicate in any other way.

Your child has yet to learn how to talk, they haven’t yet discovered how to point at something they want, they can’t move towards the object of their desire, and they certainly can’t send you a text from their cot. A crying baby is using the only form of communication they know how to use – their lungs.

As your baby develops and as you learn more about them and their cries, you’ll learn to detect differences in the way they cry for different needs or wants, and you’ll be able to work out what they want (most of the time).

Top reasons why your baby is crying

Aside from PURPLE crying, or Colic, there are a few common reasons why your baby is crying. Usually, a crying baby signifies a need or a desire.

Your baby is hungry

This is usually the go to thing to check first – is your baby hungry? They may have had a feed not too long ago, but you must remember that their stomachs are not very big and won’t be able to hold much milk for some time. A good thing to do is to keep an eye out for any cues your baby might be giving before they start crying because they’re hungry and you’re not feeding them – yes, babies do get hangry! Babies will often start nuzzling for your breasts, smacking or licking their lips, putting their fists in their mouths and sucking on them, or they’ll fidget and get agitated. Read the cues your baby is giving you and try and feed them when you spot them early on before they start crying.

If you are breastfeeding and your baby is crying, just offer them up to your breast, see if they latch on for a feed, and let them feed until they come off themselves. If you are bottle feeding your baby, try feeding them little and often if they’re not finishing every bottle. Reflux can also be an issue around feeding time too, so this may be a reason that they are crying during or after a feed.

Your baby is tired

Babies often get tired quite easily and quickly. It’s also very easy for babies to become overtired, making it far more likely for them to get upset and start crying.

The best thing to do in this scenario is to try holding and shushing your baby, stroking them gently, taking them out for a walk or sometimes a drive, or finding somewhere quiet and dark to put them down for a nap. While they’re down, why not try and catch up with some sleep yourself?

Your baby is in pain, or your baby is poorly

There could be any number of issues that could cause your baby discomfort, pain, or make them unwell for a short period of time and most of them aren’t cause for concern. The most likely culprits for causing your baby pain are teething issues, Colic or PURPLE crying – mentioned above, your baby has trapped wind, or they have earache. Most of these are nothing to be concerned about and will likely work themselves out, but that doesn’t stop them causing your baby discomfort or stop them crying. So, just reassure them and cuddle them and hopefully they’ll calm down. Obviously, you know your baby better than anyone and if you do become worried for any reason, speak to a medical professional.

If your baby has trapped wind, try rubbing or patting their back, massage their stomach in a clockwise direction, or bend their legs slowly towards their stomach. Once they give you a satisfactory belch, they should be content again. You may even be rewarded with a little trumpeting from below too!

Your baby’s nappy needs changing

Try sitting or lying in your own poop and see if it doesn’t upset you! A dirty nappy will make a baby uncomfortable as it will irritate their sensitive skin. So, first thing, of course, is to take their nappy off and clean them up. Just remember that if the air is cool, they may get upset during the change due the exposure to the cold air. The better and quicker you become at changing their nappy, the less exposure they’ll have to the cold and the more likely you’ll be to avoid tears.

Your baby is too hot or cold

Your baby’s clothes need to be appropriate for the weather. If it’s hot out, dress them in fewer layers, make sure they stay hydrated, and keep them out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If it’s cold, increase the number of layers but make sure they’re not getting too hot in them.

Your baby just wants attention or a cuddle

Babies are super quick learners! They pick things up so quickly and before you know it, they’re off to university! Ok, but seriously, babies pick up on things and soon enough they learn that if they cry, they get attention, no matter what time of day or night it is. Or they may just want a cuddle, they were in mum’s womb for 9 months after all, they became pretty attached. Give them a lot of love, attention, cuddles, and interaction to help them feel secure and comforted. But also try to create a routine after a while so they don’t needlessly cry for attention, causing you stress and preventing you from getting quality sleep.

What to do when babies cry

Having a crying baby can often be stressful, especially if, at first, you have no idea why your baby is crying. The most important thing to try to remember to do is to remain calm – this can be very hard sometimes, especially if you’re incredibly tired. It can be quite easy to feel so tired that you become angry and feel like you cannot take anymore. This is normal. Most parents experience this at some point in time and it is nothing to be ashamed of and there is no shame at all in asking for help if you feel like you need it.

If you need to, take a moment before going to your baby to steady your breathing with a few deep breathes in and out. Unless your baby is in immediate danger, a few extra seconds won’t do them any harm and will enable you to better cope with the situation and work out what your baby needs much easier. 

Work through some of the above scenarios if you don’t immediately know why your baby is crying. Is their nappy wet or soiled? Have they had feed recently? Does it look like they’re in pain – maybe they need winding? Do they look like they’re too hot? Or is it cold and they’re not wrapped up? Sometimes, you need to try a few different things before you find the real reason behind the tears.

If they’re not hungry, in pain, too hot or cold, and don’t need their nappy changing, maybe your baby just needs soothing. Sometimes, they’ll still need soothing after you have solved their problem too because they’re just so stressed and upset.

Soothing a crying baby

There are a few different things you can try to calm a crying baby. The problem is, they don’t all work every single time – wouldn’t life be much easier if they did! Some days one technique will work a treat and your baby will calm down nice and easily, other days they’ll just get more wound up.

Other than providing the direct solution to your baby’s problems mentioned above you could try:

  • Giving them a small blanket, piece of cloth, or small soft toy as a comforter
  • Hold your baby close to you, or put them in a sling, and move around gently, sing or talk to them softly, sway, or dance
  • Rock them in their pram, rocking cot, baby rocker, or just rock them in your arms
  • Gentle noise in the background can often help to calm or distract a baby
  • Give them something to listen to or look at such as music, a rattle, or some kind of mobile on their cot
  • Give your baby a gentle baby massage – if you’re unsure how to do this, ask your health visitor
  • Give your baby a warm bath – beware though, this can make some babies cry more, so it can be a risky move
  • Take them out for a walk or a drive
  • Lay them down

Should you let your baby cry it out?

While ‘crying it out’ is a sleep training technique that some parents use to help their child get into a suitable bedtime routine, it is not recommended for newborns.

After about six months, babies start to develop emotional self-regulation, the ability to recognise and manage their own emotional responses. It is around this time that parents may consider exploring sleeping techniques, but this is, of course, personal choice.

That is not to say that you can’t put your baby down and leave it crying for a short period of time if you feel overwhelmed – it is perfectly ok to put a crying baby down somewhere safe for a few minutes and take a break.

One thing to remember though is that no matter how tired, frustrated, or overwhelmed you feel, you must never shake your baby – this can cause irreparable brain damage.

The didofy family of strollers are great for taking your baby out for a walk when they’re upset and calming them down or rocking them off to sleep. And our full travel systems come with matching car seats for those soothing drives too.


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