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Why babies cry, and how to soothe them

I recently came across a quote which I feel is very appropriate to the topic: “Because babies don’t come with owners’ manuals!” Probably one of the most difficult times in the parenting journey is the first six weeks of your baby’s life. Not only are you completely exhausted as you adjust to being a parent, but it is so hard to figure out why your baby is crying. We all accept that babies do cry, but the most common reason parents visit my practice before their six-week check-up is excessive crying.

What is normal?

  • Most studies agree that babies often start to cry more around two weeks of age. This often peaks around six to eight weeks of age.
  • Babies will cry for anything between one or two hours in a day.
  • Late afternoons and early evenings are the most common time for crying.
  • Your baby cries because it is the only means of communication and it’s a sure way to get a parent to respond.
  • If mom is breastfeeding, it will also trigger the let-down reflex in her breasts. This ensures a healthy, nourished baby.


What can you do?

  • If your baby is crying, the first things to exclude are whether they are wet, hungry or tired. If so, take the necessary steps to make baby feel more comfortable.
  • Be aware of overstimulation. If your baby has been in an environment where there is a lot of noise, different adults holding them and out of routine they may become overstimulated and cry excessively. If this is the case, reduce the stimulation by taking baby into a quiet, dimmed room and holding them until they calm down.
  • A baby may also be soothed by white noise. This could be the sound of a fan or a recording of light rain or wind.
  • Lying your baby on their side, covered with a light blanket, while rhythmically patting their back often soothes a baby. Be sure to gently roll baby onto their back when they fall asleep.
  • Alternatively, you can take the baby for a walk in a baby sling or pram.

When do I need to worry?

I probably say it a lot in my blogs and to my patients’ parents, but if you are worried about the crying or if the crying is accompanied by other symptoms like fever then you should consult your healthcare professional.

What may be other causes of excessive crying?

  • Inadequate winding. It is really important that a baby is well winded after every feed. It may take as long as fifteen to twenty minutes to wind a baby correctly and there are various techniques. If you are struggling, I would suggest looking up some of the techniques.
  • Poor feeding. Weekly weight-gain checks are really important in the first six weeks of a baby’s life. Inadequate weight gain may alert you to other complications that need to be followed up by a professional.
  • Cow’s milk protein intolerance. There are times when a baby is crying a lot, passing excessive winds and appears to be cramping. If you are breastfeeding, removing all dairy (including milk, cheese and yoghurt) from your diet may make all the difference. If you have been off dairy for a week and there is no improvement, you need to look further into the cause of your baby’s symptoms.
  • Lactose intolerance. A baby whose tummy grumbles a lot, is uncomfortable or passes frequent, frothy stools may be lactose intolerant. Lactose is a sugar found in milk, including breast milk. A test on the stool for reducing substances would be necessary to make this diagnosis.
  • Babies may experience reflux resulting in pain, discomfort, gagging, choking and vomiting. Slowing down the feeds and winding well are the first steps to try to help your baby. If this fails, then your healthcare professional may advise different measures depending on the mode of feeding (bottle- or breastfeeding).
  • Urinary tract infections. A hidden cause of crying may be a urinary tract infection. If one isn’t proactive in testing the urine, it may lead to unnecessary pain and discomfort. Testing your baby’s urine is very important if they’re crying excessively. A delay in treatment may lead to more serious complications. If your baby does have a urinary tract infection, your healthcare professional will advise on treatment and possibly an ultrasound and VCU tests.
  • Ear infections. Ear infections are very common in infants. Your baby may cry more when lying down as this increases the pressure in the ears and causes pain. A healthcare professional would need to examine their ears carefully.
  • Sepsis. This is an infection in the bloodstream. A newborn (0 to 3 months) baby with a fever must be seen urgently to exclude this condition. The baby may also be excessively drowsy and feeding badly if they are septic.

As expectant parents, we often imagine that life with a baby is cuddles, cooing and cute photo opportunities. The reality of a baby crying for extended periods of time, often at the end of a day when you are tired and frazzled, may lead to anxiety, frustration and feelings of helplessness. The good news is that this is normal and will end. If you are concerned please seek help. There is support for babies and parents alike and professionals can be your “baby manual” as you navigate the newborn phase.

This article was first published on BabyYumYum.

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