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Babies cry. A lot.
Who would have thought that those first joyful sounds you welcomed with open ears could turn into incessant shrieks and squalls?
When you become a parent for the first time, everyone says to expect that your baby will fuss and cry. But nobody ever talks about the endless wail their child will make when they are born. Let’s dive into what your infant’s screams mean – how long they should last, and strategies for coping when things start getting out of hand!
What are the different types of baby cries?
Your baby can’t tell you what they need with words, so their cries will have to do! Here are some of the reasons your baby is crying, and how to tell.
- Irritability – If your baby is not getting very good sleep, or if they are in pain for some reason, their cry can be a little more irritable than usual. They’re frustrated and want to rest and feel good! Irritable babies will often scrunch their faces up, seem fine one minute and not the next, and need increasing levels of distractions to stop their cries.
- Wetness – Your little one will cry if their diaper is wet or soiled. Babies who need their diaper changed may wriggle to try and get away from what is making them feel uncomfortable.
- Hunger – Babies cry when they need nourishment. It usually only takes a few minutes after feeding for them to fall back asleep or get very calm. If your infant is crying due to hunger, he or she will be very alert and energetic. Their cries will seem desperate.
- Teething – Teething can be a bit like hunger: your baby’s mouth hurts so they fuss and cry! Their jaw will hurt when eating, but it should subside once the teeth break through the gums. Teething babies will likely have their hands or other objects in their mouths as they cry.
- Separation anxiety – Babies who are scared of you leaving them, or of strangers, will cry very strongly. Their cries can take on a shrill pitch as they plead for you to stay or get back to them, and almost immediately stop when you return.
- Discomfort or pain in the abdomen – If your baby has a stomachache, they will cry very loudly and seem in a lot of pain. They will be very difficult to console without helping them feel better physically first, and will often be wriggling around as if they’re trying to get comfortable.
- Attention seeking – If your baby is not in pain, but wants your attention for some reason (maybe something exciting is happening!) they will cry loudly, or fuss until you notice them. They may even get louder when you walk away to the shop and try to get you back! Like separation anxiety, they’ll likely stop when you come back, but sometimes they’ll continue to protest when you’ve returned. This could be a slightly less intense cry or whine, but one intended to show you they’re not happy with what you did!
How long should a baby’s cry last?
The first thing to note is there are no guidelines on how long a baby should cry. Some will be upset for only a few minutes and settle down with little fuss, while others can seem inconsolable even though they were content not so long ago!
Your baby should stop crying when their physical and/or emotional needs have been met. If your child is still crying after you have addressed what you thought the problem was, try a change of environment. (like going outside) Seek help from a doctor or pediatrician if they continue to cry.
Hacks for calming a crying baby
You’ve triple-checked to make sure it’s nothing physical and all their other needs have been met. If you think you’ve tried everything yet your little one is still upset, give some of these ideas a try.
- Try a change of environment – Walk outside, onto the patio, or into another room. The change of scenery can catch your crying infant’s attention and they’ll relax.
- Use audio changes – Putting on some music, or stopping music, could be distracting enough to get your little one to stop crying. Do they like talking or the sound of your voice? Talking to them or reading aloud could help them fall asleep.
- Get moving! – Sometimes holding their hands or feet and giving them a wriggle gives your baby something else to focus on. One thing which helped my boys was to put them in a baby carrier and go for a walk, even if that was only around the house. They got some cuddly body heat, a motion similar to rocking, and a change of scenery all in one!
- Try a little top-up of milk – They may have already had a feed, but sometimes giving them a little more milk can re-focus their minds onto something other than crying. You might get similar results from a pacifier for a few minutes.
- Swaddle your baby – Try wrapping your crying infant up securely. Having their arms tucked away in a swaddle will often distract them for long enough that they relax.
What is the baby witching hour?
You may have heard of the dreaded witching hour, but what exactly is it?
The witching hour is a time when a baby is the most fussy, cries the most, or resists sleep. It tends to happen somewhere in the later afternoon to the evening. Your child’s ‘hour’ will usually be around the same time every day.
The mystery of what causes the “witching hour” is due to a variety of speculation.
- Hustle and bustle of your home – Is the level of noise in your house often higher when other people are coming home? Usually, this takes place between late afternoon and early evening. The afternoon and evening bustle can be overwhelming for babies, because there is often a lot of stimulation. Constant crying may signal that your baby needs to rest.
- They’re tired – A newborn baby can get overtired quickly. Overtired babies will have higher levels of blood adrenaline and cortisol, which will make it harder to calm your baby if this is the case.
- Mom’s milk is different – At the end of the day, some moms may find that their milk supply decreases, or changes in composition. If your milk flow is slow, you may find the afternoon issues are because of a hungry infant.
- Growth spurts – As your baby grows, they go through many periods of rapid growth. These natural spurts are usually experienced at two to three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months old. Be aware that during these periods of change your baby may be fussier and eat an increased amount of solid food for a few days than return to their normal eating.
The so-called “witching hour” isn’t a universal constant. For some parents, it’s one of the easiest times to deal with their kids – giving them more energy, making themselves and their kids cheerful and content. If that’s not the case for your family, stay strong! This too, shall pass.
I need a breather! Can I leave my baby when they’re crying?
If nothing else works, it’s okay to put your baby in their crib without any blankets or stuffed animals loose within, and take a step back for a moment. Provided there is nothing physically harming your baby, they will be safe for a few minutes while you take a breather.
You are your baby’s best chance of being able to calm down, but you’ll need to keep calm yourself, too. The best of parents are not immune to the stresses of intense crying from their children. Overtired parents may find it harder to keep their cool. If you find you are frequently needing to take a step back, know that it’s okay to ask for help – from family, friends, and medical professionals.
You are not alone
It’s normal for a baby to cry from time to time, but if your child is crying uncontrollably it can be hard on both you as a parent, as well as your little one. Try some of these tips in this blog post that may help you get through those difficult moments. Take care not to overstress yourself by taking breathers when needed and enlisting others for assistance where possible. Staying calm while parenting should always be our goal! If none of these strategies work, consult with medical professionals who have seen all of this before, and will be able to give you advice specific to you and your family.