Infant crying


We are “tuned” to respond to a crying baby. For some adults the sound is almost painful. Babies spend quite a lot of time crying. It does not mean parents are doing anything wrong – just that your baby has something he or she is trying to tell you.

It can take time and practice to work out what this is. Most parents make mistakes as they go along. But your baby will know that you are trying to understand.

We’ve put below some of the frequently asked questions about crying.  Click for the one you want.

Dummies can be helpful in calming crying babies as long as they are used properly – click here to find out more.

Why do babies cry?

Babies can’t tell us in words what they need or want. Crying is nearly always a message. If we try to respond, then the baby will learn a pattern of need-OK, need-OK, need-OK. This is the foundation for later health and behaviour.
So what is the message? It can be almost anything, and all you can do is try and work it out from what is happening. Don’t just assume your baby is hungry – especially if he or she was fed recently. Here are some possible other reasons:

  • “I’m too hot/cold”
  • “Where is everyone?”
  • “I woke up and startled myself”
  • “I’m bored, play and talk with me”
  • “I’m full up with excitement, help me calm down”
  • “I’ve forgotten how to get back to sleep”
  • “What was that noise?”
  • “Who is this new person?” or “I’ve forgotten who this is”
  • “I’m in pain”
  • “I just need a cuddle, don’t know why”
  • and many more …

If you want more ideas about how to respond to crying, then the charity Cry-sis does a leaflet with more detail.

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My baby is crying a lot – is this colic?  What is colic?

Anytime before about six months old, many babies go through a period where they cry a lot. This is often in the later part of the day (just when you are tired!) and can go on a long time, whatever you do to try and help. Even highly trained specialists sometimes can’t stop this kind of crying.

This is called “colic” because we used to think it was to do with indigestion. In fact, we don’t know what causes colic. Most babies who cry a lot at this stage have no health issues at all.

Some experts think it is to do with brain development. Your baby has been taking in so much during the day that they just can’t contain it, and so the crying is a way to let it all out.

Always check your baby is OK, and does not have reflux, etc. This is what your Health Visitor and your GP are happy to do. But if there is no health worry, then the crying will pass as your baby’s brain matures.

Parents try lots of things to help their baby, ranging from soothing, driving around in the car and putting the washing machine on! Different things work for different babies, but don’t feel bad if nothing works well or for long.

The NHS website has some great explanation and advice – click here to see it.

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Can you spoil a baby?

The short answer is “no”! But this is a common worry. Parents can be concerned that their baby will pick up bad habits of depending on them.

In fact, babies just do depend on us. If you respond as quickly as you can when your baby signals a need then in fact you are teaching them slowly that the world is safe and predictable. So your baby will grow up less dependent on you.

If a friend or someone else tells you that you are doing too much for your baby, then don’t worry – it is always OK to respond to your baby with warmth and care.

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My baby’s crying is really getting to me – what can I do?

The first thing is to know it is not just you! Evolution has tuned baby cries so that they go right through us. For some adults, this is a really strong experience – but almost every parent at some point feels they can’t take any more crying. Sometimes there is also a little bit of panic, that something is really wrong either with the baby or the parent.
Here are some things that may help:

    • it will pass. Some babies cry a lot in the first few months. If you try and stay patient and respond with soothing then your baby will eventually learn how to soothe himself or herself
    • life is up and down for babies just as it is for us. So your baby will have patches where things are more difficult and cries more.
    • if it is all too much, then see if someone else can take over. Sometimes a different pair of hands is magic. It does not mean anything about you – just that a change sometimes works.
    • whatever you do, don’t shake your baby. This can cause real injury. Frustration is natural, but if you feel it peaking, you must straight away find a safe way to let it out – walk away, take a shower, listen to music, whatever works for you.
    • make sure you are looking after yourself. Sleep when your baby sleeps, find some nice things to do every day, go outside with your baby, and do take some “time off” if you need it – this is not a sign of failure, but a sign of a parent who wants to do well.

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Do different cries have different messages?

Some people feel that they can understand different cries from their baby. You can even find books and websites that try to link particular cries to different messages. But there is little evidence for this for all babies. You may find over time that you do “tune in” to your baby and can tell what he or she wants – that’s great if so, but not everyone does. It is always worth taking the time to work out what your baby is trying to tell you and to check if you are getting it right.

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My first child was really good, but this baby fusses a lot – is this a problem?

It is not usually a problem, and it does not mean anything about your parenting. Do check with your Health Visitor, but if there are no health issues, it usually just means that your children have different personalities. We don’t know why this happens – but it is a good thing because they grow into adults with different strengths and skills. Click here for more information about baby temperament.

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My baby was fine, but now is crying more – have I done something wrong?

Almost certainly not. Baby development is an up-and-down process and “regressions” are very common. For example, when your baby starts crawling or walking, they might “forget” how to sleep or become more fussy.

Some scientists think there are many periods of regression during the first couple of years, and you may see books that map these out

But the basic message is that if your baby goes through a difficult patch, this is usually normal and passes. What you need to do is to provide more soothing and caring while they need it – this will help your baby through the stage.

Always, if you are concerned, it is right to ask your Health Visitor – they are happy to help and know that parents need reassurance.

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