There's no getting around it: Babies cry. It's how they communicate hunger, pain, fear, a need for sleep, and more.
So how are parents supposed to know what their baby is trying to tell them? It can be tricky to interpret your child’s cries, especially at first.
Here are the most common reasons babies cry. If your little one is wailing and you don't know why, work your way down the list. Chances are you'll find something that helps.
This is probably the first thing you think of when your baby cries.
Learning to recognize the signs of hunger will help you start your baby's feedings before the crying stage. Some signs to watch for in newborns: fussing, smacking of lips, rooting (a newborn reflex that causes babies to turn their head toward your hand when you stroke their cheek), and putting their hands to their mouth.
2. A dirty/wet diaper
Some babies let you know right away when they need to be changed. Others can tolerate a dirty diaper for quite a while.
Either way, this one is easy to check and simple to remedy.
3. Needs sleep
Aren't babies lucky? When they're tired they can simply go to sleep – anytime, anywhere. Or so adults like to think.
In reality, it's harder for them than you might think. Instead of nodding off, babies may fuss and cry, especially if they're overly tired.
4. Wants to be held
Babies need a lot of cuddling. They like to see their parents' faces, hear their voices, and listen to their heartbeats, and can even detect their unique smell. Crying can be their way of asking to be held close.
You may wonder if you'll spoil your baby by holding him so much, but during the first few months of life that isn't possible. To give your arms some relief, try wearing your baby in a front carrier or sling.
5. Tummy troubles (gas, colic, and more)
Tummy troubles associated with gas or colic can lead to lots of crying. In fact, the rather mysterious condition called colic is defined as inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, at least three days a week, at least three weeks in a row.
If your baby often fusses and cries right after being fed, he may be feeling some sort of tummy pain. Many parents swear by over-the-counter anti-gas drops for babies or gripe water (made from herbs and sodium bicarbonate). Get your doctor's okay before using either of these.
For more help, discover more than 20 strategies for soothing a colicky baby.
Even if your baby isn't colicky and has never been fussy after eating, an occasional bout of gas pain can make him miserable until he works it out. If you suspect gas, try something simple to eliminate it such as putting him/her on his/her back, holding his/her feet, and moving his/her legs in a gentle bicycling motion.
Discover other possible causes of babies abdominal pain, including reflux, stomach flu, milk allergy, lactose intolerance, constipation, and intestinal blockage.
6. Needs to burp
Burping isn't mandatory. But if your baby cries after a feeding, a good burp may be all he/she needs.
Babies swallow air when they breastfeed or suck from a bottle, and if the air isn't released it may cause some discomfort. Some babies are intensely bothered by having air in their tummy, while others don't seem to burp or need to be burped much at all.
7. Too cold or too hot
When your baby feels chilly, such as when you remove his clothes to change a diaper or clean his bottom with a cold wipe, he/she may protest by crying.
Newborns like to be bundled up and kept warm — but not too warm. As a rule, they’re comfortable wearing one more layer than you need to be comfortable. Babies are less likely to complain about being too warm than about being too cold, and they won't cry about it as vigorously.
8. Something small
Babies can be troubled by something as hard to spot as a hair wrapped tightly around a tiny toe or finger, cutting off circulation. (Doctors call this painful situation a "hair tourniquet," and it's one of the first things they look for if a baby seems to be crying for no reason.)
Some babies are extra sensitive to things like scratchy clothing tags or fabric. And they can be very picky (understandably) about subtleties ranging from the position they're held in to the bottle you offer.
Teething can be painful as each new tooth pushes through tender young gums. Some babies suffer more than others, but all are likely to be fussy and tearful at some point along the way.
If your baby seems to be in pain and you're not sure why, try feeling his gums with your finger. You may be surprised to discover the hard nub of a baby tooth on its way in.
On average, the first tooth breaks through between 4 and 7 months, but it can happen earlier or later. Find out more about teething and how to ease the pain.
10. Wants less stimulation
Babies learn from the stimulation of the world around them, but sometimes they have a hard time processing it all — the lights, the noise, being passed from hand to hand. Crying can be a baby's way of saying, "I've had enough."
Many newborns enjoy being swaddled. It seems to make them feel more secure when the world gets overwhelming. If your baby's too old for swaddling or doesn't like it, try retreating to a serene spot and letting your baby vent for a while to manage a meltdown.
11. Wants more stimulation
A "demanding" baby may be outgoing and eager to see the world. And often the only way to stop the crying and fussing is to stay active. This can be exhausting for you!
Try "wearing" your baby in a sling, front carrier, or backpack. Plan plenty of activities. Hang out with other parents with babies. Go on regular outings to kid-friendly places, whether that's your local playground, a children's museum, or the zoo.
12. Not feeling well
If you've met your baby's basic needs and comforted him and he's still crying, he could be coming down with something. You may want to check his temperature to rule out a fever and be alert for other signs of illness.
The cry of a sick baby tends to be distinct from one caused by hunger or frustration. If your baby's crying "just doesn't sound right," trust your instincts and call or see a doctor. Stay kamsified!