Babies cry for a reason. It’s one of the many ways they let you know they’re sleepy, hungry, gassy, sick, scared, bored, wet, dirty, or lonely. Your baby doesn’t know how to annoy, frustrate, or manipulate—she’s crying because she needs something. Just as sucking on fingers or fists is a sign of hunger that shouldn’t be ignored, crying is a sign of distress that should bring your immediate attention.
Sometimes the cause of your baby’s crying is obvious—like having a wet or dirty diaper or wanting to eat. In those cases, you just make your baby comfortable by changing or feeding him. But if you’ve dealt with those and your baby still is crying, here are some ideas to try.
Check for discomfort or illness:
- Check whether he’s too hot or cold. Look at the room temperature. Is your baby overdressed or underdressed? Help make him more comfortable if so.
- See whether she’s overstimulated. Try turning down the lights and the noise level.
- Check whether your baby is sick or has colic. If your baby cries for hours at a time, take his temperature. Call a health care provider if he has a fever or if you’re not sure about any other symptoms. If your baby is crying all the time to the point of vomiting and weight loss, it could be colic, so ask your pediatrician.
Soothe or distract him:
- Walk around holding her close, in your arms or in a carrier, while talking, rocking, or singing—babies like repetitive noises and movements.
- Take him for a ride in the stroller or car—motion can put him to sleep.
- Massage her back, arms, and legs gently.
- Relax him by giving him a warm bath or putting a warm compress, warm washcloth, or warm water bottle on his abdomen.
- Offer her a pacifier. (Note: Avoid using a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established.)
- Distract him by making funny faces or quiet noises.
- Use some “white noise” such as running a vacuum cleaner, clothes dryer, or hair dryer to help lull her to sleep.
Take a break:
- If the crying continues and you feel like you’re losing control, put your baby in his crib, make sure he’s safe, and check on him every 5 minutes or so. You can even exercise or listen to some music during this time.
- Call a trusted friend, relative, or neighbor to talk to, or ask someone to come over and keep you company or to take care of your baby for a short period while you take your break.
If your baby is still crying after a short time, don’t panic. It takes some babies longer than others to relax.
Remember that there’s no such thing as “spoiling” your baby. Occasionally parents worry that if they respond right away, their baby will become dependent and clingy. In fact, the opposite is true: When a baby knows that his needs will be met, it’s the first step toward his becoming a secure and independent child. The evidence shows that more touch and physical interaction with your baby is more likely to lead to a less clingy and crying infant. This style of parenting—responding to a child’s needs quickly and interacting with him often to build security and connection—is called “attachment parenting.”
Eventually you will find it easier to anticipate your baby’s needs before she starts to cry. Babies use lots of cues to communicate, like squirming, sighing, or sucking. When those go unnoticed, they resort to crying. Little by little you’ll learn what each of your baby’s cues means.